When I was a workin horse, which was for most of my life, I knew but one kind of saddle – the western saddle. I likely didn’t even know it was called a western saddle. It was just a saddle. And it was right good for distributin the weight of any cowboy’s hindquarters across my back while I worked.
Since I came to be a pleasure horse, which means to say a mostly retired horse, livin here on the County Island, I been learnin about all manner of different saddles and what’s called horse tack. There’s jumpin saddles, and flat saddles, and saddleseat saddles (ain’t all saddles got a seat?), and “all-purpose” saddles ‘cause I guess some saddles is too namby-pamby for all purposes, and ropin saddles, and show saddles, and barrel racin saddles, and trail saddles, and enough danged saddles to hurt a horse’s back just thinkin of ‘em.
And the bits! Danged if the County Island folk can’t just ride a horse in a good spade bit. They got snaffles, and kimberwickes, and bits that got the word “doctor” in front of ‘em such as a Dr. Bristol, like it’s some sorta fancy college-educated bit, and bitless bridles, which I’d call a halter, myself.
But the strangest saddle is what’s used for makin a horse prance around in circles. Now, prancin is officially called “dressage,” or so I am told by my horse-buddies Coors and Coors Light, and dressage is a word from the French folks that means “trainin.” I don’t know why the French always got to put on airs like that. But prancin in circles is what it is. I like to call things plainly. And apparently prancey horses can’t be broke and trained like normal horses, in a normal amount of time, on account of such trainin bein “special.”
I been learnin how to make my talkin what’s called ironic by puttin my words in “quotes.”
Now, don’t get me wrong. My life on the County Island has been mostly good despite what you may sometimes hear, and definitely better than life on the ranch in lots of ways. For instance, here, the horses all have bucket time, every day. And even the bute here tastes like candy, with orange or peppermint or apple flavorin.
But the County Island once suffered through a spell I call the Dark Time, which was when Original Coors first done hurt his hooves and was unable to prance, and before we got Coors Light to keep the bucket gal busy, prancin-wise.
Durin the Dark Time, the bucket gal got a notion that maybe, just maybe, she’d prance me.
It started simply, with her proposin the notion to me of not only the one lead I already knew (my left one), but two leads at the lope, one for each direction of travel. I went along with that, ‘cause I had to agree it was a right smart idea, serving to keep a horse’s body in better balance. In fact, I liked my new-found right lead so much and was so pleased when the bucket gal would pat me and fuss over how danged good I was at it, I started usin my right lead for lopin to the left, too, just to hear her tell me again what a special, wonderful horse I was. But it didn’t take me long to ascertain she meant one cue for the left, and another for the right. Plus all ya really got to do to get me lopin is smack your lips and make what’s called a kissin sound.
But don’t ever try kissin me on the muzzle, ya hear? That ain’t right. I don’t know why a person would ever want to do that to a horse, no matter how cute our noses are, but the County Island women-folk seem to enjoy cooin at us and tryin to pet our noses and kiss at ‘em. Y’all need to stop that.
So, it didn’t last long, the Dark Time. But it lasted long enough.
Next up was circlin. I learned about circlin way back on the ranch when I was a greenhorn, to make a circle around cattle to keep ‘em together or to cut and sort ‘em. But danged if prancin doesn’t have to complicate somethin as simple as a makin a circle.
And before we could even get to makin circle after danged circle, I had to be “warmed up.” Ain’t a horse warm to begin with? I figured maybe it had somethin to do again with horses that got some kind of special warm blood which I learned of when I first came to the County Island. Coors and Coors Light tried to tell me this was to make me limber in my body, and limber in my mind so I’d be ready to start the prancin. To which point I had to ask ‘em both, ain’t you ready to ride the second you get saddled up, like normal horses? And as soon as your rider’s butt hits your saddle, you got to start mindin what they tell you, so frankly, I never did buy into the notion of a warm-up.
And then there’s “makin contact with the bit.” Where to even start… The bit is already makin contact with my mouth, dammit. Again, ain’t that enough? I’ve already pontificated elsewhere about “walk breaks” and other foolishness and walkin “on” the bit. I am grateful our bucket gal realized this was somethin I did not need to know any more about, this “contact.” It’s contrary to the way a workin horse is wired.
So, as you can see, I have now done learned all the basics of fancy French dressage prancin, and I got to say, that’s more than this old ranch horse ever cared to know. I don’t know why it takes the prancified horses years to get it down pat, when it seems to me like nothin more than what I learned when I was a colt, only kinda fussier and more bothersome, with too many made-up people-rules attached to it.
Mercifully, our bucket gal, in another tiny flash of wisdom, realized I’m broke well enough exactly the way I am and went and got herself Coors Light to pester with it. Now I get to hang back in the shade and point and laugh at the two of ‘em prancin around in circles, which is exactly the way it ought to be around here.