My tribute to horses --
"Horses Among Us, Thank God"
It is often said that throughout history, everywhere man has gone he has been carried upon the back of a noble horse. They've plowed our fields, carried us into and died with us in our wars, pulled our wagons and travois laden with treasured possessions to new lands and pulled our wedding carriages, too. They've run our races, herded our cattle, given explosive demonstrations of their power and agility in rodeos. They've strutted their magnificence in arenas before cheering crowds to win ribbons unimportant to them. When I think of the horse's spirit and how it has selflessly carried the spirit of man through the ages I'm awed at the nobility of them. How they have answered every call with strength, beauty and unquestioning devotion. No matter the sacrifice. Today, the noble horse is embarking on perhaps its most important calling … The healing of man.
Being a horse advocate and writer I've had the privilege over the past few years of writing nearly a hundred stories about what I call, "People and Horses Helping Horses and People." I've met unbelievably self sacrificing people who mortgage their homes to keep the doors open so children dealing with Autism, Down Syndrome and other unkind conditions can learn to smile and even laugh while being carried away to a happy place on the back a therapy horse. I've met Veterans who've conquered the strangle hold of PTSD while holding the reins. I've met battered women who've learned to love and trust again simply sitting in a stall with a quiet horse. And I've met many, understanding, care giving therapy horses. I've met women and men who devote their lives to protecting our wild horses, struggling with them to allow the wild horses to remain free to run.
|Monero Mustangs running free thanks to Sandi Claypool-photo by Helen Cary|
What lives there in the spirit of the horse that touches so many human spirits? Heals so many hearts? Builds so much courage in souls who need that courage. Offers so much exhilaration wrapped in a bundle of giving. What lives there? I propose it is simply the very spirit of the horses themselves. It's made that way. Why does that spirit touch man so easily? Is it simplistic to say, because they can? Because they understand they should?
For centuries the noble horse was viewed as a tool. A servant. Even a weapon. Patiently they've endured all manners of servitude while they waited for mankind to learn to understand horses were much more than that. We now live in an age more enlightened where finally it is becoming not only fun, but correct to see things from the horse's perspective.
Of course over the centuries there have been individuals who promoted the well being of the horse, and history records some of their early efforts. The ancient Greek, Xenophon (c.430-354 BC) may have been the earliest ever to promote sympathetic training and humane treatment for horses. Did you know the ancient Greeks did not shoe their horses and it was Xenophon who first pointed out that, "naturally sound hooves get spoiled in most stalls," and in his classic work "On Horsemanship" advised measures to strengthen horses' feet? Both Xenophon and Hippocrates (c. 460-370 BC) wrote of the mind and health benefits of horseback riding.
Why do I say the noble horse is perhaps embarking on its most important calling yet, "the healing of man?" As I interviewed and wrote the stories of equine assisted therapy centers it was both wonderful and surprising to see the sudden increase of centers for healing through horses dealing with emotional stress and pain. Originally, equine assisted therapy had primarily focused on physical healing therapy. But in recent years more and more centers are being opened to deal with psychological and emotional trauma. Is it possible that as society races headlong into the "technology age" and moving farther and farther away from nature we are experiencing a shift in our roots that create a new kind of stress? A kind of stress born of too much too fast?
|Veterans gaining confidence with a little help from the horses at "Lonesome Dove Equestrian Center" photo by Karen Lindley|
I believe that horses have the ability to, "slow us down, while lifting us up." To help us focus within and be better for it. Most everyone in the horse world is familiar with Winston Churchill's famous quote, "There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man." Churchill also said, "No hour of life is wasted that is spent in the saddle." Oliver Wendell Holms said, "To many the words, love, hope and dreams are synonymous with horse." Herman Melville told us, "Honor Lies in the mane of a horse."
The Bedouins believe, "The horse is a gift from God." And that, "The wind of heaven is that which blows between a horse’s ears." So precious to the Bedouins were their horses that many shared their master's tent. The young boys of the great Lakota Sioux Nation were assigned the job of watching and caring for the horses so that they may grow up understanding them. Touching their spirit. The Lakota understood the spirit in many things.
The spirit of the horse is patient. It is willing and powerful. And most important of all it is healing. Over the centuries the horse has been ever willing to be our servant and our confidant. Our healer. History is filled with stories of lives changed forever and even saved by horses.
The road has not been an easy one for the noble horse. It seems each century brings with it a new set of demands, obligations and even suffering at the hands of their human partners. And yet the noble horse stands vigilant ever at the ready to carry us, to heal us.
Even in this age of enlightenment many horses still suffer at the hand of harsh trainers, owners and circumstances and it is hard for me to understand how, still today, so many people can put their own interests, pursuits and wealth above the horse’s well being. A friend once told me, "when horses and money compete, horses loose." Perhaps one day, the spirit of the horse can touch so many that these practices will forever become a thing of the past.
Some people suggest that to project our human emotions onto the horse is folly. I proclaim to not do so is in fact the biggest folly of all. If you've ever watched a mare scream for her foal as they are yanked apart on a Bureau of Land Management round up you know of their emotions. If you've ever watched a horse tread lightly while carrying the precious cargo of a therapeutic rider, you know their emotions.
As more and more people learn to understand and even feel the spirit of the horse in this enlightened age we find ourselves in, the noble horse is here to once again carry our burden. Even if this time the burden is more emotional than physical. Trainers are more and more willing to "see and teach from the horse's perspective." More and more students are being taught to consider what the benefit to the horse might be as together they pursue mastering skills in the ring, on the trail and on the course. More and more young people are becoming horse enthusiasts because they can not only learn new skills and have fun, but they can help others too.
The rise in the number of equine assisted therapy centers offers wonderful opportunities for folks who have no way of owning a horse of their own to feel the love, spirit and emotions of the horse by volunteering at a local center. The therapy horses at those centers not only help those receiving the therapy, but those volunteering, too. Volunteers who otherwise would never know the connection between man and horse can feel the connection to nature in today's busy electronic world. Many times the horses who give so much love at these centers are in fact horses who have been rescued themselves. They may have spent time at a rescue where volunteers have the joy of getting to feel their spirit and learn from them. Even as the horses are being rehabilitated themselves, they are able and willing to teach. To show hurried individuals the value and healing powers of slowing down to horse time.
|Kessy, Saturday and me just havin' fun|
Trainers and clinicians teaching the natural way, and the horse's perspective are becoming more numerous today and attracting large followings. More and more people are finding their way back to nature under the tutelage of a skilled instructor and an understanding horse. Do we have more to learn from this great gift from God, the horse? I submit yes. And, I also promise the horse will be there to teach us.
Gitty Up ~ Dutch Henry