"Lettin' the cat outta the bag is a whole lot easier than puttin' it back."
(old Cowboy saying...)
[Before you read this article, please read this DISCLAIMER: I do not promote shooting, I do not encourage you to become a gun owner nor do I condone violence of any kind. Shooting should only be done in a safe environment, with safe equipment under the guidance of an experienced marksman/markswoman. Thank you!]
For those of you, who don’t know or care what a muzzle loader is, who have never interacted with this mechanical wonder or cannot imagine what this may have to do with the Art of Riding, please bear with me...
The muzzle loader:
It had been decades that I had picked up a gun for any purpose–always aimed at non-living objects–and I was quite curious and delighted when I was generously invited to partake in the adventure of target-shooting with a muzzle loader. A muzzle loader, even to gun-novices like me, is a thing of beauty, with all visible parts immediately suggesting the intended purpose. With clear lines, smooth wood and dark metal, it is a hand-crafted machine that invites the user to participate in a process, much like the old locomotives. It is a long, unwieldy and heavy instrument. Think 18th century Colonialists, Civil War and “Last of the Mohicans”. Nothing quick and easy about shooting with this one.
It’s all in the preparation:
Not only does one have to pour lead to create heavy 50 caliber bullets, but also carry little patches of linen and a box of grease, in addition to several little gadgets and the powder, of course. In the right combination and sequence, the powder and bullet, wrapped in the little greased linen patch, wind up in the barrel of the heavy gun, loaded through the muzzle one by one. I applaud Daniel Day-Lewis in “Last of the Mohicans” for picking up fallen enemies’ guns to pursue the evil-doers, there would never have been time to bring them to justice, had he tried to reload the gun!
A surprising experience:
In my twenties, I used to shoot cans with a small caliber rifle a stable hand kept around. There were plenty of bullets in the thing and loading it is not even part of my memory of shooting... It was just loud and fun. The muzzle loader, I expected, would be louder and less fun. This gun from slower times, however, is different and I was unprepared to have a somewhat poetic experience.
“A word, once sent abroad, flies irrevocably.” (Horace, Roman solder-poet)
This quote by Horace, Roman pre AD soldier-poet and author of “Carpe Diem - Seize the Day”–the quote most often found in corporate offices–used to adorn my desk, when I was a nerdy teenager. It best describes the muzzle loader experience. The instant you press the trigger, you feel the ‘swoosh’ of this large bullet traveling through the long barrel in a split second. With a loud bang, of course. You then see the non-negotiable impact of your action in the cardboard target. In combination with the extensive preparation, it becomes a very conscious and artful process.
What does the muzzle loader and an ancient poet have to do with the art of riding?
The art of riding–I am particularly thinking of dressage, whether cowboy or classical– is also the art of precision and deliberation. ‘Rush it and ruin it’ should be the motto here. Once you utter the word or pull the trigger, it better be what you meant to convey. There is no ‘taking it back’ in mid-air.
Masters of all schools, for example Otto Lörke, Dr. Reiner Klimke, Nuno Oliveira, or Buck Brannaman, to name a few, show how it is done with lightness and precision.
Shooting a muzzle loader can be a great reminder to:
Value preparation and intent
Learn to love the process, not the goal
Say what you mean (your word, your aid, your muzzle loader... all should ideally be precision instruments)
Be responsible for the outcome (may it be the target you hit, or the impact of your word or aid).
Once all that is said and done, I’ll stick to another piece of advice good Horace. Once my intent is set, my preparation was thorough and I acted to the best of my ability, I will “Leave the rest to the Gods” (Horace).
Hope you feel inspired to try shooting a muzzle loader at some point! I can only recommend it [see above DISCLAIMER].
*) Please note: Equine massage and bodywork is a non-invasive, gentle wellness modality aimed at enhancing performance in the healthy horse and never replaces proper veterinary care. If in doubt regarding the physical health of your horse please consult your veterinarian.