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You, Your Horse and Faith

By John Keily

My first recollection of being on horseback is me sitting on the pommel of a stock saddle, in front of my Dad, who took most of my weight on his arms under mine. A big, black Australian Stock horse called Fury. I would have been about 4 yrs. old. Of course, I learnt to ride early and was competent in the saddle mustering stock at 5! At 6 I was an expert!! At 8 I was given my own pony, a little palomino of around 12 hands and absolutely bomb proof. Unfortunately he had a terribly hard mouth and that is where I really began to learn to ride and to learn to be a horseman.

I spent much of my childhood riding around the countryside with a cousin of mine. naturally, we would race each other every now and then and as soon as either of us said "ready, set, go" I'd have to start pulling my pony up so I could stop before we hit the fence at the other end of the paddock. I'd be standing in my stirrups, pulling on that little pony's mouth for all I was worth. Eventually, he'd stop for me. Then one day I made a startling discovery. For some reason, I dropped the reins at a gallop and lo and behold, the little fellow slowed right down and stopped. So I tried it again and again and sure enough, every time I dropped the reins onto his neck, he would stop. The lesson was, I gave him control and I gave him a signal to stop all at the one time. Along the way I had found that if I fell off, he would stop. When I dropped the reins onto his neck, he was getting the same signal, which was that something wasn't right and so he'd stop.

When I was 8 yrs. old I had a bad accident on him. Returning home along a road and riding behind my father, who was on his big black horse, my pony suddenly decided to do a hard and fast turn to the right and head up the driveway of my aunty. The turn threw me and the last thing I recall is seeing the horse towering over me just to my right and to my immediate left and just in front of me, a big tree. I had become hooked up in a stirrup and was being dragged. As luck would have it, the gate to my aunt's driveway was shut, so my little pony shot along the fence line, dragging me with him through the quite thick bush along the side of the road. After a hundred yards or so, he decided to come out of the bush and cross the road to the bush on the other side. Now while this was happening, my Dad turned and saw me being dragged, so at a gallop along the road , he paralleled my pony as he went through the trees. When my pony turned and began to cross the road, my father smashed his horse into the side of mine and he and the horses came down in a screaming heap in the middle of the road. He told me later that when he saw me being dragged through the bush, he thought I was dead and he just wanted to bring the pony down. Fortunately, just before impact, my foot came out of the stirrup and I was left unconscious on the roadside embankment. The horses were badly skinned up and my Dad broke his wrist in the fall. To make matters worse, the horses galloped off home, arriving rider less, giving my mother a big fright.

Eventually an ambulance arrived and I came-to just as it did so. After an examination in hospital I was passed as being fit and well, with only a severe concussion. What had saved me was the fact that I was hung up in the right stirrup on the left side of the horse. The stirrup had come across the saddle and so held my higher off the ground than would otherwise have been the case and prevented me from swinging wildly into trees as the pony galloped through the bush. Poor Dad, on the other hand, was in plaster for over three months. The horses were fine, apart from lost skin and recovered quickly. Not me though! It took a lot of convincing from my father to get back on, but once I did, I felt as though nothing had ever happened.

I, my brothers and my cousin have spent thousands of hours on the back of a horse. We have entered shows, ridden at Gymkhanas, gone on long trail rides and mustered cattle. Horses have been a big part of my life and I am thankful to have experienced what most people do not. From ponies to big working horses, the whole experience has been a privilege, because it is an experience in forming a trusting relationship with a magnificent animal. That trusting relationship can only exist if the horse has faith in you, the rider. If the horse has faith in you, it feels safe and secure. If the horse feels safe and secure, it will allow you to take it into situations an animal would normally avoid. It will seek to please you.

I had another bad accident when I was 16. My little pony had long gone and once again I was on a big Stock Horse. One day, racing my brother home across a paddock and the girth snapped. I went under the horse at a gallop and broke a leg, a wrist and was knocked unconscious. Boy, all that really hurt! Off to hospital, x-rays, arm re-set, plaster cast and home again. For some reason, that accident did nothing to shatter my confidence and I was back riding in no time. This was probably because my father, years before, had taught me the wisdom of "getting back on the horse". In other words, don't give up and always strive to overcome your fears and that lesson applies to much more in life than just riding horses.

Since then I have done countless hours of riding, for both pleasure and stock work and
I enjoy riding today as much as I did when I was a little kid who couldn't even mount a horse on his own. What a wonderful thing it is, to be able to communicate with an animal so much more powerful than you are and to have it do your bidding. What a wonderful thing it is to communicate with such an animal and to have it enjoy what the two of you do together. Along the way I have learnt to expect the unexpected, to make sure my gear is in good order, to not take shortcuts and to always, always, look after the horse. You feed it before you feed yourself. You attend to it as soon as you finish with it. You make it your best friend. If you do those things, then you will never experience anything as fulfilling, as satisfying, as that bond between horse and rider.

John Keily