I recently discovered that my wife, Jenny — whom I thought I knew — likes to watch bronco riding on TV. But she doesn’t watch it for the competition. She tunes in because, she says, “I like to watch them fall off.”
Ah. She’s rooting for the animal. Now it makes sense. And if you think about it from the bronco’s perspective, when the guy goes to the ground, the horse wins.
This makes me wonder what might actually go through a bronco’s mind as he does his job. He has to be upset at being tricked by these furless, two-legged mammals into a tiny wooden enclosure. And I can imagine his supreme annoyance as this pencil-thin excuse for a simian hops on his back. On his back!
The impertinence doesn’t go unpunished. The instant the gate opens, the horse realizes that he gets to do exactly what he wants to do. And all the horse wants to do, with a singular ferocious focus, is flip the little twerp to the ground. Hard.
This takes a bit of doing, of course. For reasons that can only be known by a species that appears bent on self-destruction, the little maniac seems determined to hang on for as long as possible.
But with the application of ample muscle power and obvious physics, this senseless antic soon comes to an end. What an incredible rush, the horse launches the parasite through the air. And the crowd goes wild. Equus victorious.
I wonder how other horses view their particular disciplines. For instance, what goes through a dressage horse’s mind as he enters at A?
I’m guessing that a good dressage horse rarely thinks about pitching his human cargo. This sport isn’t so much a fight for control (that was decided a long time ago), but rather it’s a form of teamwork with the objective of creating an illusion.
With its fluid movement and smooth transitions, dressage makes it appear as though it’s all the horse’s idea. However, as any seasoned dressage observer can tell you, the horse is being secretly cued by the creature above the horse. It’s a lot like a puppet show.
So what does a good dressage horse think about as he proceeds through a pattern? Almost certainly not about what he’s doing. He’s been trained, he knows his cues, and perhaps he may even anticipate the next step. It’s more akin to assembly line work than artistry. Exiting the arena at the trot is equivalent to punching out.
The Mid-Level Manager
Like a dressage horse, a show jumper is expected to proceed through a set pattern while taking direction from the boss above. The difference is that a series of obstacles have been placed in front of him.
Negotiating each obstacle requires a combination of physical exertion, timing, control, and above all, a willingness to suspend any notion of common sense. After all, would it not be easier just to walk around these things?
But the boss above him has other plans. Surely, the jumper lacks the vision to comprehend the larger objective. Which, of course, is to make the boss look good. This is why I think of show jumpers as the mid-level managers of the horse world.
And the obstacles just keep coming at him: Got over that one. Oops, there’s another one. Oh crap, there’s another one. And another one? Man, here comes another one!
The jumper occasionally catches a glimpse of the arena fence and thinks, That’s what I should be jumping. All this time, the jumper must resist the impulse to be polite and allow the creature on top to go over the obstacle first.
The Dream Job
If I were a horse and had rights, I’d insist on something less confrontational than rodeo or tedious as dressage or exploitative as show jumping. I’d like to be outside and active.
How about something like, say, trail riding? I’d get to exercise and be out in nature. I’d still have a boss, but it’d be more like company picnic day than the assembly line.
And occasionally, I’d still get to toss the creature above to the ground.
Bob Goddard is a freelance writer specializing in equine humor. He lives in Wyoming, Michigan, with his wife, Jenny, and two very naughty dogs, Jessie and Elvis. To contact him, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Goddard’s latest book is Horse Crazy! A Tongue-in-Cheek Guide for Parents of Horse Addicted Girls. To order, visit www.horse crazy.net.