Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Horsemanship is simple.

Horsemanship is simple, easy and open to anyone. Workers have worked alongside horses and ponies for 5,000 years. There is no reason we shouldn't do so for another 5, 000 years. The parrallel elitist horsemanship has ridden over the workers for 5,000 years, and there is no reason it should continue to do so for another week.
Dorian Williams, MFH and Sir George Head have provided definitive descriptions of working class horsemanship.
"Half a dozen laden waggons" says Sir George Head "are dragged along the railroad to the particular drop then at work, by a stout cob, which is then ridden carelessly back again, barebacked by a small boy, at a shambling trot; notwithstanding that the interstices between the planks below admit, here and there, full two inches of daylight. However the pony proceeeds, clattering on unconcernedly, otherwise than by holding his snout close to the floor, the better and more cautiously to observe where to place his feet at every step.
.............The beast when I witnessed his performance, had only a halter on his head, without winkers, or any harness except collar and light rope traces. As soon as the boy had fastened the lock of the trace to the foremost waggon, the pony invariably turned round his head, as if to enquire whether all was ready,and then, exactly at the proper moment, commenced his march, the load, meanwhile, rumbling after him: arrived at the drop, the carriages being detached, he here stood jammed close to the wall; shewing perfect cognizance as the carriages passed him, of the degree of attention due to the various noises and manoevres going forward, and not only being aware when it was proper to step out of the way, but how long precisely it was safe to stand still."

Look what is being described. This is skill and courage and true horsemanship. A small boy working a cob is shifting fifteen tons of coal on each trip, in the Drops, huge buildings on stilts over the Middlesborough mudflats to load coal on keels at all states of the tide. The coal industry is notoriously dangerous, from 1873 to 1953 there were only 4 years when hauling coal didn't kill over 100 people. Some years it killed 300 and never less than 88. The boy and cob are working as a team, trusting each other for their survival.
In an era when cruelty was normal and bear baiting had only just been banned, this kid is working without a whip, without a bit and without reins, yet the perfect working bond is clear to an observer, and that observer is prepared to acknowledge his skill.
Here is Dorian Williams, MFH, doyenne of the BBC equestrian output.
"The reaction of the horse to the tempo and personality of the rider was very vividly demonstrated to me some years ago in Johannesburg. I was going to the races one day, and as I drove through the city I saw to my amazement some of the horses that were going to run in the races being ridden through the streets- through all the busy, noisy traffic- by their grooms, who were native boys. The horses were thoroughbreds, bred on exactly the same lines as our own racehorses, and yet whereas our horses would have been all over the place, demanding the most skilled handling, these were just jogging disinterestedly along on a loose rein! Now those African boys are very lazy and lethargic by temperament. It would never occur to them to hurry or to get excited, and they just drift along, their complete lack of understanding communicating itself to their horses."

Sir George Head is prepared to acknowledge in print, the skills of the boy and his horse. Dorian Williams wrote this piece in 1964, but as a sports commentator,he  must have noticed the incredible performances of Wilma Rudolph in the 1960 Rome Olympics. As the first American woman to win three Golds, as the first Polio victim to do so, as an incredible sprinter winning the 100m, the 200m and 400m relay, he would probably have noticed her, even if the fact that she was black hadn't registered. Lazy and lethargic by temperament, I don't think so.

What stands out is this is a different type of horsemanship, working horsemanship, where people and horses are united, probably against a common enemy, the bosses. They know all about domination, from the receiving end, and they know how to get the best out of people and ponies.
That is what I want to rescue from the Dorian Williams of this world and their blinkered view.
Talking of which, an engineering acquaintance claims that horse people put blinkers on their horses so they have the same narrow viewpoint as their owners.

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