September is upon us, and we'll soon be checking back in with the Thomas family of Chatham County to see how they've progressed with the wild mustangs they are training for a compeition in Tennessee later this fall.
I wrote a story cataloguing the first encounters the family had with their mustangs earlier this summer in the Chapel Hill News.
If you missed it, I’ve provided this opportunity for you to get up to speed. The story is here.
As I get ready for the second installment of the Thomas’ story, I thought, naturally, that riding a mustang myself would be an interesting anecdote to share with my loyal readers. So this weekend I went riding with Emily Thomas, who is training a mustang named Ledeux for the competition.
I'll begin by disclaiming that I didn’t actually ride a mustang, but rather a large quarter-horse named Scarlett. As in Scarlett O'Hara, of course. It was fitting, because Gone With the Wind is my favorite movie and undeniably the best film ever made.
I had never ridden a horse before, making me “green,” as Emily put it. So for all of you horse-riding neophytes out there, I've compiled a list of what I've learned:
1. Horses do not respond like dogs. Slapping your thigh and beckoning for the horse to come only results in the horse raising its eyebrows and looking at you like “Uh, yeah, ok. I’m not a dog. Get that, and then maybe I’ll dain to trot over to you.”
Any type of slightly-crazed waving of the arms is similarily ineffective.
2. Horses may be the least subtle creatures in existence. I learned early-on that niceties, nor polite requests are not really appreciated by horses. They’ll just bowl you over or slap you with the backside of their necks to tell you to get out of their way.
3. You shouldn’t be afraid to use a reasonable measure of force to get the horse to move. I wasn’t using a riding crop or anything, (the Thomas' practice natural horsemanship) but a good thigh squeeze is necessary to get the job done–which leads me directly to lesson four.
4. Your inner thighs will hurt after riding and you may or may not walk slightly bow-legged for 48 hours.
5. Clicking your tongue against the roof of your mouth, even if you’re just trying to clear your throat, or mimic a bird call, will result in a quickly trotting horse.
6. “Trot” may connotate a slow pace, but “slow” takes on a whole new meaning when you’re atop a horses’ backside.
Despite my inexperience, I “posted,” which is equine lingo for bouncing slightly in the saddle to the rhythm of horse's gait. It was great. I felt very professional.
7. Horses sweat when you put saddles on them, and their sweat turns into a soapy lather. I was fascinated by this. Imagine if we lathered and foamed at the mouth everytime we all sweat. Athletic events would turn into huge, sweat-foam-filled bubble baths, but instead of smelling like lavendar, the bath would smell like an ancient gym sock.
I rode the most mellow horse the Thomas' owned and found it challenging to communicate with the horse and get her to go where I wanted. Granted, I have virutally no horse experience, but I can't imagine how patient one must be to begin working with a wild horse who has had very little human contact. It will be interesting to see how far the mustangs have come when I make my next visit in a few weeks.
Look for the next article in my series documenting the progress the Thomas' have made with their wild mustangs in the Chapel Hill News this September.