Riding a Horse

8 May 2009


Friday morning

First of all, I am not a horseman. I have ridden horses previously — several of them — but prior to my current stay at the Hacienda Zuleta I had not been on a horse since 1987, and during that last horse ride (in Hell’s Canyon, between Oregon and Idaho) I was thrown clear of the saddle and landed on the ground with my head a few feet away from a large rock. While being thrown was unpleasant, I immediately realized how fortunate I was in this instance; it could have been much worse for me.

Friday's Ride

Fortunately, my equestrian experience at the Hacienda Zuleta has not involved any incident of comparable danger. Perhaps the greatest danger I have had to face is the equatorial sun at high altitude. Despite using a significant amount of strong sunblock, my neck got very red today. (Earlier in the trip I missed a spot when applying sunscreen and I now have one small sunburned patch on my right elbow.)

Imbabura countryside

Since I am not a regular rider of horses, and not an enthusiast of horse riding (and therefore woefully ignorant of the entire process), it is essentially a new experience for me, and that is a good thing, because there is much to be learned from new experiences. For example, I learned something about my own anatomy. Apparently, there is a strap of muscle on both sides, left and right, and goes directly under the pelvic bone. When you ride a horse, this muscle is pinched between the pelvic bone and the saddle. In order to ride with a minimum of comfort, this muscle must be kept tight. The problem is, ordinary activity in industrialized society does not exercise this muscle, and trying to keep an out of shape muscle tight for an extended period of time leads to soreness. But if a person were to ride every day for a couple of weeks, I have no doubt that the appropriate muscles would tighten up and one would be fine. For the time being, I can walk a horse passably, but anything more (trot, canter, gallop, etc.) is uncomfortable.

Hacienda Zuleta from above

But I learned much more than this from my horseback riding experience. Riding a horse puts one in direct touch with history, as the greater part of human history was made on horseback. To ride is to understand the conditions of life of our ancestors. George Washington and Simon Bolivar, for example, were both admired for their ability to spend extended periods of time in the saddle. Horseback riding is like re-enacting history on a small scale, i.e., it is a kind of experimental archaeology. One is better able to identify with episodes in the past if one has a personal experience of how those episodes took place.

Volcan Cayambe

When personally acquainted with the difficulties of riding a horse, reflecting upon horsemanship in war gives one a new degree of appreciation of the training and conditioning, as well as the knowledge and expertise, of going to battle on horseback. It is difficult for me to imagine being on a horse at a full run, covered in about a hundred pounds of armor, carrying a lance, and attempting to spear someone similarly outfitted headed straight for you and attempting to kill you by similar means. It would take a lifetime of training to become proficient at this, and with this highly trained and specialized military asset, no mob of untrained peasants in an uprising could hope to stand against such force. When we read in a history book that a peasant rebellion was put down “brutally” (a term not infrequently employed), one must keep in mind the image of farm workers, only accustomed to the plow, going up against men who spent their life training to fight under conditions of great difficulty. History becomes more comprehensible in this way.


One of my favorite passages in Husserl, and one to which I find myself returning time and again, is from section 28 of Ideas I: “The arithmetical world is there for me only if, and as long as, I am in the arithmetical attitude.” In later editions Husserl’s marginalia extended this substantially: “The arithmetical world is there for me only when I have studied arithmetic, when I have systematically formed arithmetical ideas, when I have looked into it and thereby acquired something permanent with a universal horizon.” What is powerful in this idea is that it is true not only for mathematics, or not only for the formal sciences or absract theoretical constructions, but for any world whatever. I could just a well say that, “The equestrian world is there for me only if, and as long as, I am in the equestrian attitude.” Or, “The equestian world is there for me only when I have studied horemanship, and I have systematically practiced equestrian sports, when I have extended my equestrian experience and acquired something of permanence.”

Friday evening

New experiences open up new worlds for us. This is as true of horsemanship or learning a new language (the examples on my mind from today’s experiences) as for mathematics (Husserl’s example from Ideas I). The turning toward a given phenomenon, and especially its cultivation, opens new worlds of experience to one so turned toward some aspect of the world — especially some novel aspect of the world, and its pursuit through cultivation, eventually converging on familiarity. My brief re-acquaintance with horseback riding, as well as having my guide, Antonio, teach me some phrases in Quechua, drove this point home to me in a personal way. Without that turning toward a given aspect of the world, we remain blind to it.

Zuleta gateway

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Grand Strategy Annex

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5 Responses to “Riding a Horse”

  1. monk said

    I can totally relate. I’ve been riding horses my whole life and I still get sore if I go for a while with out riding and then climb back in the saddle. I can also relate to the dangers that go along with horses. I loved the beautiful photos you added to your blog. What an awesome setting for a nice day out on a horse. Perhaps your muscles will get with the program and you will enjoy riding much more. I hope so. There is nothing like the feeling of freedom and the partnership between horse and rider.

  2. matt said

    Thanks I found this blog really useful, I’ll recommend it to friends.

  3. emma said

    Great Blog Thanks 🙂

  4. joe said

    I love this blog, I’ll be recommending it to friends

  5. joan said

    Really interesting blog thanks!

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