“I still think of Chako and the valuable lessons in friendship and communication he taught me.”
At the time I had my first riding lesson at age six, it was commonly accepted that a horse should be bridled and saddled. Depending on his pliability or strong-mindedness, you would then increase or decrease the severity of the tack. Bits, spurs, crops, and martingales were usually needed to ride most horses. Degrees of resistance were counteracted with degrees of punishment.
I somehow never bought into that school of thought. Instead, I pictured a black stallion running free with me on his back, connected in body, mind, and spirit.
My first horse wasn’t black, but an untrained three-year-old golden palomino named Chako. I knew nothing about training, so I teamed up with my father (who also knew nothing). Together we read a step-by-step, starting-the-horse book – and then ignored it when we realized it was far too complicated.
Not only was Chako untrained, he was also a stallion. But that was all part of my vision. I took the challenge in my stride and began to teach him English (I mean the language, not the riding style). “Walk Chako”, “Trot Chako”, “Whoa” and “Let’s go” were the basic commands I used.
There I was, wedged in a tiny rented stall with Chako. People would cringe whenever a mare went by and he behaved like a stallion, but it somehow never occurred to me to be afraid. I knew he wouldn’t hurt me; he was my friend. Chako seemed to understand my thoughts. Pretty soon I was riding him bareback, with a halter, all over the neighborhood.
Several years (and several horses) later, I am still amazed by the popular belief that a horse cannot be ridden safely without at least a bridle. But I learned that the time to develop a relationship with a horse is on the ground, before you ever even start to ride. A fearful, thousandplus- pound animal is like a bomb ready to go off; I wouldn’t think of sitting on a bomb until I had disarmed it.
The comfort I feel while riding comes from the comfort and acceptance my horse has for me, not from my ability to maneuver him by force. I don’t think there is any tack strong enough to manage a truly out-of-control horse. A horse lets us ride him because he chooses to do so.
I still think of Chako and the valuable lessons in friendship and communication he taught me. I believe all horses deserve love, patience and consideration. With these wonderful tools, force and punishment are simply not needed.
Liz Mitten Ryan co-authored One With The Herd – A Spiritual Journey with her horses. You can visit with them and watch their DVD at www.onewiththeherd.com.