I was asked recently what I love the most about horses, and, for the first time, I was mute on the subject. Horses have been part of my life since I was six years old, which was not yesterday. They are not just my favorite animal, they are my favorite place, my favorite smell, my favorite sound, my lottery dream, except that all those things are external, and horses have long been part of my soul, even part of my identity. To have to name an aspect of them that I most delight in would be like trying to find the brightest spark in a fireworks show, or the most resonant note in a song.
Horses are perhaps the most emotionally powerful for me when I look at them as metaphors for humanity. They are beautiful creatures deprived of their freedom to train at an early age, so that they may serve masters often less intelligent or capable than they, then saddled with burdens their entire lives. The willing and gentle are rewarded. The unruly are disciplined; sometimes broken. Few get to do what they were born for. At any time, they could buck the system, turn themselves loose, run wild and dangerously free, except that they would likely starve or be hunted. There are too few safe and open spaces to feed and shelter a wild and unruly spirit of human, let alone one horse size.
And yet – despite how they’re confined – think of what they accomplish. They leap, dance, race, spin, herd, chase, flex, stretch, listen, sense, squeal, snuffle, teach, befriend, settle and doze. They sleep standing and take little lying down. They announce the approach of storms, fire and earthquake, but never speak, never whine. At most they will call to one another.
They are as silent as I was when I tried to answer my friend; tied to find something brief I could say to respond to his question.
I would have done better to do as they might: shake my mane with a sigh and a snort, chewing on the verbal inquiry as just another of people’s oddities while turning to regard my questioner with full and direct focus, patiently waiting for the request of a favor that inevitably follows human interest.
That I came to that realization later, instead of in the moment, is one of the reasons I hope to keep learning from horses for a long time. Were you to ask any of them currently under my care, I’m sure they’d tell you I have all the makings of a perpetual student.