Ode to the Packers

I’m not talking about the football team here.

I’m talking about the horses who cart your butt around despite everything you do to get in the way.

The ones who never refuse a jump even though you’re climbing up their necks and not releasing.

The ones who stand still while waiting and move forward as soon as they are asked, even though your aids are about as decisive as a limp noodle.

The horses who make you look good because they know what they’re doing better than you do.

These are not unicorns, folks. They exist, and they are called packers. And I think they are massively under appreciated. Because of things like this:

Let me just clarify: I agree with this 100%. I will be first in line to say that difficult horses teach us how to ride effectively. Learning to encourage a horse to accept the bit when they’re resisting, to sit a buck, to stop a gallop, to anticipate and counteract a refusal, and how to handle a horse just being a horse are all so necessary. Figuring out the quirks and difficulties of the horse you’re on is true equestrianism, not just keeping heels down and legs still. Learning all of these things is an education for you and for your horse as a team.

But sometimes there are horses who have gotten their education. They’ve not only gotten their education, but they’ve graduated with a Bachelor’s in Sensitivity to Aids, Masters in Finding Their Own Distance, and a PhD in Auto Changes. There are no quirks to figure out- this horse has been there, done that, bought the t-shirt, then sold the t-shirt on e-Bay for a profit. Because this horse is savvy like that.

This horse goes around on a looped rein without trying to run away with you, but he accepts the bit when it’s time to work that frame. Heck, he’ll pop into a frame without any contact at all because he has the know-how to carry himself. He’s not going to refuse that jump because he’s seen every type of obstacle there is, and he’s been taught to jump with confidence. Don’t worry, he’s got enough confidence for both of you.

He might not be a 10 mover, and he might not jump higher than 18′, and he might need 15 minutes of lunging to get the bucks out before you hop on. But when you are on his back, he will take you where you want to go without a fuss, and he will enjoy it.

He’s had his education, and he lets you focus on yours. He teaches you how to sit still and be deliberate, because he will respond to even unintentional aids. He teaches you to perfect your position, because he allows you to stop focusing on being effective and just think about being technical. He teaches you how a horse should respond to correctly given aids. He lets you relax and (re)discover the exuberant pleasure of nailing that course or test or pattern, and he gives you the confidence that yeah, you can absolutely do this.

He gives you back the education that he received. He is the teacher. And when you learn from him, you can go back to your non-packer and teach in turn. Packers are what drive the cycle of correct training, both for horse and rider.

Difficult horses are so interesting and rewarding to ride, and they are what make us equestrians. Keep riding those tough horses so they can push you to be your best and you can push them in turn. But be grateful for the packers in your life, because they have taught you more than you realize.

What have you learned from your packers? Your “difficult” horses?

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