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What's Safer? On Foot or Mounted?

"Is it safer to be on or off your horse if he gets surprised?"

This is a question I've been asked a number of times. I don't know if there's actually a "correct" answer. I know many riders that feel safest when standing on the ground. Their reasoning is that they're already on the ground, so falling isn't an issue. And if their horse gets frightened and they can't bring him under control, they can just let go of the lead line and move away.

Interestingly, I feel differently. I always feel safer when in the saddle, especially on the trail. If my horse were to spook while I'm leading him on the ground, my only options would be to try to hold and control him or to let him go. If let go, I'd worry he could run into traffic or some other kind of trouble. Controlling a scared horse is a delicate situation in the best of circumstances — it can get completely out of control in a hurry, and it may not even be our fault depending on what has occurred.

At least if in the saddle, I'd stay with him, even if he ran. Plus, I could control his speed and direction so he doesn't make a bad decision in a panic. Obviously, if the source of the spook were a bear, mountain lion, or some such, I'd think everyone would prefer being in the saddle. That doesn't mean we'd necessarily make it to safety if being chased, but it sure beats having my horse run off and me being left on foot to face the problem alone. Of course, if our horse was running off a cliff and we couldn't stop him, it would be time to leave the saddle.

A much better question might be, "what kind of training do my horse and I need to build mutual trust and be in full control of my horse in almost any situation?" Horses have been used in war and rescue situations throughout history. Clearly, some people have mastered control and trust with their horses and there's no reason we can't learn to do the same. Good horsemanship is all about building skills, knowledge, and trust with our four-legged friends in ways that work with their natural instincts. It takes patience, time, and work, but it's certainly worth it!

Besides being an avid trail rider, Jerry Tardif is a technology consultant and a horse and nature photographer in SE Connecticut — see his work at: www.jerrytardif.com. He is also co-founder and President of QueryHorse.

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