Horses As I See Them
By Ian McMurchy (1944-2008)
This column is for readers who have never ridden horses, particularly readers who might be considering a hunt involving horses. I am going to expose some ugly facts about horse hunts that horse lovers might have problems with. Sometimes the truth hurts.
As I write this, I can attest to that statement. My ribs, lower back, knees, elbows and armpit are slowly changing color and have almost quit hurting. I recently had the experience of falling off a horse and sliding down a steep slope. I recall hitting the side of my head on at least one rock. For some reason, that is the only smack that did not do any damage. I got a bit ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning.
First, horses are big animals. When you sit on a horse you are about ten feet above the ground. What that does is add momentum when you hit the ground. Horses also have big feet – OK, hooves. Those feet support about one thousand pounds or more. That focuses a lot of weight when they step on you. Those hooves are also nasty when they kick or strike outwards, whether intentionally or not. I understand that horses also bite, but that is one of the few abuses I have not been subjected to.
Horses have huge brown eyes--somewhat like a dog’s, but bigger. I have enjoyed looking into the eyes of a few horses. Usually I am trying to ascertain if the horse understands how intimidated I am around him. Sometimes I actually try to become his friend, sort of like you might do with a big dog. One thing bothers me about looking into a horse’s eyes. There is not a lot there. Maybe he is just a big dumb creature that doesn’t understand what I have been saying. Maybe he really doesn’t give a damn about trying to coexist or pleasing me.
For readers who have never participated in a horseback hunt here is how things unfold. Let’s say you are standing near a corral, wondering which horse is going to be the one. Your guide or a wrangler walks this monstrosity of a horse over to you and says, “This is Bonecrusher. He is going to be your horse for the next week.”
First, the damn thing looks to be about two stories high. I mentioned they are big, didn’t I? The saddle appears to be higher than the top of your head! Next, old Bonecrusher doesn’t really want to stand still. He wants to be somewhere else. He wants to eat grass or get back with the other horses. He does not care that you are not very experienced as far as getting into a saddle. Nor does he give a damn about the fact that you are not sure how to drive him. I know, driving is for cars, but you have to steer horses, right? They call it riding, but riding is much more than just staying upright on a horse.
Your first challenge is getting your rifle into the scabbard. Some rifles fit and some do not. Hopefully, your rifle slides in and the snap locks nicely. Then you go around to the left side and take a deep breath. Some outfitters have special steps built to help rookies climb into the saddle, some don’t. Regardless, you have to put your left boot into the left stirrup. That might be tough if you are standing on the ground, believe me.