Horseback riding, and why Santa got it all wrong

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When I moved to Texas, I had a general idea of the whole “cowboys” thing that had very little in common with reality. And it’s fine. You can’t really expect movies and TV to provide you with any accurate information about any profession. Programmers cringe at pretty-looking meaningless interfaces, doctors find tons of errors in House episodes, and so on and so forth (if you’re not one of the before-mentioned, just try to find a tv show that has anything related to your profession, I am sure you will agree). So, cowboys were supposed to ride fast, do good deeds, control their horses by doing that “Hiiiyah!” ninja-like scream.
Well, wrong. When I saw cowboy competitions onTV after the move, I was impressed. I also marked on my to-do list “find a place to learn how to ride a horse”.
It took me several years to actually get to that to-do item — a friend of mine told me he was taking riding lessons, and wondered if I wanted to tag along. I did.

First surprise was the command to force horse to stop. “Ho!” does the trick. Which means that Santa and his jolly “Ho-ho-ho” would result in abrupt stoppage of carrier (presuming reindeer do follow standard western controls) and, given absence of the safety belts, Santa’s head would end up in one of those reindeer’s behind. Not pretty.

The other surprise was pretty much a joystick on the saddle. Resemblance was uncanny. Alas, pulling on it doesn’t control the horse in any meaningful way (pity, really, wouldn’t you love a joystic-controlled live horse?). It’s used to tie up the rope when dealing with cattle, plus to annoy unexperienced riders, like me, because I can’t lean forward that much without it jabbing me in stomach.

Third surprise was that leaning forward is a command “go faster”. So, when someone in panic tries to grab onto the horse’s neck and clings forward, that’s pretty much “go-go-go!”, instead of “oh cr*p! Stop!”. That would be leaning backwards in saddle. It goes against all instincts and is difficult to learn, but work pretty well with cowboy-trained horses.

Now, most of the described surprises come from “cowboy” or “western” trained horses. Saddles for English riding are different, commands are different, it’s a whole new world. But this is Texas. So, I continue to ride periodically, and dream of the time when I will finally be able to do something useful, like herd cows, and not just dedicate 100% of my computational resources on figuring out how to make horse go where I want it to go, and at the speed I want it to do.

P.s. can you imagine what a surprise was when I learned about vaulting… Jumping and doing all sorts of other tricks on the horse’s back while horse is running (in a circle, but still). See my gallery of vaulting pics

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