Dear Jessica, I usually like your articles okay but I was so not impressed with your recommending of those expensive fancy stirrups that are supposed to get riders heels down without any work to learn to ride. If you are really a certified instructor you should know better than this. I am getting my certification next year when I am 18, and when I am a certified instructor I don't plan to let students get away with this kind of thing. You write about not using gadgets on HORSES a lot so why do you recommend using gadgets on RIDERS?
A lot of riders including myself have to work hard and earn their money for lessons and to keep their horses, they don't have it all handed to them by their parents or their husbands. How do you think people feel when they read you telling them they need to buy stirrups that cost almost $200? I don't think most people have money to throw around like that on every fad even if a famous person like you endorses them. You are out of touch with the real riders in the world who do jobs to get money for their horses. You should think about why you are always saying "no gadgets" about horses and then telling riders that gadgets for riders are okay. Riders need to work hard and learn riding skills by riding, you can't get those just from buying expensive gadgets to make you look better. That's not what real riders do.
I know you were probably writing this to the rich middle age women crowd who have tons of money to spend on gadgets and stuff, they have nothing to do so they are bored and whiny and complain about every tiny physical thing like a sore knee or a hang nail. But real riders just go out and ride, they don't whine about all their problems and say "Boo Hoo, I have a hang nail and can't be happy if I don't have the most expensive tack in the tack store."
Please start paying attention to people who aren't rich and don't whine about their problems and just get out and ride their horses! Sometimes I get a little sore if I ride all day, but I don't whine about it. I think that a lot of your readers just need to shut up and ride, and if all they are going to do is whine about how they need this and they need that and riding is just so much work, then they should forget about riding and watch television instead. Riding is a sport and sport is for athletes and if riders don't want to do the work to be athletic, they don't deserve to ride a horse and they should go do something else, not ride. When I teach riding I will make sure my students all ride in plain bridles and saddles with no gadgets for the horses OR FOR THE RIDER EITHER. If you print this letter don't use my real name.
You're not quite eighteen, and it sounds as though you've been very lucky in your life so far - you may not be wealthy, but it's clear that neither you nor anyone close to you is suffering or has suffered from any sort of injury, illness, or debilitating disease that interferes with comfort and enjoyment of life. If you read this answer, and I hope you do, you may gain a slightly different perspective on riders who are older than yourself and who are trying to keep themselves on horseback in spite of physical problems that range from the mildly annoying to the devastatingly debilitating.
One of the discoveries you will make at some point during your own "middle-aged" years - or possibly earlier - is that the supple, strong, flexible, pain-free body you seem to take for granted is NOT something that most middle-aged riders can even remember... and certainly not something they take for granted. By the time most of us turn 40 or 50, we've accumulated a lot of wear and tear, plus a few injuries here and there, an occasional illness, and, yes, even various debilitating diseases. We just don't feel that these should automatically remove us from the "real rider" category.
A lot of the people who write to HORSE-SENSE have physical issues that make it difficult for them to ride. They want advice and suggestions that may help them ride ANYWAY. They aren't asking for magic formulas to get rid of the pain or make themselves young, they just want to know if there are ways that they can become functional enough to ride and comfortable enough to enjoy it. It's difficult for me to imagine how you or anyone else could possibly regard this as a problem - or, for heaven's sake, as "whining". These ARE "real riders". They are very real, and so is their pain, and so are their reasons for looking for solutions. These riders aren't looking for excuses to get out of riding, or for gadgets and equipment that will do their work for them - they're looking for ways to make riding POSSIBLE. I think they should all be given a round of applause.
I'd like to suggest that you think about your opinions and your attitude, and think about them in the context of your career plans. For someone who wants to become certified as a riding instructor, you're being very hard on the people who are likely to make up a large percentage of your future customer base. Middle-aged women are a very important part of the horse industry. Riding instructors need to take their middle-aged students seriously. If they can't teach imperfect adults with empathy, they should at least teach them with sympathy - otherwise, they may someday find themselves running out of clients. There's an old saying about not criticizing a man until you're walked a mile in his shoes... in this case, you need to ride a mile or two in the boots of someone who is experiencing real pain and real inconvenience, but who loves horses and riding so much that he or she wants to ride anyway. It would be a very useful, educational experience for you.
So please rethink your position on older riders with physical issues - they are neither lazy nor whiny, and their interest in equipment that can enable them to ride comfortably (or less uncomfortably, or at all) will make perfect sense to you in another twenty or thirty years. There's a point at which you wake up in the morning and ask yourself "Okay, what hurts?" and then five or ten years later, you take the pain for granted, and you begin waking up in the morning and asking yourself "Okay, what WORKS?". So - do some thinking, and if there are any older riders whom you LIKE, perhaps you could ask them a few questions about what ageing is like and what effects it can have on a person's ability to ride comfortably. I'm glad that you've set your sights on becoming a certified riding instructor, but you should be aware that there's a lot more to being a really good riding teacher than just dictating the necessary skill sets to your students. If you can manage to muster some sympathy for riders whose bodies are less than 100% sound, athletic, and comfortable - which is to say, practically the entire adult population - I think you'll have a great deal more success as an instructor.
One more point for you to consider: Because a person is middle-aged (rider or non-rider, it makes no difference) does NOT automatically mean that person is rich. This is something you should understand now, otherwise you are likely to be terribly disappointed when YOU reach middle age!
Right - now, let me address the subject of "gadgets" for a moment.
I think it's important that you be able to distinguish between different types and functions when you evaluate any gadget, tool, or piece of equipment.
There's a big difference between items that are designed to FORCE an action or a position, and items that are designed to ENABLE an action or a position. Draw reins are an example of equipment designed to force a horse's head down; a grazing muzzle is an example of equipment designed to enable a founder-prone horse to enjoy safe turnout and freedom of movement (and very limited grazing) in a field with its companions.
When it comes to gadgets for riders, the same ideas apply. When you're trying to decide whether a particular gadget, gizmo, or piece of equipment should be used, you need to ask yourself "Does the item force a particular position or action, or does it merely enable the rider to do something comfortably (or at all)?" and "Is this item being used as a substitute for correct riding, or is it being used to ENABLE the rider to sit and use her aids as correctly as possible?" The use of draw reins - since I've already mentioned those - means (99.9% of the time) that the rider is too ignorant or impatient to develop a horse correctly and ride it well, and imagines that equipment that forces the horse's neck into some sort of an arch will somehow be an adequate and approriate substitute. This is, of course, entirely wrong - and it IS a case of using equipment to avoid doing the necessary correct work. Similarly, when you see a rider who closes the safety catches on her stirrup bars, or (and yes, I've seen this done) an instructor who ties her students' stirrup leathers to their girths so that the students' insecure seats and loose, flopping legs will APPEAR to be secure and steady, you are, again, looking at cases in which equipment is being misused or tinkered with - all in an attempt to avoid doing the real work of learning to ride properly. In each of these cases, the method is dangerous and the goal is unacceptable.
Now take the case of a rider who is having difficulty closing her fingers on her reins. Let's take a hypothetical young, healthy, athletic teenager who is just learning to ride. The instructor is probably saying "Close your fingers"! every two or three minutes, but this rider doesn't really have a problem - it's an illustration of the learning curve in action. For a rider like this, the open fingers are caused by inattention, and by the fact that she hasn't yet had enough time and practice to build the HABIT of keeping her fingers closed. Attentiveness, practice, and time will solve this "problem" - there's no need to use glue, or to spend money at the tack shop.
Now, let's say that this same hypothetical teenager DOES learn to ride, and that she then stops riding for a number of years. She goes to college, gets married, has children, and, for many reasons, just doesn't have the chance to ride again until she is in her forties or fifties. When she resumes her lessons after a twenty- or thirty-year hiatus, she remembers what her body is supposed to do, and she knows where to put her legs, how to put her weight in her heels, and that she really should keep her fingers closed. It may take her a month or so to get her legs stretched to the point where she's comfortable with her weight in her heels, and it may take just as long for her to rebuild the HABIT of keeping her fingers closed, but again, time, attention, and practice will solve the problem.
But what if, during the non-riding years this person had broken her foot, broken her ankle, or developed arthritis? What if she'd wrecked her knees skiing, or in some other way? What if her fingers simply would not close tightly around her reins, no matter how hard she tried, because they COULDN'T? What if twisting her knees and ankles caused so much pain she couldn't breathe - and what if she couldn't twist her knees and ankles even if she wanted to and even if she tried to?
You COULD say "If she won't work to be an athlete, she should just watch TV." Or, you COULD say "Let's go to the tack store, because there are some things there that can help make some aspects of riding easier and less painful for you."
Then you could suggest that she might want to buy
- a mounting block, which will help protect her back and legs, her HORSE'S back and legs, and her saddle tree - a pair of thick, soft, braided cotton reins, which will allow her to close her hands more easily and much more comfortably - a pair of riding gloves, which will also help her hold her reins more comfortably without having to use a forceful and possibly very painful GRIP - a pair of stirrups that flex, and/or that have offset eyes, for more comfortable ankles, knees, and hips
Please note that none of these items forces the horse or the rider into any position, or holds the horse or rider in any particular position. They won't do the rider's work for her - she will still need to mount her horse, close her fingers, and use her legs. There is NO gadget that will ride her horse for her, and she's not looking for any such item. She will still have to work hard and do her best - the difference is that she'll be more comfortable and less stressed whilst she rides, and thus will be more able to do her best. How can that be bad?
Saying "I would never let a student use anything but a plain bridle and saddle" may sound good to you now, like saying "Drugs are bad, and I would never let a student take drugs". But you really do need to think about the implications of what you're saying. Equipment can be like drugs in the sense that people often use it when they don't actually need it, and when they shouldn't use it. There are certain types of equipment, like certain drugs, that shouldn't be used at all, by anyone. But not all equipment is bad, and not all drugs are bad, and there's a big difference between people who take drugs "for fun", and those who depend on prescribed drugs to keep (for example) their asthma or their arthritis at a level that allows them to breathe and move.
It would take a very hard-hearted person to look at the latter group of riders and say "If you can't breathe freely without your asthma meds, you don't deserve to ride a horse" or "If you can't move freely without your arthritis meds, you don't deserve to ride a horse." Similarly, if a rider can be made more comfortable by using a certain type of reins or stirrups (or underwear, or saddle - or breed of horse!) to eliminate sources of unecessary pain, that's not something that any sensible or compassionate person could possibly find objectionable. Thick reins and gloves for arthritic finges, flexible stirrups for painful leg joints, a soft-seated saddle for a rider with a broken tailbone - these items are ENABLING, just as glasses and contact lenses are enabling for those of us with poor vision. If you can't read without your glasses, does that mean you just aren't trying hard enough to read, you just don't care enough about reading, you don't deserve to read, and you should find something else to do?
Manicure to fix that hangnail: $40 Flexing stirups with offset eyes: $179 Riding in comfort when you have physical problems that cause you pain when riding in ordinary tack: Priceless.
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