Trees blurring past, the thunder of hooves. I held tight to the reins, remembering to keep my heels down. Fourteen hundred pounds of power galloping through the forest. Horseback riding is a mystical, powerful adventure.
When riding a horse, I feel connected. It’s a mixture of love, fear, and respect. Humans and horses have a long history together, a productive relationship that has lasted centuries. Before machines, horses were the machine, they were a power that helped pull our civilization together. Before cars, horses carried us across the land. When we ride horses in this modern world, it’s a timeless event. And Sanborn Western Camps is one of the best places to ride.
At Sanborn, one of our many goals is to foster a sense of wonder in every camper. We work to inspire a connection with nature. And one of the many ways to achieve that connection is to swing up into a saddle and ride a horse.
There is something therapeutic about horseback riding. Studies have shown that we truly connect with the animal. Brain waves slow. We even change our breathing to match up with the horse. The slightest movement, a turn, the twitch of a muscle, it’s all communication. The horse understands without words. If a camper is stressed, the horse can sense that. If a camper is relaxed, the horse relaxes as well. It’s a feedback loop, animal to animal, a real time relationship.
Many years ago when I was a camper at Sanborn, I was afraid of horses. I pretended I didn’t care, but the truth is I was scared. The staff was ready for this. The counselors and wranglers gently encouraged me to step outside my comfort zone and give horseback riding a try. So I did.
I thought we would jump right on a horse and ride, but the process was much more intricate. The wranglers first taught me how to care for the animal, to understand it, to lead the horse gently, to speak to it. They showed me how to brush the horse, tracing the contours of its power. I began to relax and forget my fear. I began to feel a sense of wonder.
I gazed into the huge marble eyes. I ran my hands along the sway of the horse’s back and wondered if a Ute boy or a young trapper did the same with his horse two hundred years ago, right where I was standing.
We learned to saddle and bridle, tightening buckles, bringing all tack to the perfect length. Then, with mud on my rented boots, I swung up into the saddle. We rode slowly, ambling away from the Big Spring barn. That sunny afternoon, I went on my first ride. And I’ve never looked back.
When we ride, we develop all kinds of skills. Horseback riding is a two-way process. You can’t just sit back and do nothing, you must interact with the animal with physical and verbal cues. As a result, riding develops subtle communication skills. Riding also develops balance and coordination. Your core gets a workout, and you must stay focused on where your body is in space. After a long ride, the next day you can truly feel it, aches in muscles you didn’t know you had.
At camp we do all kinds of rides, from half-day trail rides to five day pack trips deep into the Rockies. It’s a range of fun that fits perfectly with the range of campers. My favorites are the long trips, adventures that are unmatched. We ride deep into rugged country, places where only horses can take us. We sleep under the stars and rise before dawn to care for the herd. It’s a unique experience that you can only find at a place like Sanborn.
In our modern chaotic world, it’s important to find ways to relax. Horseback riding can do that. Horses are a direct bond with nature that we can all share. When you ride a horse, you find both companionship and solitude at the same time.
Any chance I can get, I’ll take a horseback ride. The rasp of an old saddle, the musk of the animal, the joy of a slow walk through an aspen grove. The world looks better from the back of a horse. The Ute Indians of the Rockies once said, “The way to heaven is on horseback.” I think they might be right.
- M. Huffman -