11 February 2008

The Myth of the Platonic "Good Horse"

Recently, I've been included on an email discussion between a couple of friends that own horses. One of these folks is contemplating an Alaska to Montana horse trek. She's hoping for friends to accompany her here and there along the way. I know little about horses, but in this case I trust the trainer. The following is based on what I told my friend.

I'd be happy to do a few nights on the trail with you if you are passing through this area. Just so I'm on a good horse. I've seen several wrecks in the woods with horses that went nuts crossing plank bridges, and others that got spooked by babbling brooks or clattering rocks or a snow man (I still feel bad about that one). I think the problem is that many horse owners never actually get their horses out of the back forty and accustom them to real world situations, but somehow magically believe the horse will be able to get along. [Most people live on a sort of "Fantasy Island."]

I've twice run into an old boy that spends most of the summer in the Pintler Wilderness with his two horses (one he rides and the other packs), and I consider these two horses paragons of the mountain trail horse--mainly, I think, because the old boy gets out there and does it with them on a regular basis. Two summers ago I watched him dismount and walk the horses over a smooth, rocky, and steep section of a mountain pass, and it didn't seem to bother the horses a bit when their hooves skidded a little (horseshoes really do make sparks on granite!).

So it's not that I dislike horses in some vague sense of the Platonic idea of "horse," it's just that I've seen damned actual few of them that are worth the thirty sticks of dynamite that it takes to dispose of one in the backcountry (see http://www.bayequest.info/horsetalk/fairwell2.htm ). Read what Socrates (through Plato) has to say of horses (and youth) in Apology 25: most people corrupt them, very few improve them. This is true of dogs, too, of course. Most dog or horse owners are partial to their animals and that is OK, but they are delusional in thinking they are "good" dogs or "good" horses. The only test is in what the horse (or dog, or youth) actually does, and not in what the owner (or parent) believes they can do.

My friend has been doing some extensive trail riding with her horses, and accustoming them to all the real world "shit happens" kind of stuff that makes for a truly good horse. Having spent a lifetime working with various sorts of dogs from hunting hounds to RTD the therapy dog, I have a deep respect for what it takes to work with any animal so that it deserves to be called good.

1 comment:

Editor said...

I don't know much about horses, but I have a large amount of experience with women.
Rule Number #1
Never date a woman who keeps horses.
(they will always like them a hell of a lot more than they will ever like you)