So, You Think You Love Horses? Some Reflections on the Nature of Horses and Man

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Taking a Chance and When to Jump On

I just finished two pages titled “Playing it Safe and When to Jump Off” but there is a yin and a yang to life, and there is also this quality of courage that a rider must possess. I am not talking about a recklessness but a quiet courage, born of skill and competence. I have spoken of my wife as a “true horsewomen,” and I have often seen this quality in her.

The Facility
The German Riding Facility

Here is a case in point. We were traveling in Germany and came upon one of the most fantastic riding facilities that I have ever seen. It was located near Loffingen, Germany and the Black Forest. It featured a hotel and a restaurant, one wall of which was a picture window looking down on an indoor riding ring. While you drank your coffee you could gaze down at people schooling horses. What a place! My wife missed her riding and thought that surely at a place like this we could rent horses and have a ride in the nearby Black Forest. We found an English speaking employee and were told that if we were to rent their horses that first we needed to take a lesson and demonstrate that we truly knew how to handle them. Despite their ever-correct European politeness, I could not shake the uncomfortable feeling that American tourists, saying that they knew how to ride, had wandered in there before and that the center believed that it knew just how to deal with them.

The lessons were rather expensive and we decided that we would purchase one for my wife and see how that went. I was hoping it would be the usual "toes up" and "heels down" around a circle, walk, trot, canter: a piece of cake. That is not what happened, not at all. My wife was given a helmet but the stable man ignored my repeated requests for riding boots for her. Patting his own pair, he kept saying , “Ja, ich habe mich die Stiefel .” They must have had a policy that you needed to provide your own but it is not like we routinely pack them while traveling.

The Rittmeister was a stern man gestiefelt und gespornt, who spoke only in German to his small class of riders. My wife was mounted on a large athletic looking chestnut Trakehner gelding. He put the group through its paces but at the end of the lesson he did the most extraordinary thing. He took them to a jump and pointed at a German girl. “Spingen Sie!” he said and over she went. Around and around the group he went and higher and higher the bar went. “Spingen Sie!” came the command over and over. Too soon the various other riders were saying things like “Ich kan nicht.” and “Ich habe Angst vor Diesem.” He waved them over to the side of the ring with an air of contempt. Eventually only the American was left. The Rittmeister raised the bar one more time. “Spingen Sie!” came the command echoing through the now silent riding hall. As a line of dejected German riders looked on, my wife cleared the jump and triumphantly landed on the other side. The lesson was over and the Herr Rittmeister could do no more. The American prevailed. For me, my wife could have taken Olympic gold, but the victory was to be a short-lived one. There would be no ride in the Schwarzer Wald. My wife’s legs were so chafed from the stirrup leathers, a result of not wearing riding boots, that we left the next day never to return.

The Accidental Horseman

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Can a horsewoman know glory in our times?

I believe she can.
Joan of Arc

Joan of Arc