Horse-Sense-art - 7/1/15
"Horse Sense in the SCA" by The Honorable Lady Roana Aldinoch.
This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set of files, called Stefan's Florilegium.
These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org
Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author or translator.
While the author will likely give permission for this work to be reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.
Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous
stefan at florilegium.org
Horse Sense in the SCA
by The Honorable Lady Roana Aldinoch
Twice a year, at least, my kingdom has equestrian events. I love watching the horses and their riders gallop across the field, sword in hand, swinging at imaginary rogues who try to block their path. (Usually, they're just dolls heads on waist-high posts, but if you squint in the sunlight and tilt your head just right, you can almost imagine a far more sinister picture.) The riders and horses seem to move in unison, understanding one another in a way that no other human-animal pairing can.
It had been years since I last rode a horse, but when my daughter started taking lessons, I knew that I would be taking them soon, too. After a couple of years of watching my daughter ride like a Valkyrie, I couldn't stand it anymore, and I signed up. Once a week, I watch my daughter ride, flawlessly going through her paces. Then, I gear myself up and fumble through my own lessons. I've gotten better each week, and I feel as though I've earned my seat in the saddle, though I doubt I'll ever be as graceful as my daughter is. The lesson horse, Vinnie, does what I ask when I ask it, mostly, and I have even gotten my balance enough to practice reaching precariously far away for objects. Recently, I even jumped at a canter (a three-beat jog over a six-inch pipe, but it's a start).
So, when one of those two events came around this year, I wanted very much to authorize. Of course, there were issues with this. I don't own a horse, I only know a handful of people with horses, and I had no way of knowing how best to make this whole "authorization" process work without a horse, despite having read the rules… twice.
Remarkably, there's nothing in there about how to go about borrowing a horse to authorize or participate in the games. And this isn't like borrowing a helm or a rapier. No, we're talking about a living, breathing, behemoth of an animal that requires training, care, and a huge trailer to get it from point A to point B. Horses aren't really the kind of thing that you can walk up to and say, "Hey, mind if I take it for a spin?" To be honest, you're more likely to get access to your buddy's new sports car than the average person's horse. And there's a reason for it.
Unlike most things one borrows in the SCA, the wrong person riding the wrong horse can result in serious damage to the rider and the horse. Trying to convince a 1000-pound animal to do what you want isn't always easy, and if she decides that you asked in just the wrong way, she may dump you flat on your back. This can mean pain and suffering for the rider (not to mention serious embarrassment), and a seriously annoyed horse who may not be of use to anyone else for the rest of the day (or week or month, depending on the temperament of the horse). It just isn't safe, and because of that, most horse owners are very particular about who they allow to borrow their horses.
On top of that, owning a horse is hard work… and expensive. That's why most of us don't have them. There's the cost of the food, training, and gear. Then, you have to have the space big enough to let them run. And if you think driving a fully-loaded car to events is expensive, imagine driving a truck that's pulling a trailer large enough to hold several horses! Once there, you have to set up the corrals for the animals, haul water, clean up after them, lay out hay, and get the tack down and cleaned up and ready to be used. That's a ton of work, and chances are it's all done before the event ever starts. Is it any wonder that horse owners are hesitant to just hand off one of their horses to a complete stranger? They've dedicated hours of their time and hundreds of dollars to just get the horses on site, and then some random stranger wants to just hop on, on a whim.
This doesn't mean that it's impossible to play in the equestrian games if you don't have a horse. What it does mean, however, is that trust has to be earned in the Society's equestrian world before one gets the chance to actually ride. Having horses requires dedication and time, and before you think about asking for a ride, it helps to show a bit of that yourself.
There's an established etiquette in the equestrian community, but it wasn't one that I knew when I first started spending time with horses and their people. Without meaning to, I managed to stick my foot into it several times (literally and figuratively) before I finally asked how to traverse the minefield that is the horse stable. I mean, I knew horses well enough by the time I wanted to authorize, but horse people still scared the crap out of me! They don't mean to, but they also don't intend to coddle your feelings at the expense of their horses, either.
To help those who are wondering how to get started in equestrian activities in the SCA, I offer this list of rules. As in all things, each horse owner is unique in how they handle things, but by following these guidelines, you're at least not likely to offend anyone.
Attend equestrian events and spend time with the horse owners. Get to know them as people, first, and horse owners second. Spend time around the corrals, talk to the owners, ask questions about their horses, and their other activities in the Society. No one likes to feel as though the only reason people are talking to them is to get something from them, like a ride on their horse.
Offer to help. This one is actually a bit trickier than you'd first think. Sometimes, people "offer to help" by simply picking something up and doing it instead of asking first. That's not always a wise move with horses. Some don't like strangers, so having you come close may cause undue stress. In hot weather, horse owners may be trying to keep track of how much water their horses have had, so just filling a bucket without asking first may cause problems. So when I say "offer to help", that's exactly what I mean. Say, "Hi! Would you like some help with something?" Or "How can I help?" Don't just jump in.
If you offer to help, plan to do just that. Offering to help means that you are willing to do what needs to be done. And guess what? It's probably going to entail some shoveling of the smelly stuff. That's life around horses. Sure, it's a lot more fun brushing and currying the horses. Heck, even lugging water is more fun that shoveling poop, but you're not offering to help based on what's easiest for you. You're offering to help someone take care of their animals, and that means doing the dirty work, too. If you do it with a smile, the owner is going to notice, and the opposite is true, too. A sour face and complaints will mean that you're not likely going to be asked to help next time, and you will have just lost any chance of riding that person's horse. Worse yet, word travels fast in the SCA, and chances are that you'll gain a reputation for being a fair-weather groom, and no one likes them.
No one owes you anything. Just because you've offered to help out a time or two, don't think that means you're entitled to ride the next time. Let me make this perfectly clear: You are never entitled to ride someone else's horse. They may be kind and allow you to do so, but no one is required to. The best thing that you can do is to get to know the people you're working with and around, develop a relationship, and hope that in time, they'll be generous and allow you riding time. If that offends you, I suggest that you save up and buy your own horse. It will save everyone a lot of headaches.
Offer to be a groom/ground crew. Everyone wants to ride, but without grooms or ground crew, there would be no games, nowhere to ride, and no equestrian events. This is another great opportunity to help out, spend time with horses, and learn more about the world of SCA equestrian sports. This is also a wonderful way to learn how to host your own equestrian events in the future.
Plan to pay to play. As I mentioned, owning, transporting, and taking care of horses is expensive. If someone is bringing a horse for your use, they're adding to their own expenses by adding that extra horse to the trailer, which increases the cost of gas, food, and other expenses for the trip. Expect to split the gas cost evenly with those others who plan to ride. Yes, that adds to your event costs, but it's the least you can do for the benefit of riding. On top of that, it's often a courtesy to offer to "rent" time on the horse instead of simply borrowing him. Again, it's not cheap to have horses on site, and every little bit helps. Plan this into your budget, or plan to just help out in the barns.
Plan ahead. There is nothing more awkward for everyone involved than for someone to walk up to a horse owner and say, "Hey, can I ride your horse today?" Chances are each of that owner's horses are already spoken for during the games, or they wouldn't have come. If the owner is nice enough to let you anyway, you're probably going to get the horse at the end of the day when those who planned ahead have already finished, leaving you with a sullen, tired, and probably cranky animal. Instead, send a very nicely worded letter or email to the Marshal-in-Charge of the equestrian games, letting them know your experience, and that you're interested in trading grooming time for riding time, and that you're willing to split travel and upkeep expenses. It helps if you also mention those equestrians that you've worked with in the past, so that they can vouch for you with the other horse owners. You may get lucky and someone will bring along a horse for you, and you may not. Remember, no one owes you a ride on their horse, so if it doesn't work out this time, try again at another event. The more time you spend around the horses and the horse owners, the more your name will be known, and the more likely you'll be able to borrow someone else's horse.
Be honest about your abilities. I can't emphasize this enough. If someone asks you about your experience, tell them the truth. They're not asking you because they're looking for a reason to tell you no. They're asking you because they want to make sure that they're putting you on a horse that you can handle, rather than a horse that will handle you. This is the pertinent information to give them:
How long (and how often) have you been riding?
Have you taken lessons? If so, with whom? (You'll be amazed at how small the horse community is, and even if your instructor isn't in the SCA, someone is likely to know him or her.)
Do you ride English or Western?
Can you trot, canter, run?
How many different horses have you ridden? What kinds of horses? (Quarter horse, thoroughbred, paint, etc.)
Keep a positive attitude. This can be hard when all you really want to do is hop on the back of a horse and ride around a bit, but no one will let you. The thing is, riding horses isn't just a pastime for most people. It's a lifestyle choice. For the majority of people who own a horse, it's not just about riding them. It's about being around them, caring for them, spending time in their company. They expect to see this same attitude in you before they're going to let you ride their beloved – and expensive – animals. If you don't have that attitude, then you might want to consider going on a couple of trail rides at home instead of asking someone else for horse-time.
If it seems like a lot, it is. But when you read through these rules, I think you'll notice a theme. Be respectful. Be willing to help. Be patient.
Equestrians love to talk about what they do. They love to share their passions, just like every other SCAdian out there. They want to invite you in, to share the joy of spending time with horses, but it does require some time and dedication from you, too.
My riding instructor once told me that I would learn more about horses from spending one day with horse people than I would taking lessons once a week for a year, and she's right. I may learn better balance in those lessons, but I learned how to understand horses, how to listen to them, and how to ask the right questions by spending time with horse people. Take the time to get to know those in the equestrian community before you try to jump in with both feet. Listen to them. Learn from them. And then, maybe, you'll find that you've earned their trust enough to ride one of their animals.
Roana Isenholt is a Reporting Analyst for a health insurance company in Central Illinois. A mother of four grown children, she lives with her husband, youngest daughter, three cats, dog, and guinea pig. She loves horseback riding, organizing (people and things), and learning.
Roana Aldinoch is a merchant in the late-12th C, who specializes in brewing, bookbinding, and occasional herb lore. She's recently taken up spinning the wool that her town, Totnes, is so famous for, though she's as easily found tied up in poorly spun thread as actually creating anything of value.
Copyright 2015 by Roana Isenholt. <roana.aldinoch at gmail.com>. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited. Addresses change, but a reasonable attempt should be made to ensure that the author is notified of the publication and if possible receives a copy.
If this article is reprinted in a publication, please place a notice in the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.