Reflections on Riding

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Reflections on Riding
by Stephen Leacock
Appeared in Literary Lapses, published in 1910.

The writing of this paper has been inspired by a debate recently held at the literary society of my native town on the question, "Resolved: that the bicycle is a nobler animal than the horse." In order to speak for the negative with proper authority, I have spent some weeks in completely addicting myself to the use of the horse. I find that the difference between the horse and the bicycle is greater than I had supposed.

The horse is entirely covered with hair; the bicycle is not entirely covered with hair, except the '89 model they are using in Idaho.

In riding a horse the performer finds that the pedals in which he puts his feet will not allow of a good circular stroke. He will observe, however, that there is a saddle in which--especially while the horse is trotting--he is expected to seat himself from time to time. But it is simpler to ride standing up, with the feet in the pedals.

There are no handles to a horse, but the 1910 model has a string to each side of its face for turning its head when there is anything you want it to see.

Coasting on a good horse is superb, but should be under control. I have known a horse to suddenly begin to coast with me about two miles from home, coast down the main street of my native town at a terrific rate, and finally coast through a plantoon of the Salvation Army into its livery stable.

I cannot honestly deny that it takes a good deal of physical courage to ride a horse. This, however, I have. I get it at about forty cents a flask, and take it as required.

I find that in riding a horse up the long street of a country town, it is not well to proceed at a trot. It excites unkindly comment. It is better to let the horse walk the whole distance. This may be made to seem natural by turning half round in the saddle with the hand on the horse's back, and gazing intently about two miles up the road. It then appears that you are the first in of about fourteen men.

Since learning to ride, I have taken to noticing the things that people do on horseback in books. Some of these I can manage, but most of them are entirely beyond me. Here, for instance, is a form of equestrian performance that every reader will recognize and for which I have only a despairing admiration:

"With a hasty gesture of farewell, the rider set spurs to his horse and disappeared in a cloud of dust."

With a little practice in the matter of adjustment, I think I could set spurs to any size of horse, but I could never disappear in a cloud of dust--at least, not with any guarantee of remaining disappeared when the dust cleared away.

Here, however, is one that I certainly can do:

"The bridle-rein dropped from Lord Everard's listless hand, and, with his head bowed upon his bosom, he suffered his horse to move at a foot's pace up the sombre avenue. Deep in thought, he heeded not the movement of the steed which bore him."

That is, he looked as if he didn't; but in my case Lord Everard has his eye on the steed pretty closely, just the same.

This next I am doubtful about:

"To horse! to horse!" cried the knight, and leaped into the saddle.

I think I could manage it if it read:

"To horse!" cried the knight, and, snatching a step-ladder from the hands of his trusty attendant, he rushed into the saddle.

As a concluding remark, I may mention that my experience of riding has thrown a very interesting sidelight upon a rather puzzling point in history. It is recorded of the famous Henry the Second that he was "almost constantly in the saddle, and of so restless a disposition that he never sat down, even at meals." I had hitherto been unable to understand Henry's idea about his meals, but I think I can appreciate it now.