I have mentioned before that I ride horses. My husband and I currently own four, two of whom are green and/or young. But even our older horses are not done learning.
Neither are we.
We’re on a very specific path with our horses. We seek to refine and advance them throughout the course of their lives. The style in which we ride and train has its roots in the Vaquero tradition, going back to the working ranch horses that used to populate California and the Great Basin. It’s a way of riding that emphasizes communication between horse and rider, and makes the horse into a willing participant.
Horses trained this way are ‘made,’ not ‘broken.’
And that’s great, and it’s what originally attracted me to riding this way. But another aspect of it (an aspect I must admit to loving almost as much as the underlying philosophy) is the gear.
I ride my horse, Steen, in a traditional bosal hackamore (we’re at phase two of a four phase training process). The bosal is a loop of woven rawhide that wraps around his nose. The reins are made of braided horsehair. My saddle is built on a wooden tree, wrapped in a rawhide casing for protection.
All of it was made by hand.
The reins, when you get them new, are prickly. The loose strands of the braids poke out at you. They can jab you through a t-shirt and prick your fingers while you ride. The bosal comes raw and stiff, not shaped correctly to fit a horse’s nose.
You condition the bosal to make it softer. Your horse wears the bosal and, over time, the bosal breaks in.
Your hands wear the prickly bits off the reins.
The creaky new leather of the saddle becomes soft with sweat and use.
It takes years. It takes years to properly train a horse in this tradition, and it also takes years to break in the tack. Hours upon hours of riding need to be invested before this stuff is seasoned.
But good tack literally lasts a lifetime.
That’s not how most things work in the modern world. I am typing this post on a laptop. At going on two years of age, it’s getting old. I replaced my cell phone about six months ago, finally parting with the artifact of a flip-phone I’d been carting around since college.
As much as I try to avoid them, I have plenty of gadgets. And gadgets do not get better with age. There are at least two obsolete ipods in a drawer in my office, at least three obsolete cell phones not far away, and at least four obsolete digital cameras one drawer down.
We live in a world of things that lose their value before they wear out, or aren’t built to last in the first place.
More than anything, this is what I love about riding and training horses. There are no shortcuts with a horse in terms of teaching him well, just as there is no way to break a saddle in other than riding in it. Our life with the horses exists on a totally different type of timeline than our life that’s connected to modern America.
I had my old cell phone for six years, and it was so old by the end I couldn’t take it out in public without getting a barrage of surprised comments.
In six years my saddle will look and feel genuinely lived in.
In six years our youngster might have finally earned his bridle.
Until then, we intend to enjoy the break-in process.