The rope riders came down the driveway slowly, their horses veering this way and that, side to side, forwards a few steps, then backwards nearly as many.
It took them an hour to trespass from the bridleway that crosses the top of the drive and make their slow, dangerously shaky course between the paddocks full of horses until they made it to just opposite our smallholding, where their mounts gave up completely and just refused to take another step.
There were four horses, but only one was wearing what I would call tack, as in a saddle and bridle. The other three, including a child’s pony being ridden by a small girl, were being steered by only makeshift ropes wound loosely around the horses’ heads.
All manner of clever salesmen call this different names, mostly copyrighted. Natural horsemanship, Liberty training, Horsefulness… The idea seems to be that there is a magical relationship you can attain with your horse if you ditch all conventional methods of controlling a half ton animal and simply allow it to choose what it wants to do.
I call them bitless and witless. Also, shoeless and clueless, because they don’t have a farrier shoe their horses, thinking it’s cruel to nail support to the bottom of insensible hoof material. They ride them barefoot on the road, forcing them to hobble along as footsore as a mule in a third world country. It’s actually despicable.
As for bridles, any proper horse person will tell you — and it’s obvious when you ride — that a horse takes confidence from knowing your hands are there. You don’t yank, you keep an even contact.
There are those who can ride purely with their seat, like cowboys. But sadly, the idiots who elect not to have a bridle just in case are never able to do this. This lot were, as usual, forcing their horses to have the most terrible time by making them think the whole ride through themselves. The horses were effectively loose, taking themselves for a hack through a strange farm.
When they got to our paddocks, the lead horse stopped, because he simply did not want to go down the hill and back up a steep rise the other side with a totally blind summit. Without any form of contact on his mouth, you could see he was too scared to go forward.
They were a raggedy collection, these horses, furry and thin, as though they all needed a good feed and a good brush. Presumably, their owners did not believe in grooming. Possibly, they had not been feeding them any grain all winter, believing a horse must exist naturally in a bare field.
As I sat there and watched, the lead rider explained in English to her horse what she wanted him to do: ‘Come on now, please go down there…’ and so on, as the others shrieked with laughter at their predicament.
They then tried putting another horse in front, so a man kicked his horse forward. I mean he kicked and kicked and kicked. See, I don’t like to kick my horse. I figure kicking a horse in the sides isn’t on, so I squeeze if I need to make contact with my legs. But he kicked with his legs at right angles until got his horse in front.
But his horse wouldn’t walk into the dip either. They then repeated this, putting different horses in front except the one wearing tack, bizarrely, until most of the horses had refused to lead. Then the first woman had the idea to start whipping her horse with a rope she was carrying. She whooped it with that rope until I felt like shouting at her to stop.
When they had been outside the gate for 25 minutes kicking and shrieking and whipping their horses’ backsides, I decided I had to say something.
‘I’d put a bridle on if it were me,’ I said. ‘Oh, we don’t do bridles!’ called back the lead woman haughtily.
So many replies were possible: How’s that working out for ya?…Tell that to the relatives of the person you kill in a three-car pile-up if you ever get to the road… Having a bit of contact with the mouth so the horse takes confidence from your hands is far less cruel than kicking the hell out of its ribs and beating it… I’m not suggesting you put a bridle on yourself, I mean the horse…
I sighed: ‘Look, you’re on a private driveway. If you want to beat your horses with ropes in the name of natural horsemanship you can do it on your own property. We don’t have special insurance to cover you for whatever it is you think you’re doing.’
I turned my back on them as they began the process of attempting to turn their loose horses around. I had seen enough.