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#103 Pilots are Like Horses


A pilot and a horseman visit over the fence.

I wasn’t always a flier.  As a kid, I spent most of my free time on a horse.  It came naturally because my father was a renowned horseman.  But he was always hesitant to teach.  I think it was the result of having been the son of a compulsive lecturer!  But I certainly did learn a few things from the old man.  One of those little gems keeps popping up in my present role as a teacher of flying.

Larry Jumping Car.BMP

Pop and his trademark stunt

“Every time you get on a horse, you’re schooling him”, Pop once told me.  He went on to explain that if you knew what you were doing, you would steadily improve that horse’s performance every time you got on him.  Conversely, he explained, you could easily “de-train” a horse.  The same was true of dogs.  If you allowed a horse to pull you with his mouth, you would be creating a “hard-mouthed horse”.  If you allowed your dog to pull against his leash, he’d spend a lifetime pulling you along (both Pop and I believed that the modern spring-loaded dog leash is an abomination.  Sorry… I know that most of you love ‘em).  Both horse and dog would benefit from a well-placed jerk.  The horse would develop a more sensitive, responsive mouth and the dog would trot along beside you at heel with a slack leash.  Both are very desirable results of positive training.

Pilots are the same way.  We train ourselves every time we take to the air.  Do we depend on power to get ourselves dragged along the approach to a landing, or do we learn how to reduce the power to idle abeam the numbers and to turn base and final at just the right time to land where we want?  Are we satisfied that “any landing you can walk away from is a good one”?  Or do we demand that the airplane be landed gently astride the centerline at the point along the runway which we selected while on downwind?  If altitude holding is our selected result, do we maintain that altitude within 20 feet, or do we let it wander around, satisfying ourselves that 200 feet is “good enough”?

Pop w Cessna

Pop exits a Cessna 120 years ago while filming wild horses.

Perhaps we were taught to use a stabilized approach and that “the key to a good landing is a good approach”.  It may be true that some learning is required in order to fly a stabilized approach.  It may also be true that a good approach is likely to result in an accurate landing.  But are either of them absolutely necessary?  Shouldn’t a good pilot be able to perform a maneuver in more than one way?  Shouldn’t a good pilot be able to make an accurate and good landing from a low, short approach?  I think so.

I also think that pilots are like horses. I think that every time we take off we have an opportunity to improve our performance.

Wonder Dog.jpg

My career as an airshow pilot was only possible because of a dog… “Jessie”, who played the part of “Ace, the Wonder Dog” in my airshow act.

I think that if we simply demand more of ourselves, we will learn to become better pilots.  And I think that if we rely on sloppy performance we will become sloppier pilots.  Which one do you want to be?

Oh, and lest you think that I’m better than I am, you should have been at Sisters the day I landed in a turn and missed the runway entirely!


Happy Swooping!


10 comments to #103 Pilots are Like Horses

  • doreen

    So Great To See The Photos Of Your Dad. A Truly Remarkable Man. Thanks For Sharing Them. Doreen

  • Tom

    Nice article Brian. You used to talk about your father and making films. I didn’t know he was an aviator too.

    CGAS San Fran

  • RobertL

    Nice article – I invert the analogy and tell students that aeroplanes are like horses, and they need to understand how they ‘speak’ to us, but also ensure they command them to carry out the required manoeuvre correctly.

  • John

    Nice article and a great analogy. Please speak more of your Dad obviously an interesting and unique fellow.

    • brian

      Thanks, John. I will speak more of him. It’s in the works. Tom mentioned him as well and it’s interesting to note that, as much time as he spent shooting out of airplanes and helicopters, he was never a pilot and actually never approved of my choice of career in the airshow biz. Hmmm, maybe he was smarter than I gave him credit for!

  • Pete

    I grew up on a horse property. Flying is safer!

  • wendy philcox

    Agree! You must keep your wits about you ALWAYS but… I’d rather be ridin’…

  • Charles Lewis

    I appreciate your articles, hope I can carry some of the wisdom to the airfield in a little while to share with a student.
    The nay sayers are getting on my nerves, wish they would read and reason a little bit. ! We will leave them behind and go train a horse.
    Keep writing.

  • melinda


  • Elise kriek (peile)

    Brian, so nice to see a photo of Jessie! So happy she got to fly……Elise hope you remember me and Rat Rat.

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