In my adult life I have enjoyed four sports namely rowing, flying, scuba diving and horse riding. In rowing the harsh exercise is very good for the physique but is boring. There is minimal risk of injury when rowing except perhaps from a heart attack. Flying a small plane is not that dangerous and probably presents less risk than driving a fast car. Diving is fraught with dangers but Great White sharks arenít the big risk. If the diver has been properly trained then the two big dangers of shortage of air or hypothermia can be avoided. I used to think it was a very dangerous sport until one day in 1975 I discovered horse riding.
Playing with horses is a whole different deal. The horse rider sits upon 500 kilos plus of an amazingly powerful spook mobile fitted with an accelerator and brakes, neither of which can be guaranteed to work even when the rider presses the correct buttons. The steering wheel doesnít always work either. Surprisingly the rider is not glued, screwed, clipped, tied, slotted, wedged or in any other way firmly attached to the hunk of flesh and muscle writhing between the riderís legs. The genius Newton foresaw centuries ago that if the horse was really motoring and it stopped or turned with or without giving the right signals, the rider, a separate entity, would proceed at the same speed in the original direction. In which case Newton pointed out that the rider would hit the ground with force relative to the speed at which the horse had been galloping. The faster the horse was going, the greater the force of impact. The result would be very much of a lottery Everything in the human body when subjected to overwhelming force will break, it is just that some bits break more readily than others.
The human body is a magnificent feat of biological engineering although in fact it is nothing more than a walking, talking container in which the brain resides. It has a pump to make the blood flow round the brain; lungs to pump air to the brain and a built in waste disposal system. The functionality of the Brain is controlled by the Mind, itself an amazing computer which doesnít need Intel chips or Microsoft software nor even mains electricity. Luckily for many of us the Brain is not controlled from the heart nor any obvious source. If the Brain doesnít like the sport of horse riding then, unless the rider is Arnold Schwarzenegger, it generates fear. We humans usually stop doing what the brain doesnít like us to do. But this all singing, all dancing, all moving, marvel of a human body has a few weaknesses The rules are that if the Brain doesnít work properly then various bits and pieces of the body donít work at all. That doesnít mean the body will die. It could mean that the Brain lives on but it shuts down certain activities by the body which can be both inconvenient and unpleasant for the Mind. So be advised, the Brain doesnít like its cage rattled and it gets very spiteful if you do not protect the skull in which it dwells The nervous system, arguably the tentacles of the brain, is also very touchy about being interfered with. It too can act mean. Now of course you can say : so what? Well, if that demon Brain wants its revenge then it will shut off some key functions which most humans seem to enjoy such as: walking, talking, seeing, hearing, touching, feeling, eating, and sex.
Motto: donít bang your head.
The Brain will inevitably switch itself off but with luck it can be made to work for 85 years, maybe even more if treated carefully. If it really wants to be nasty to its tenant (the Mind) the Brain will keep ticking and lock the Mind up in a prison of flesh blood and bone. So if you donít ever want to wind up laying flat on your back, wearing smelly wet knickers, dribbling and unable to feel anything then please think more cautiously about the serious risks you take whenever you get within six feet of a horse.
Horse riding is all about enjoying the company of a 500 kilo, four legged, hairy beast which happens to be strong enough not only to carry its playmate and but to run and even fly through the air whilst bearing the load. The horse has the mouth of a crocodile with the grip of a vice. Many are fitted with shoes of steel which can strike out and break with ease any bone in a humanís body. The horse can react instinctively in a microsecond to any threat and will take off at 20 mph in any open direction at the twinkling of an eye. It hears its rider from hundreds of yards away and might well have been warned by vibrations through the ground from footfalls It can smell and identify the odours the human emits however faint. This creature has lived amidst mankind for thousands of years and knows its foe inside out.. If it wants to harm the human, it knows exactly how to do it and it will remember for decades everything you or your kind have done to it. Whatís more for nutrition it doesnít need a can opener, a cooker or a fridge - it eats grass and therefore doesnít compete with its major predator for food. That was a clever move by the species. Be sure that in a ring, the bare knuckle boxer would lose any fight with a horse.
We puny weaklings are no match for the horse in strength or power. And we should take care to protect the vulnerable parts of our body. Riders should use to the maximum benefit the large brain we were born with, as it is our only defence against this magnificent creature. We should also be thankful that the horse was given a hoof instead of a hand and that whilst it can ďwhinnyĒ it cannot spell the word in any language.
The riding hat wonít save every head; the protective jacket wonít protect every bone; the gloves wonít save the hands, the knee pads wont save the knee joints and the boots wonít save the feet.. When riding we have to leave the neck completely unprotected together with the wrists, fingers and the ankles. Let us hope the horse doesnĎt turn nasty or we humans are doomed.
To summarize: the equine has got humans well and truly sussed. Once it had emotionally blackmailed us carnivores into not developing a taste for horse meat then it knew it had won the battle for long term survival on a world where mankind reigns supreme. When horses chose to become the servants of humans, they were and they remain smart cookies. They tolerate humans for their own survival. So, riders when next you mount your steed, I suggest you be nice to it. It has the innate capability to seriously hurt you., if it wanted to.
Personally, even when dressed like a riot policeman, before I mount up I always give my mare a biscuit, just to keep her thinking she needs me. How do you keep on the right side of your horse?