What It's All About

    Horsemen say, "There’s something about the outside of a horse that’s good for the inside of a man." Good things indeed come from working with horses: a companionship based on mutual dependency, trust, and a common goal, and a unique intimacy with another species.

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photo by Jim Sadur

    The companionship comes only after months (maybe years) of work. The merging of a human and a horse into a team doesn’t happen at once. As in a marriage, both individuals must learn each other’s ways and adjust to each other’s behaviors. The rider, being (supposedly) of the more intelligent species, must make the stronger effort to adjust. The horse, conditioned by eons of evolution, cannot change its instincts. The rider must learn how the horse perceives reality and how he reacts to the environment.  By understanding the horse’s "point of view," the rider can then modify her commands so that the horse responds in the desired way. For its part, the horse learns to trust the rider and give the correct responses to her commands. A herd animal, the horse is accustomed to a "pecking order." He may dominate other horses in his group but in turn is dominated by others. With a rider, he soon learns whether he’ll have to cooperate or whether he can get his own way (as many a beginning rider knows!).  The reward for patient training is the moment when the rider knows her horse is sharing her focus.

    The effort of understanding the horse gives us the rare privilege of communicating with a non-human psychology.  Interacting with horses is probably the closest physical and psychological contact we have with another species. Beginning with the physical contact of riding, the intimacy of horse and rider extends to the psychological as both creatures come to understand each other.  This is unlike any contact with other animals. Dogs may be our closest companions and they may also assist us in work, but they aren't ridden. Other animals that are ridden -- camels, donkeys, elephants and buffalo – are not as versatile as the horse and therefore have limited physical contact with their human handlers.  When the bond between a horse and rider is complete, the two work as one. Homo sapiens and equus caballus fuse into a new animal.

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2000-2009 Melinda Maidens

    Training horses teaches us much, not only about ourselves but also about our potential for changing nature. Over the centuries, human beings and horses often have brought out the best in each other. We’ve made the horse become all he is capable of becoming. Compare the Przewalski horses, the closest example of true wild horses, with the Thoroughbreds. Centuries of selective breeding have produced a beautiful animal: taller, faster, and sleeker than his ancestor.  Watch a mustang buck and then watch a Lippizzaner capriole. The Lippizzaner performs the same natural movement, but with what style and grace after years of patient training! In drawing out the dormant potential of the horse, we discover our own talents. To master Nature, we master our own natures, and in that process we bring out the best that is in both Nature and us.

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2000-2009 Melinda Maidens
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