(Today’s soundtrack? “Good Vibrations”. I do love the Beach Boys. I can remember learning to dance with my pre-teen friends to “Good Vibrations” – what a horrible vision! – but it’s impossible to listen to that tune and not feel good ……)
So – as I wrote in my last post, what I wanted to talk about was – are horses good for us – and vice versa? These are both huge subjects and ideally I would welcome some feedback from you out there reading this and agreeing or disagreeing, as I can only scratch the surface here!
Our domesticated horses have been bred and refined by humans over the millennia to serve our purposes. Think of drawings of the eohippus and the woolly Przewalski-style ponies of cave paintings then spool through to the relative heights of civilisition pre the internal combustion engine. Being engineered and exploited to carry/pull more weight, travel further and faster than man on his own two feet, horses have phenomenally advanced industry, warfare, trade, communications….. think of civilisations without horsepower – I cite you the igloo! – and it’s obvious how the contribution of the horse to the global wellbeing of mankind is immense. Horses were artificially evolved as a supremely effective tool of civilisation, and sadly, often treated as scarcely sentient beings in the process.
There are places where a horse still has a job to do and has more than an edge over a quad bike in certain terrains, herding livestock, even providing mare’s milk. For many riders with a competitive spirit, they are partners in a quest for sporting excellence. Horses are made to race and allow the betting fraternity an outlet I personally do not understand (I guess the horse racing industry is alien to many horse-lovers – but that’s another subject in its own right).
But now we no longer need horses in the way they were once indispensable, keeping horses has become a personal choice. It’s all about the emotional side. So do we want horses in our lives because they are good for us?
My own experience is probably similar to that of many private, amateur horse-owners. As a child the attraction to life on horseback was there in stories; the knights on white chargers, the romantic heroes, brave cowboys and explorers. (Gender difference never occured to me!) We kids rode donkeys on windswept beaches, begged to see horses perform at the circus and have pony rides at local fêtes; then maybe longed-for riding lessons triggered a sort of alchemical process combining the shared history of horse and human, the surpassing beauty of the horse as a moving artwork and the visceral connection in sharing the power, movement and trust of an individual animal.
We do “fall in love” with our horses in a way that differs from our human spouses, our dogs or cats or other domesticated creatures. When your favourite horse whickers at your approach, doesn’t your heart respond in unalloyed joy?
What other being carries you above the ground, other than your mother or father when you were small and vulnerable? And yet your relationship to your horse is more like that of a parent. Our horses are fully dependent on us for their survival and wellbeing, and the pride we feel in keeping them fit, well and happy is far easier to achieve than doing the same for our children. In return we rely on them to carry us safely, keep us balanced on their backs, be the bearers of our dreams ….
No other animal reflects our true self back to us like the horse we care for. A dog will still worship a dreadful master, a cat will bestow or withhold its favours enigmatically, but a horse, well or hard done by, will manifest its physical or mental state in one obvious way or another.
If you subscribe to the truism that horses can neither lie nor feign, then if you are good for your horse, your horse will be good for you. And it will inspire you to be the best you can be. Whilst physically lucky, I inherited a predisposition to veer mentally towards the dark side; in horse-less periods depression has sometimes gained the upper hand. Though we had a very rocky start – described in earlier posts – building a close relationship with my new horse, Pom, has raised my morale and restored my interest in all areas of my life.
An incident yesterday morning brought it home. Early in our time together, Pom knocked me over, my head was gashed and my confidence in him reduced to shreds. Yesterday, he accidentally trod on my foot and knocked me over again, whilst I was brushing the overnight straw out of his mane. I yelped and fell backwards clumsily. What I really didn’t expect was his immediate turning and lowering his head to my face. Difficult to construe as other than an apology and such a talisman of the change in our relationship.
Horses suffer so much, often as much from our good as our careless intentions, but ignorance is nearly always the prime culprit. With more and more tyro riders buying horses, and having not quite the time, knowledge or financial resources to keep them as they should, perhaps it is now time to campaign for a “Horse Licence” to protect our equine friends from horse-lovers who need to attain a basic level of competence before being allowed to own one.