Lettin’ the cat outta the bag is a whole lot easier than puttin’ it back.
(old Cowboy saying…)
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…
What does the Muzzle Loader & a Poet have to do with the Art of Riding?
The Master Rider
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 is the motto here. Once you utter the word , give the aid or pull the trigger, it better be what you meant.
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.
“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”—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, much like poetry or the art of riding.
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:
After pouring lead to create heavy 50 caliber bullets, you have to 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 Poetic Experience
In my twenties, I shot 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, forcing a certain type of mindfulness into being:
- Conscious preparation
- Heavy gun requires more precision in breathing and coordination
- Once you pull the trigger, the internal combustion is palpable, you then feel the heavy bullet swish through the barrel, consciously realizing ‘there is no stopping now’.
Learning from the Muzzle Loader
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.
Thank you and enjoy your horse!