Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Skill Sets

This is going to be a weird one, but hey, my freak flag has always waved proudly from the very top of the flagpole.

I like to learn stuff. All sorts of stuff. Not only because that stuff helps you have a better understanding of related stuff, but because it often helps you with unrelated stuff. For a simpler, less weird metaphor than the one I'm about to unleash on you--mechanics. If you know a little something about cars, chances are you'll be able to figure out how to get a balky motorcycle or boat motor going.

There's one skill I really never thought I'd use again, at least not on a regular basis, and that's horseback riding. For almost ten years, I took weekly English riding lessons. I went to horseback riding camp, too, where my skills were tested to the limit by a horse named Razzle, a half-Thoroughbred, half-Welsh pony who was the chosen mount of Satan (Those of you who know anything about horses are probably shaking your heads right now, wondering what crazed sociopath decided to put that horse in the lineup at a children's summer camp.). I also worked for a summer as a trail guide, where I was further tested by a scrappy little mule called Rosie (why does everyone always give me the difficult horses?) while trying to keep shrieking tourists from New York in their saddles.

Never, though, did I ever expect horseback riding to so fully prepare me for jogging with my dogs. There are so many parallels and applicable lessons, though, it's amazing.

Hold the reins properly. A lot of people hold their leashes with the end closest to the dog coming down through the top of their fist, or worse, wrapped around their hand. In horseback riding, you learn that your ring finger is the strongest, apart from your thumb. So I hold my leashes exactly as I hold the reins, the end closest to the dog looping up between my pinkie and fourth finger, through my fist, and out between my thumb and first finger. It's the safest and strongest way to grip.

Keep your elbows in. You're not going to stop a horse, or a large dog, just with the strength of your arm. Keeping your elbows close to your sides allows you to use your core strength as well.

Watch the ears. When you look at your horse's head while riding, what you want to see are ears that are cupped loosely back toward you. That means he's paying attention to his rider. Follow those ears. If those ears suddenly prick sharply forward, there's a good chance you're going for an abrupt and unexpected ride. Same thing goes for my dogs--I've averted many disasters simply by watching the direction of their ears.

If the worst happens, choke up the reins and sit down. I may have mentioned this incident in my "Things I'm Good At" video blog, I'm not sure. Once, my dogs spotted a loose dog at the bottom of our street. I wasn't watching their ears and I didn't have my elbows in, so they caught me off-balance. I ended up running at top speed to keep up (and keep from falling) until finally I threw myself backward and sat down. I rashed my leg on my impromptu baseball slide, but it stopped them pretty much dead in their tracks and allowed me to regain control, the same way I stopped Razzle and Rosie from bolting, oh, about a hundred times. A day.

I'm aware this post has been a little silly, but bottom line? Learn everything you can. You never know when or how it'll come in handy.

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