The Thrill of Horseback Riding
‘HOW exhilarating it is to ride a horse through an open countryside! There out in the fresh air with the cool breeze pressing against your face, you experience a sense of freedom that invigorates your spirit. Under you there is that rhythmic, pulsating sensation of your horse’s moving muscles as he gallops across fields and over hills. And as this powerful animal carries you along and does your bidding, you feel a delightful sense of oneness with him.’ This is the way many persons around the world would describe the thrill of horseback riding.
Some who have never ridden a horse might think that the experience is similar to riding in a convertible, an open-top automobile. But lovers of horses are quick to point out the differences. First, there is the rhythmic galloping motion of the animal. Another one, which they feel is an advantage over the car, is that the horse is not confined to set roadways. In a moment, he can turn sharply and dash away through a flower-strewn meadow, prance across a stream, trot through a forest, swim across a river or scramble up a hillside.
No doubt you have seen motion pictures with men riding on horses. And, most likely, you were thrilled to watch them charge across an open plain and to hear the pounding hoofbeats of their horses. From these movies it may seem that horseback riding is rather easy; all you have to do is sit on a horse and let him take you for a ride. But it is not all that simple.
Riding a horse is an art that requires training and plenty of know-how. Men have spent much time in learning how to control this powerful creature and in training him to do things by responding to certain signals.
Further, by means of crossbreeding over the years, there now exist various types of horses, each having specific abilities, qualities and traits. Such a variety presents to man many opportunities to enjoy these galloping gifts from God.
A Pleasure Enjoyed for Centuries
If you look into the Holy Bible or consult other ancient documents, you will find that man has long enjoyed the thrilling pleasure of riding on the backs of horses. Many ancient people found that using horses in some of the sports they developed added immeasurably to their enjoyment of them. How exciting it was to play games astride the backs of spirited mares! And it was thrilling, both to spectators and to participants, to race the horses for speed.
Of course, in those early times, man did not ride horses just for pleasure. He found it most practical to use the speed and strength of these animals in his travels, when hunting for food and for farming work. Alas! he also found that horses could be an important factor in fighting his wars. So he formed contingents of horsemen as part of his armies.
You could just imagine how people back there felt when they watched a large cavalry sally forth to a battle or saw many gilded chariots pulled by powerful horses trot in a triumphal procession with trumpets blaring and drums beating. Their emotions were stirred up and the tangible display of physical strength gave them a feeling of confidence.
But did you know that ancient Israel was specifically forbidden by God’s law to multiply horses or to form huge chariot divisions? (Deut. 17:16) Why? Because Jehovah did not want his people putting their trust in mere flesh for salvation. (Ps. 33:16-21; 61:3; Isa. 31:1, 3) Nor were they to fear their enemies because they had numerous horsemen and chariots. (Jer. 51:21) Instead, they needed to exercise implicit faith and confidence in God.—Ps. 20:7, 8.
Down to the latter part of the nineteenth century the clippety-clop of horses’ hooves was a common sound in most places. People, in general, traveled by horse. If you were living then you would have seen blacksmith shops as well as horse watering troughs and fountains in practically every community. But when the “horseless carriage,” the automobile, came on the scene in 1895, the pleasurable practice of riding horses began to decline. And so today relatively few people ride horseback. Nevertheless, stables in many cities, cattle ranches, farms, racetracks, polo fields and circuses are places where horseback riding still brings pleasure to persons of all ages.
The Thrills That Certain Horses Bring
If you travel out west in the United States you will find that a favorite among horse enthusiasts is the quarter horse. Those who ride this horse experience some thrilling moments. Why, just watching him in action can be exciting! From a standstill, he can jump into lightning action, gallop away, stop short, turn and be off like a shot in another direction. All this in a matter of seconds.
Imagine yourself in his saddle trying to round up a cantankerous steer that dodges and runs in all directions, refusing to get back in the herd. It would not take you long to appreciate this horse’s quick responses. His excellent reflexes are vital in a chase after a steer that is running an erratic course.
Perhaps the most surprising quality of this well-muscled horse is his calm disposition. When not at work he will stand very still. Some horsemen feel that this is one of his most admirable characteristics.
The polo horse, like the quarter horse, faces tough challenges. But his ability to meet them thrills polo enthusiasts. He plays in a game where he must gallop away at full speed in any direction, stop short, make a complete turn and then charge again. His master is trying to hit a ball three and a quarter inches in diameter with his long-handled mallet and drive it through his opponents’ goalposts. Or he may be trying to prevent the ball from being driven through his own goalposts.
Audiences watching polo teams in action are often treated to some thrilling moments as the players try to gain possession of the ball. One cannot help but be stirred by the courage, speed and stamina of their ponies as they race back and forth across the field.
And speaking of racing, who has not seen or heard of that star of the racetrack, the thoroughbred. His swiftness, with great striding action, has thrilled countless people. Did you ever notice the way the jockey or rider sits perched like a monkey close to this horse’s neck? By experience jockeys have learned that this helps the horse to make the best use of his powerful legs, so that he gets a better start and can attain greater speed as he pushes hard toward the finish.
Young and old have thrilled to watch circus leapers and somersaulters perform breathtaking deeds on the broad backs of the Percheron horses known as rosin-backs. And they have been delightfully entertained by the jumping and dancing stunts of the Lippizan horses from Austria.
Certainly, many horses display abilities thrilling to man. There are also many others that perform less glamorous duties. Yet they are appreciated by their masters for their dependability and strength.
Horseback Riding—the Need for Caution
Perhaps you would like to experience the thrill of riding a horse. If you would, it would be beneficial to remember always that the horse was not born with a knowledge of what you want him to do. He has to be trained to respond to certain signals that tell him whether he is to walk, trot, gallop or stop. Even if he has been trained, if you do not know what the signals are, then the horse will become confused when you are on his back. And this can be dangerous.
Further, experienced horsemen will tell you that a horse senses if the person seated on him knows how to ride him. If the person does not know how to ride, then the animal may take advantage of him. How? He may refuse to move, or he may stop and eat grass or drink water or just go where he pleases. Worst of all, some horses have learned that a low branch or a little bucking often gets rid of an unwanted passenger. Therefore, it would be very foolish and dangerous for a novice to go horseback riding without an experienced horseman along. He might accidentally fall off the horse and be severely injured or even lose his life.
In some areas there are riding stables where you can rent a horse for a few hours. Generally, you will find that these places will not let you go out alone but will have a guide who knows horses accompany you. If you have never ridden before, be sure to mention it, should you ask to hire a horse. Some stables provide basic instruction on how to ride a horse. They will teach you the proper way to mount the animal at its left side and the correct steps involved in dismounting. And you will be shown how to hold the reins as well as basic foot signals to make your horse walk or trot.
Of course, you will not learn everything about handling a horse in just one short riding trip. So, do not expect to be galloping away on your first venture in horseback riding. But by heeding all the suggestions given by knowledgeable riders and with practice, perhaps you too will experience the exhilarating pleasure and thrill of riding one of these galloping gifts of God!