California Riding Magazine • June, 2012

Horsey Humor: The Spot

by Bob Goddard

I always felt sorry for my horse crazy daughters whenever we went to the zoo. It was supposed to be a fun family outing, but I could sense their frustration. They liked looking at the animals and everything, but I could tell they wanted something else.

At first I thought the girls were struggling with the idea of all these creatures being yanked out of their natural habitat and locked up. I have little doubt that given half a chance, they would let them all go. But there was more to it than that. After setting the animals free, they would have tried to ride them. The elephants, the donkeys, the giraffes, the hippos, the rhinos, the zebras, the apes, the ostriches – they wanted to ride them all. I know darn well that's what they were thinking.

I'm not criticizing the notion. The urge to ride other creatures is natural in humans. There have been studies, no doubt. And it's not just about going faster, carrying things and sitting up higher. Beyond these practical considerations, there is that profound sense of accomplishment that comes with establishing a cooperative relationship with another creature. That's a good thing, right?
Obviously, not all animals are equally suited for riding. Good luck getting that ape to take the bit. How – and where – do you halter an ostrich? Is it even possible to mount a giraffe? And who's going to catch these guys in the first place?

Too bad the camel wasn't nearer the top of the girl's riding list. In terms of rideability (new word), the camel is the horse's closest rival. Camels are certainly amenable to domestication and under the right circumstances, it's possible to keep them at home. On second thought, I'm glad the camel wasn't nearer the top of the girl's riding list.

Dromedary vs. Equine: The Superbowl of Rideablity

I once rode on a camel. It was no big deal, really. I mounted from a platform, the camel was equipped with a special saddle and nice young people led me around. It was like a pony ride, but higher up.
People tell me that camels are mean spirited and that they smell nasty. Nature's version of hockey players, I suppose. But mine seemed pleasant enough. Maybe I got a good one. Even so, there was just something about riding the camel that didn't seem right.

I think it was the hump. I just couldn't get over the hump. Was I really supposed to be sitting on that? Do people really ride these things for fun?

The Great Book of Horse Knowledge says yes, people do ride camels as a leisure activity. In fact, The Great Book's special section on dromedaries lists several advantages camels have over horses. They are generally gentler and not as easily spooked. With their "slipper like feet," camels give a quieter ride. They can haul more stuff than a horse. And the nasty odor? Camel advocates insist it is a myth. They go as far to say that a camel's droppings don't smell as bad as a horse's. Now there's a debate I hope I never have to hear.

So does The Great Book suggest we all sell our horses and buy camels? Nah. Horses are much more sensitive to touch than camels and are thus more responsive to a rider's cues. A horse is more versatile and agile. Horses move. You can train a camel to move out, but generally it has the ambition of an unemployed teenager hooked on Jersey Shore. And horses are prettier. I can't imagine a debate about that.

To me, there is just something natural about riding a horse. Their physical structure just makes them seem more passenger friendly. Unlike like our dromedary friends, a horse has that space between his neck and rear that just seems to say "Insert Human Here." The Great Book calls this area "The Spot."

There is nothing else in the Animal Kingdom that compares to The Spot. Of all the creatures we ride, camels, elephants, donkeys, each other, zebras, ostriches, nothing says "Wanna go for a ride?" like The Spot.

So in the end, it is Nature Herself who determines the winner. While we Homo sapiens can establish a bond with just about anything,
The Spot guarantees we will put the horse above all others.