Horse, Saddle, Rider

King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden praying before the fateful charge, Battle of Lutzen, Thirty Years War, 1618-48.

Horse, Saddle, Rider.

This piece brought to you by the muse of Marine Warrior Mr. Rudy Reyes:

The concept is something we are all familiar as warriors, imagine your own experiences on the battlefield, which item, before all others was the most important? Your rifle right? You know why. The rifle, of which there were many, yet one was yours, and your survival and more importantly your effectiveness was directly dependent on its functional utility and cleanliness coupled with your WILL to use it. Now we are home, the war is over, yet it paradoxically rages still within.

Warriors of the ages prior to mechanized warfare relied on the horse as well as their own bodies to expedite movements to contact. Leviathans of WAR, from the ancient Egyptians who invented the chariot, the ancient Greek Hoplite, The Roman Legionnaire, The Horsemen of the Khans, the Vikings Mariner and Land Beserker, the Sikhs, and the American Army and Marine Combat Infantryman of WW2 prided themselves on CLEANLINESS, yes, we are talking routine physical hygiene, of first their equipment, weapon and SELF.

War is a violent clash of interests between or among organized groups characterized by the use of military force.

The essence of war is a violent struggle between two hostile, independent, and irreconcilable wills, each trying to impose itself on the other. War is fundamentally an interactive social process. Clausewitz called it a “Zweikampf” (literally a “two struggle”) and suggested the image of a pair of wrestlers locked in a hold, each exerting force and counterforce to try to throw the other. So, you got spears and super heated pieces of metal flying at you. Sword, spear, arrows, then bombs and bullets, all while wide within the sucking embrace of the mud god. Blood and earth and wound drenched by water, rots. Bacteria & infection, filth which pools and festers by and within time trailing battle. Stay clean. Like Doc said “Change your Socks, hydrate.”

“War is thus a process of continuous mutual adaptation, of give and take, move and countermove. It is critical to keep in mind that the enemy is not an inanimate object to be acted upon but an independent and animate force with its own objectives and plans. While we try to impose our will on the enemy, he resists us and seeks to impose his own will on us. Appreciating this dynamic interplay between opposing human wills is essential to understanding the fundamental nature
of war.” –MCDP1 – WARFIGHTING.

The object in war is to impose our will on our enemy. The means to this end is the organized application or threat of violence by military force. The target of that violence may be limited to hostile combatant forces, or it may extend to the enemy population at large. Total war and perfect peace rarely exist in practice. If you are reading this, you are a warrior yet also a survivor and a human being. Herein lies the difficulty, you have survived actual war yet civilian life, which is absent imminent threat of actual violent death, is both horrifically complicated and overwhelming.

“Ancient peoples found their clothes got cleaner if they washed them at a certain spot in the river. Why? Because, animal sacrifices were once made on the hills above this river. Year after year, bodies burnt. Rain fell. Water seeped through the wood ashes to become lye. The lye combined with the melted fat of the bodies, till a thick white soapy discharge crept into the river.” – Chuck Palahniuk.

Warriors Clean and Maintain that which enables them to continue to be Warriors.

Horse: The concept of the horse is applied to any vessel which furthers your ability to be YOU. This may be elements of daily life. Work, the physical home in which you live and most importantly the people in your life who LOVE YOU. TAKE CARE OF THEM FIRST. Task orient THEM as priority above all other things. Often, as we descend in isolation it is these critical externals elements we first neglect. The employee you no longer commend for a performance, the boss you ignore or lament hostility towards, the child you dismiss as they seek approval or love, the spouse you assure yourself will never leave you…

The horse enables the warrior to conserve energy to fight, the horse will not fight, it will carry the Warrior to the fight then carry him home. If the horse is killed, thus begins the dying process of the Warrior. Loss of job may lead to loss of home and then of spouse. If you take away your DD214, your money, possessions, and are left nothing but self, what are you? A Warrior, yet warriors feed their horse. Warriors clean the horse, maintain the horse, care for it first, always. Provide care first for what carries you.

Saddle: The concept of the saddle is applied to any vessel which protects your ability to negotiate obstacles, solve problems and attain ownership of viable solutions for yourself. Forget others, and grasp again the reins of personal responsibility, no matter how small the task. Our minds make a couple hundred thousand decisions each day whether we realize them or not. Everything from breathing to hunger, words we us and actions/behavior we display, you are in control. Thirst to regain this control. Clean yourself via spectrum of others perspective, seek seeing yourself as others see you. This simple technique may alleviate and relieve enormous intrapersonal conflict you may be currently experiencing and may enable you to lower guard enough to realize that others do not see you as you see, yourself.

In war, the saddle concept would apply to maintenance of your gear. Your body armor, pouches, ammunition magazines and most importantly your rifle, which is now your MIND. Our rifles required CONSTANT maintenance. With your clean rifle, clear of fouling and debris you would be an effective Warrior. With your clean rifle, you were never alone. Why should your mind be any different? You can bath the mind in self-imposed calming techniques. Sit for a moment before a long trip, drawn in deep SOOTHING breaths. If angry, close the laptop or put down the cell phone. If angry, it is 100% OK TO WALK AWAY. Would you rather be happy, or right all of the time? Who says you are right all the time, the appropriate answer is: you are NOT right all the time.

Maintain your saddle, you spend MOST of your time IN IT. Your body may accumulate fat, soreness, pain, your mind may accumulate haze, clutter. Alcohol and drugs may intensify the haze, the fog. No one can tell you what to do, so tell yourself what to do. Would you rather navigate in the dark, or seek your shoreline by open sky line of sight? Maintain your saddle, make it comfortable for you, make it CLEAN for you. Leather must be oiled, knots must be undone and retied, fixed and well affixed for the weight of the rider and their movement within the saddle. Be not entrapped by any unnecessary confinement, especially the saddle of your mind, polish it smooth. Read, exercise, take time for you to mount a fresh, clean, saddle.

Rider: The concept of the rider is applied to YOU. You, Warrior rider, the ONLY vessel of self-importance, go to the fight clean. Return from the fight dirty, then CLEAN. No GROWN ADULT will tolerate being treated like a child, so treat yourself, it is as simple as picking up a bar of soap. In medieval time bathing was by some seen as a form of sexual debauchery and by others seen as letting the devil into you. It was also widely believed that being naked and letting the water touch you would make you severely ill. Guess who bathed religiously, the Templar Knights? They valued the practice of bathing so intensely they erected entire CASTLES and garrisons around natural hot springs.

Other than the historical narratives dating as far back as the Wu Dynasty of China in 424 B.C.E, almost 2,500 years ago, cleanliness of the Warrior caste was deemed divine, and OBLIGATORY. It particularly became more popular during the outbreak of the Black Plague during the dark ages. People were looking for reasons why it was spreading and how to decrease the effects, they found that frequent hand-washing in warm water, warm wine and also in vinegar helped. They also found that keeping the surroundings more clean helped too. The common people…followed the LEAD, of WARRIORS.

“Medieval kings and lords and their household bathed more than most. Some had special rooms set aside for bathing and others bathed in huge tubs brought into their rooms. The tubs took forever to fill as the water had to be gathered, heated and then carried in buckets to their rooms, where it was poured in and mixed sometimes with perfumes, scented oils and flower petals.

Their ladies were just as lucky. Because gathering water was so difficult several people may enjoy the bath before the water was thrown out. Especially within the poor. The eldest went first down to the youngest, hence the saying “don’t throw the baby out with the bath water…”

Looking, feeling and smelling clean was a bonus not only to yourself but to those around you, it aided in confidence, and confidence is key in WARFARE. The crusades produced a collision of cultures. Crusaders returned to the west with soaps, and perfumes rendered by distilling and reducing prized spices coupled with natural oils. Prior to that people used water only and the oils from flowers. Soft soaps were made of animal fats, lye, wood ash, and mortared woodland flora. Hard soaps were made of olive oil, lime, lime, wild root, and flowers.

KNIGHTS would also use perfumes after bathing as strong scents could mask the scent of battle death. Corpses bloat and rot, festering bodies are hazards to health. Bathing and strong scents applied to hair and beards was yet another level of armor for the mind to reduce intimacy with the strength of death scents. It would EMBOLDEN the Warrior to venture fearlessly past death itself and obtain a heroes VICTORY. Hoplites of ancient Greece were renowned for their hygiene. This extended to Carthaginian warrior ranks, Etruscan Warriors and later, the Romans, especially nobility. The great horsemen of the Khans, were known for their remarkable grooming as were the “Vikings.” The Vikings maintained elaborate hygienic ritual maintenance.

It is the importance of ritual. In Afghanistan and Iraq, personally one of the highlights of daily life was maintenance of my vehicles, body armor, rifle and body. The sweetest feeling following a lengthy operation or even in the field during one was cleaning myself. Be it water or baby wipes I would feel stronger AFTER cleaning by shower or any means available. Redressing in clean underwear, socks, feeling the warmth of my own body radiating under the reverent sacred uniform by which we are bonded, we honored, standing tall, strong and CLEAN.

If clean you may do ALL things. You will always be a WARRIOR yet you will only be relevant if you care for your horse, saddle and self. Start and complete the day clean, it’s as easy as picking up a bar of soap.

“First to fight for right and freedom
And to keep our honor CLEAN;
We are proud to claim the title
Of United States Marine.”





Eric graduated with honors in 2004 from the The Citadel, the Military College of South Carolina, Charleston, SC, USA. He was then commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant, United States Marine Corps the same year, completed multiple combat deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan as a Counterintelligence / Human Source Intelligence Officer and later as a Case Officer and Active Duty Special Agent with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. Eric honorably discharged as a Captain after 8 years’ service in 2012.

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