Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Horses and Rivers

This is another one of those things which I didn't have the heart to throw away, just because we wasted so much time arguing about it:

Whilst riding last Saturday, and I realized what it is that make riding so enjoyable.

It is the risk of falling off.

Many months ago, I had a conversation with Jean Nie about why I think that horses are alive in a way that rivers are not. That conversation once again struck me about the same time as the ground did, although the impact was slightly different. This is because I was riding a polo pony, and he decided halfway through that he had enough and bucked for absolutely no apparent reason at all.

The difference is one of free will.

The horse has a sentience that the river does not. Riding a rough river is exhilarating, but the river never has to make a decision whether or not to put up with you. The river obeys the laws of physics, it can only flow
from a higher gradient to a lower gradient, it cannot suddenly decide to turn around inexplicably and go upstream. Thus (and this is a gross simplification) if you do everything textbook correct, you (theoretically)
will be fine going downstream on the rough river. A bad tempered brute can choose to go on strike even if the rider has done everything perfectly. The art is in persuading this 500 kg of obstinate muscle that what he
really wants to do is to do jump over this cross bar even though he can just as easily go around it. Given that we are supposed to be smarter, this is not meant to be so difficult.

At the same time (and there is no need to delve into the point here) the act of canoeing up and down a river doesn't change the flow, but what you do with the horse can change the character of the horse, and that is why an actual interaction is taking place between us, as opposed to being on a river where the only change is that you become a better kayaker, and the river doesn't really worry about it.

Anyways, this Saturday I rode the same polo pony and he gave me a fantastic (and exhausting) ride. I actually think we have reached an understanding about this. One of the many reasons why I love riding is the realization that these four-legged beasts canter and jump according to my will, only because they have chosen to do so. It is a very personal experience, and I try not to take each rejection too personally. Only something that can choose can choose to love, so this could be the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

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