As an old saying goes, “From the outside looking in, there’s no understanding it. From the inside looking out, there’s no explaining it.” For the horse world, this is incredibly true. I have plenty of friends who wonder at my choice to spend countless hours (and paychecks) to own an animal I can climb abroad and ride around in circles on. But you and I both know it is so much more than that. In fact, I attribute the positive qualities that make me who I am today entirely to caring for horses in my younger years.
The relationship a human has with a horse is unlike anything else. Their sheer size lends them the ability to end our life at any given moment. But, for some reason, they tend to be very gentle creatures. I think this reason is they have hearts comparable in size to their large body mass. I have seen horses who throw fits for experienced riders, lower their heads and take a few steps down on the temperament meter the instant a child climbs aboard. How can that be possible?
Horses are prey animals that have survived centuries because of their herd instincts. Caring for others is intrinsic to them. If one horse wishes to enjoy a little nap in the sun, the fellow herd members will stay on their feet with their eyes and ears on the surroundings to make sure their friend can rest safely. If one horse becomes agitated, the others will take their friend’s worries to heart and act on them. They travel together. They eat together. They play together. They could do this individually, but they know a team is far stronger than a single unit. I think independence is often over-glorified in today’s time and we could all stand to look to horses as social role models. Indeed, as humans we can survive alone, but we only really thrive when we have a good herd around us.
Speaking of keeping a good herd around, there is no support system quite like the one you gain when you join a barn. To successfully care for a horse—especially a competitive performance horse—it truly takes a village. At a barn, there is a close-knit group of people from which you can always find someone to video your go, someone to hold your horse for the farrier if you are running late, someone who has an extra spot in their trailer to the show this weekend, a group of people to celebrate with you after a win in the ring, and conversely a group of people who understand a loss by giving you your space for a bit then reminding you there is always next week. From ridiculous inside jokes to surviving the inevitable brother-sister like disputes that come from spending countless hours together, barn mates are the only ones who truly understand your passion for horses and all the craziness that comes along with it.
From avid competitors to recreational riders, we all discover something daily from our horses. As competitors, we have a big goal in our sights and we set stepping stone goals along the way. Unfortunately, in equine competition, like many things in life, luck can be a good thing to have on your side. But we equestrians prefer to think like the great Thomas Jefferson who once said, “I find that the harder I work, the more luck I seem to have.” Even after a loss, we only temporarily tuck our tails and then we work harder for the next shot at a victory. As passionate hobbyists, we learn that our horses can take us to new heights and they are always there to lend a friendly ear. Someone who will never re-tell our secrets. Someone who will never judge us for wearing off-brand or mismatched clothing. But just as much as we need to lean on them, they need to lean on us.
As riders, our horses trust us to take them safely through a forest and to correctly see a distance to successfully get them over a jump. If we hold ourselves confidently, they will share our confidence. We must be tough but fair as we lead them. They depend on us to provide them with shelter, with fresh water, with enough food to keep them full of energy, and (most importantly) kindness. Anyone can say they love horses, but it takes a special kind of person to care for one. For that, we salute you.