The Truth about Horses

My sweet Dakota at two years old.

I read a comment on Facebook (not always a good idea) from a woman condemning those of us who ride horses instead of letting them run “free” in a pasture. I’ve been working with horses for almost fifty years, and I have questioned the relationship between horse and human many times. But when you have a realistic, balanced, and loving relationship with a horse, you realize, let me say I’ve realized, that it is very much a two-way street. My horses and I have a covenant, at least that is what I call it. It’s a visceral thing and quite profound.

I love riding. I love studying horsemanship, dressage, jumping. I love the bridle horse path. I study or have studied all of these traditions  and more for a long while. I ask my horses to do what they were bred to do–work for me, try hard, be willing to do what I ask.

All I can say is that when I go to pull one of my horses from the pasture, they walk up to me to be haltered. My primary riding horse, Dakota, sticks her head into the halter as if to say, let’s get to it. My horses are intelligent, sensitive beings and they seem, at least, to be eager to have a job. They work hard for me and I ask them to. When they aren’t being ridden, shown, worked by me, they spend time in pastures or in their stalls at night eating and being with their ‘herd.’ I get up at dawn each morning, put on their fly masks, feed them, let them out, clean their poop. Every evening I bring them in, feed them hay and mash, mineral supplements. I bathe them. I get them the best hay possible. I buy them shavings, supplements, feed. I groom them, clean their feet. I treat their wounds, their feet, their whatever. I get their hooves trimmed and shod. They get regular health checks and vet visits.

Dakota and I, in the trailer for the ride home.

When I was bringing my then new filly home (who is now nine yrs old), I rode with her in the trailer because she was fairly untouched and she had climbed into this terrifying metal cave just because I asked her to. I thought the least I could do is stand back there with her and keep her company. When she was worried, I was able to look her right in the eye and try to comfort her. At one point, I blanked out for a moment and when I came back to myself I heard myself saying, in my mind, “And I’ll always take care of you.”

Think what you want, but the response I heard myself giving to my horse in the trailer was my part of an agreement. A covenant formed in that moment that enabled me, after working with horses for decades, to finally understand the true relationship between myself and the horses under my care.

The only word that comes to me to describe what I felt as my horse’s part of the covenant was ‘surrender.’ But in reality, there were no words. Simply an agreement formed between us, the foundation of a connection that has strengthened through many trials and challenges.

I’m not trying to convince anyone of anything, but this is what is real for me. I don’t dominate my horses. We are partners who bring very different elements to the table. They are horses, I am a human. And while our roles and responsibilities are different, somehow, through some incredible miracle that has been forged between our two species, we have found a way to take care of each other and to honor the covenant we formed that day.

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