My parents did a good job. I was brought up to be many things, and well-mannered is one of them. Unfortunately, I also grew up as a rider, and riding instructors don’t ask, they tell. In fact, it’s more common for them to demand.
Even if you’re only performing exercises at a walk, commands are rattled off at a gallop. By the time a series of instructions have been given, coaches often have to return to their initial prompts, as their pupils have focused on the most recent pointers and let the first ones slide.
It’s partly a lack of time – when a student needs to be told to put their heels down, point their toes ahead, pull their shoulders back and down, keep their thumbs on top, sit up straight, lean back, squeeze with their legs, give with their hands, lower their hands and relax, there really isn’t time for a little word like “please” – but also due to the sheer necessity that the rider obey the instructions. The art of staying on a horse and making it do what you want it to is not about choices, negotiation and options, it is about balance and control, things which generations of riders before us have spent years honing.
For me, asking “please” is a gesture of politeness, a consideration for the other person to make. There is the option for them to deny your request. But none of the instructions above are optional – all are essential for the rider to stay balanced and as safe as possible in a precarious environment.
Whilst my riding instructors did now support my parents’ insistence that I say please, they did back up the use of thank yous. One particularly memorable teacher refused to let his charges dismount unless they “make much of your pony” – old-school riding instructor speak for “give your pony a pat”. Horses are still wild animals – they do what we ask of them out of choice. They carry us for pleasure or purpose in a way that we cannot reciprocate. To thank them for their efforts is only polite, and something I continue to do to this day. It is also something anyone can do, whether you are a beginner who has spent half an hour in the saddle completing their first lesson, or a decorated professional whose mount has seen them safely home yet again.
Every person I help into the saddle will make much of their pony before I assist them in their dismount. Because all good work deserves thanks.