Your Turn: Horseman vs. Rider Responses

Here's what you thought of--and added to--Jim Wofford's 'Are You a Horseman--or Just a Rider?' column in the December 2006 issue of Practical Horseman.

Editor’s Note: In the December 2006 issue, Jim Wofford offered his short list of things that, in his opinion, distinguish a horseman–er, horseperson–from just a rider (Are You a Horseman–or Just a Rider?). Five subscriptions to Practical Horseman were up for grabs for our readers who took a guess at which three things on his list Jim has yet to do.

Out of over 500 entries, only three readers guessed the correct answers. (They are: Have you ever: held the pommel while your horse cut a cow out of a herd?; thrown a diamond hitch on a pack horse?; held the reins of a four-in-hand?) The three readers who guessed correctly were Larisa Tjepkema of Snohomish, Wash., Dawn Hill of Vancouver, Wash., and Janet Hunt of Dale, N.Y. Read on for more items you think should be added to Jim’s list.

I answered “yes” to 18 of the 28 questions from Jim Wofford’s “Are You a Horseman, or Just a Rider?” column in the December 2006 issue, I have some to add: Have you ever brought up your first baby, from birth to sale, before your 13th birthday? Have you ever taught yourself at age 12 to harness and drive your horse in a sleigh, only to discover the next spring when you hitched him to a sulky for the first time that you hadn’t known what the hold-back straps were for? Have you ever had your out-of-control part-Arab pony stand stock still while you mounted and slowly walk home because somehow he knew you were hurt? Have you ever had your horse, down because of an injury, lay his head in your lap with a sigh?

I have always kept my horses at home, and it is something I am thankful for every day. I think the primary reason that there are more riders and fewer horseman is that people don’t keep their own horses. I spend literally hours every day with my horses. We know each other. It is very hard to truly know your horse if your relationship consists of an hour lesson or training session once or twice a week. I realize how fortunate I am.

Rebecca Hunter
Salisbury, N.H.

Sadly, I cannot call myself a horseman. I am a rider, and a beginning adult rider at that. My love for horses goes back as long as I can remember. My sister, 9 years older than me, got the riding lessons when we were kids. I got ballet lessons and settled for making “horses” out of oil drums that my father stored in our lower yard. I happily “rode” for hours by myself, making saddles out of blankets and bridles out of rope. Every year at our church fair, I signed up to help with the pony rides. I led my charge for the day around the parking lot with little kids holding on to the pommel for dear life while their moms and dads watched with big smiles. That was more than 40 years ago.

During my life, I managed to take riding lessons here and there as the opportunity arose. After all, I lived in Connecticut, and went to the University of Connecticut when it came time to go to college. I never did ride there, but fondly remember a day when my roommate and I, stark crazy from studying for finals, went to the horse barn in the pouring rain just to visit the horses. You could do those kinds of things then–or at least we thought you could.

I moved to central Pennsylvania seven years ago. A few years ago I noticed that our local school district offered a Beginning Adult Rider Program one night a week for eight weeks. “Why not?” I thought, and off I went to join Joanne Hocker and the Total Equine Learning Center in Mechanicsburg, Pa. I quickly recognized that riding was a great way to get my mind off of work. If you don’t pay attention to what you’re doing on the horse, you can get hurt. At the very least, a school horse decides he will do whatever he wants to, despite what you think you’re telling him to do! That being said, I enjoyed every minute of my eight weeks, and the next several eight-week sessions after that.

A year ago, I decided I wanted to ride more seriously and train to compete on the local rated show circuit. A lofty goal for a 50-plus-year-old woman who travels constantly for business, but goal oriented as I am, and in fairly good shape, I saw no reason why I shouldn’t be able to achieve this one too! I purchased what I believed was a lovely “show” horse, only to find he spooked at every jump and still thought he was a thoroughbred on the track. Lesson learned and words to the wise: It’s probably not a good idea to buy a show horse out of the newspaper. That horse has since found a home at a barn with lots of kids who play with him all the time (he had a great personality), and he is happy running around in the pasture all day. This leads me to Simon.

On the advice of my new trainer, Barb Kohr at Halcyon Farm, I leased an “aged” show horse with a very credible record. When asked how old Simon actually is, I say somewhere between 24 and 30 years old, depending on who you talk to. You see, Simon is a lot like me; he doesn’t think he’s old at all! He still runs with his pasturemates on a chilly day and kicks his hind legs in the air like a 2-year-old. When I see that, I can only laugh, even if I am trying to bring him in so we can have a lesson. In the ring, he is the teacher. He is patient to a point, and then makes sure I “do it right.” If I’m up his neck on a jump, he let’s me know–and not always in a kindly way. If I let him do his job when “Simon Says,” we are usually successful. Just like me, he cleans up great for show day, and if nothing else, we always look the part. You see, I do take George Morris’ comments very seriously.

While I’ve only experienced 10 of the 28 things on Jim Wofford’s list, a day never goes by that I don’t stop for a minute to think how lucky I am to be in a world with horses in it. I might still be a rider and I might never be a horseman, but I always appreciate the opportunity to participate in a sport filled with such wonderful and talented people and animals.

Robin Hawley
York Haven, Pa.

I loved your article, “Are You a Horseman, or Just a Rider?” with Jim Wofford’s list. I was a very blessed inner-city kid who landed at Onondarka Sables in Los Angeles at the age of 7 or 8. The Simingtons, who owned the barn, took me in and taught me about loving horses, thus, taught me that there were so many things in life to learn and love. I felt moved to send you my list of “Have you ever–“

  • Trained a horse to bow and to go on the flat and over fences without a saddle or bridle.
  • Stood on your horse’s back and jumped something higher than your head.
  • Jumped a human horseback.
  • Ridden through a gymnastic consisting of 6-8 verticals and oxers with NO GIRTH, NO STIRRUPS, NO HANDS, singing a favorite nursery rhyme and lived to tell about it.
  • Led school horses out of a wild fire in a box canyon.
  • Snuck your city horse out of his stall in the middle of the night to graze illegally, enjoying the happy munching and thanking your lucky stars for the wonder of horses.

I could probably list things like these endlessly, but these stuck out as the highlights in my 50-plus years riding and training horses. I’m fortunate to still be able to ride at 65 years old and like many others, I’ve taken up dressage. I depend on the Practical Horseman training articles to keep abreast of new things; they are greatly appreciated and helpful.

In closing, I think Jim Wofford has yet to throw a diamond hitch on a pack horse, taken off a bell boot in a tux and ridden a horse above the timberline.

Judy Fendley
Lake Cormorant, Miss.

For more letters about the December 2006 column and additions to Jim’s list, pick up the March 2007 issue of Practical Horseman and visit the Practical Horseman Forum.

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