Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Pictured above is a trophy I won when I was 12 years old. It was my first year at Camp Cadet. Between doing pushups, vigorously cleaning our bunks and marching all over the place, we were exposed to all kinds of military and law enforcement activities. We fired guns, conquered group obstacles, and saw numerous demonstrations from a Bomb Squad, S.W.A.T. team, Search and Rescue, the Secret Service, etc. One such activity was horseback riding. We each got a chance to ride a horse around a track and some were given a chance to take it through a few obstacles.
Being a city kid, I don't think I'd ever seen a horse let alone ridden one. I paid careful attention to the instructors advice and at the end of the week he saw fit to bestow upon me my cherished sixth place trophy. It may not be very impressive, but it was my first trophy that wasn't simply for my participation in a team sport.
I don't believe I've had many if any occasion to ride a horse again, and to be honest, it's not on the top of my to do list. But I did gain an appreciation for working horses and a little of what it takes to control them. You're more likely to see cops on bicycles than on horses these days, unless you're at a parade or a scottish soccer match. It almost seems like a throwback to a different time when you do see one. The men atop a working horse become faceless. They almost become and accessory to the elegant nature of the animal. Being on horseback and on official business is a very transformative thing. John Wayne once said that he had two acting styles: On a horse and standing. I actually think that makes a lot of sense. A mounted man is almost an instant gentleman. Even a grizzled filthy cowboy has an air of regality when he's on a horse.
Probably the only thing I learned from my award winning horseback stint was that being on a horse requires one to mind his posture and put his focus on the beast beneath him. If you want to be effective and in control, you have to be gentle but firm. You have to take charge but do it with civility and grace. And that is how a gentleman should do just about everything, on horseback or standing.