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Nose to the Ground Issue 007: Ralph Waldo Emerson on Horsemanship
March 01, 2005

Greetings from Nose to The Ground
- the beagle-inspired newsletter bringing you the latest from

Happy March!

The days are definitely getting longer and before we know it we'll be making the switch from 6 months of winter to 6 months of tourists.


Late last year we had a friend of ours create the stylized likeness of a Fjord Horse in steel for an outside wall of our house. We're pleased with the final result and would like to share it with you here.

The artist, Jerry Morang does superb work. We have several of his items in steel including interior wall art and a weathervane.

If steel art is something of interest to you, find out more in our HOME DECOR section.


Since the beginning of the year we've been adding to the Saddles section of Your-Guide-to-....

Saddles has proven to be a very popular subject judging from the traffic, surpassing Horse Art as our most visited section aside from our home page. We're attempting to provide lots of very useful information to anyone contemplating the purchase of a saddle.

Whether purchasing on-line or from a local saddle maker or dealer makes no difference.

There are things you need to know if you haven't purchased one before. In any event we'll keep adding to this section, solicit some feedback and strive for even more pages visitors will find useful and informative.


While checking out some saddle making sources here in Montana I came across Miles City Saddlery. Miles City is probably a good 600 miles east of here, still in Montana. Don't know much about their product line but their web site is interesting viewing plus Miles City is home to the Annual Bucking Horse Sale and Auction which we are familiar with. You can check out the Saddlery and Bucking Horse activities on our Saddle Maker Page.

About the same time I took a look at an outfit also in eastern Montana sponsoring Cattle Drives for those of us who normally don't do that sort of thing but would like too. Haven't tried that yet, every time I think about it I think of the movie "City Slickers". In any event we'll add that to our list of Cool Ideas as a potential horseback riding vacation gift idea.


A bit of advice I like to publish from time to time is to never ever give anyone your credit card number via e-mail. When you buy something over the Internet the transaction is always ( for a reputable merchant) over a secure path and quite safe. E-mail is not secure and a reputable merchant would never use it as a means of placing an order. They may confirm an order via e-mail and often do but do not show your credit card number ( except perhaps a few digits) in the process.

What got me on this subject is a dangerous scam which can show up in your e-mail. The message states that a well known institution (e.g., like CityBank or Bank of America) has a problem with your account and requests that you verify your account number ( be it a bank account or credit card number).

Be aware that no bank would ever ask you to do this. In the first place they just don't misplace account numbers and if they did they certainly would never ask for your assistance via e-mail or the telephone.

If you get such a request, delete the message promptly so the scam artist doesn't end up with access to your credit card or funds.

Back to horses.


For this month's article I had planned on something on the topic of saddles and saddlery but got sidetracked a bit and ended up writing about an essay of Ralph Waldo Emerson's. I know that seems a bit far afield but in reading the article you'll hopefully understand my reason for doing that.

English Lit was not high among my favorite classes in high school but I thoroughly enjoyed the assignments to read several of the essays of Ralph Waldo Emerson. I always intended to have a book of those essays for my own and after many ( many, many) years of procrastination I bought a copy of his essays not long ago.

I enjoy them as much now as I did then.

Emerson didn't say much about horses. Of course in his day nearly every one was transported from place to place on the back of or behind one. Maybe somewhere in his writings he talks about horses - I'm not sure. But, in reading his essay "Compensation", I thought there's much about horsemanship here, even though Emerson doesn't mention horses specifically. It's a good essay for the horseman or horsewoman to read.

In Compensation, Emerson discusses the dualism of nature and the forces of equilibrium that in effect rule our lives. There are basic principles that we are either unaware of or choose to ignore in our daily pursuits. When we "go with the flow" (my words not Emerson's) we tend to be rewarded, when we don't, things come back to bite us.

Horses seem to understand the laws of nature far better than we do. Being prey animals they aren't risk-takers. They're happier in the herd than being the "individual contributers" that we tend to prize so highly. To be an "average" horse is likely not shameful as far as the horse is concerned, where for us to be satisfied with being "average" implies we have a bit of the "slacker" in us.

What comes out of all of this, is the reward granted (compensation given) in learning to live in harmony with the horse. The horse after all instinctively tries to maintain equilibrium. We also try when we're first learning horseback riding, but in general we end up doing things which upset the equilibrium which the horse has already established. Then we blame the horse!

We haven't yet learned to "go with the flow".

In halter training a foal we find that the best way to get it to initially follow a lead is to put a rope around it's hindquarters and gently tug, pushing the foal towards us. With this gentle pressure applied to its hindquarters, the foal yields to restore equilibrium.

If we try to pull the foal physically by the lead rope, it probably thinks it's being forced to heaven only knows where and it doesn't want to go there. Equilibrium is being upset and the horse isn't sure how to get back to normal except to resist.

What we've done is learned something - how to achieve equilibrium. Having taught the foal is almost a by-product of this exercise.

In the saddle a horse naturally yields to very slight pressure. We're the ones that have to learn that - not the horse. The horse is just reestablishing equilibrium by yielding to pressure, be it tension on a rein, pressure by a leg or a subtle shift in body weight.

In the round ring, the horse responds to what I like to think of as visual pressure. Our location and movement in the center of the ring influences the actions of the horse, even though there is no physical force exerted. Again, the horse is responding to this pressure to get the situation to where it "should be" - that is, equilibrium.

In Compensation, Emerson states that if we do something (e.g. train a horse) poorly, we end up with a poor result (e.g., a poorly trained horse) because we've messed up equilibrium and will suffer the consequences as the world seeks to get back in order. We get our just rewards, our compensation, and have to live with it.

Deal with the horse harshly and you'll always have to deal with it harshly to get it to do anything. That's it's new state of equiibrium and it costs.

Had Emerson devoted an essay or two to the art of horsemanship I'm guessing he'd be regarded as the 19th Century equivalent to Xenophon, Lyons, or Parelli. I could be wrong but I'm guessing that Ralph Waldo Emerson believed his own stuff and he'd have been a pretty effective trainer of horses.

I encourage everyone to give Emerson a try. Recommending his writings on my equine-oriented website probably doesn't make much sense - unless I add a section titled "Other or Misc.".

I don't promise reading his essays would make you a better horseman or horsewoman - but it probably wouldn't hurt any either.

You might even get to like Ralph Waldo.

Thanks again for the visit. See you in a month.

Bill Savage Goose Bay Ranch Rollins, Montana

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