University of Vermont AAHS

A Comfortable Horse Is a Safe Horse

by
Jan Dawson
President, AAHS

[Reproduced from Caution:Horses, Volume 4, No. 2, Summer 1999]

Back in nineteen forty-something I rode everyday during the summer in Colorado with a man named George Soule. He and his wife, Adele, had a string of trail horses that they brought to Glenwood Springs for the summer after wintering in Arizona. He later moved to Newcastle, Colorado where he introduced me to real back country riding. At that time one could go to Crystal City above Aspen and find old canned goods still on the shelves of the mining cabins, and there was only one old, single-chair lift at Aspen.

When George and I would ride out for the day - we wouldn’t come back till nearly dark - the only people we would see would be the occasional sheepherder or logger. Maybe a cowboy on the high range but no hikers or other tourists.

The worst admonishment that I could get from George was that I was doing something that was making my horse uncomfortable. He would say, "Now Jannie, you’re making’ that horse uncomfortable and if you keep it up he’ll hurt you. A comfortable horse never hurt anybody."

At the time I did not realize how profound the statement was. Just think about it. Unless the horse just stumbles, he must become uncomfortable mentally or physically before he hurts you. It certainly has made me try to deal with horses on their terms and pick my disagreements carefully.

If we take a minute and think of all the times we have seen a wreck involving a horse, we have to admit that most of the time we are looking at an uncomfortable horse.

The reverse is interesting as well. How many times have you noticed a horse that was obviously mentally and physically comfortable and then seen him or her commit an equine atrocity?

What this means to us is that when we substitute a big bit, one that was taught to stop at the factory, for training, or we use poorly fitting tack, or we fail to teach our beginners IMMEDIATELY how to have still hands and legs and upper bodies, we are inviting an accident. The sooner we can teach our beginning students the skills necessity to ride humanely the safer they will be.

 


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