National Day of the Horse falls on the second Saturday of December. The holiday encourages people of the United States to be mindful of the contribution of horses to American economy, history, and character. Thanks to Heather Wallace for writing the following tribute to horses.
There is a unique relationship between humans and horses that go back potentially 6,000 years. Our relationship has changed our manner of transport, farming, warfare, and art. During the industrial revolution horses were numerous and were depended upon by many people for their strength and dependability. They were the backs upon which our modern world was founded.
Of course, technology relegated horses unnecessary and they became a luxury once more. Yes, financially horses may be a luxury. But what they teach us is priceless.
Equestrians work with horses as partners. Different horses teach us different things about our riding, about ourselves. They can and should challenge us to become better.
My eldest daughter has perhaps learned this best of all. She rides therapy horses for her cerebral palsy. As a result of her pediatric stroke, one side of her body is tight and weaker, especially in her right hand.
Balance is incredibly important when riding. Any shift in weight or pressure results in different movements. So for my daughter, riding has taught her to use her body successfully in a more balanced way. No one wants to spin in circles right? Her horses have taught her to confidently communicate with her body on both sides. More than that, she’s learned to work in tandem with an animal that is much, much larger than she is. Communicating with her body, she works as a team with her horses.
Working with any animal can teach us patience. Patience with them and with ourselves. Our approach does not always work for every horse. Sometimes we have to step back and recognize why our horses are behaving in a certain manner, and why we are not effectively communicating.
Australian equestrian and dressage rider, Andrea Parker, has learned a lot about patience through horsemanship.
Horses have taught me so many valuable lessons over the course of my life so it’s difficult to pin it down to just one.
Possibly one of the biggest lessons that I have learnt from horses is actually about learning! It is a lesson which I have learnt and refined over a number of years. Through working with horses and riding I have come to understand that there is a fine balance which must be struck between remaining patient and persistent and knowing when to try something new. Riding horses is all about consistency, but when something is clearly not working, it is time to try a different strategy. The greatest insanity is to continue doing the same thing expecting a different outcome.–Andrea Parker, Sand Arena Ballerina
Horses are flight animals and their natural instinct is to run. But somehow for thousands of years humans and horses have depended on each other. Through understanding their needs and behaviors we can build their confidence and in turn they can build ours.
Returning to horseback riding as an adult brought a different kind of fear than I’d ever known. I knew what I wanted, but I had not physically been on a horse in more than a decade. I had a small child at home that depended on me for everything. I tried to balance my passion with keeping myself safe.
So I rode horses that were forgiving of my mistakes and knew their job well. Their goal was to teach their rider it was okay to make mistakes and how to grow in confidence. These horses became my babysitters. They took care of me. At the same time, they taught me how to keep on the outside without cutting corners; how to transition perfectly to a canter on the correct lead; and how to be comfortable again communicating with an animal.
While horses build confidence in many ways, they also have an uncanny ability to teach you humility. Something I learned again recently. Delight and I have come far in our work together. We had gotten to the point where we were transitioning to canter beautifully and getting our leads.
Something he had trouble with for a long time due to muscle imbalance from horse racing. Knowing he was feeling high strung I should have taken the time to lunge him. But I didn’t and he was perfect at the walk/ trot. Canter was another story and he bucked trying to get his lead up a small incline. I flew through the air superman style and landed badly.
Just goes to show you, everyone has a bad day. Sometimes you just have to wipe the dirt off and get back on.
Horses can be stubborn, sure. But earn their loyalty and they will try their hardest for you. We need to try our hardest for them as well, even when we feel like giving up.
My Norwegian friend, Mathilde Kvernland, shares her story.
Personally, my horse taught me to never give up no matter how dark everything seems at the time. If I ever gave up on Baldur, we would never have come this far!
When I started riding Baldur, he didn’t trust me and he was constantly stressed. As the Icelandic he is, he would prefer the tölt. But here we are talking about four MONTHS of only tölt because he refused to trot. I was in the middle of writing a text to his current owner, saying I wanted to stop the lease, but I caught myself and thought I had to try at least for another day. So I had to think completely different from what I had earlier. I went back to the basics, took off ALL the tack and jumped up in a round corral. And we would just trot as if nothing was wrong. So that is what we did, and slowly with time, I started adding more tack until we could trot with a full set of tack. I also learned myself the difference in asking for trot and asking for tölt at this point. And now, 2 years later, we have never had a problem again.–Mathilde Kvernland, Passion for Horse
Most of us humans, equestrians or otherwise, have trouble giving up control and trusting. We feel safer if we are calling the shots, sometimes to our own detriment. Horses have a way of encouraging us to trust. Their trust and faith in us inspires us to do the same. Wellington Florida trainer Melissa Wanstreet shares her story.
My horses have taught me you have to lose control in order to gain control. Many of us, in our early years of riding, will try to control a horse with force. Force it to stop, force it to go, force it to jump, force it to bend. I was especially guilty of this, being rather strong both mentally and physically–as well as spoiled, I thought I could muscle or scare anything into doing what I want.
But my whole world changed when I finally figured out how to ‘Let Go.’ Let go of the reins. Give the horse a chance to relax, then ask them to slow down. Let go with my leg. How fast would you run if you had someone squeezing your ribs every step of the way? Give the horse a chance to make a mistake, so I can be clear about what I don’t want, then reward when I get the correct answer. The result was happy, confident and relaxed partners.
Control is really about fear and when we let go of fear, we are allowed more opportunities to grow.–Melissa Wanstreet, Starbound Equine
More than anything, equestrians have a huge place in their hearts for horses. We spend our days with them. They fill our thoughts or dreams. Many of us have been working with horses since we were young, or at least dreamed about working with horses. At the root is a deep love. A sweet tale of love from Australia.
People have different personality traits, as do horses, not one is alike. When I rescued my horse Buddy from the meat yards in Feb, I had no idea what I was in for. Buddy is much different than my older horse Charlie. Charlie is cheeky but reliable, nothing bothers Charlie. Buddy was scared of everything; I had never had to deal with a horse I couldn’t catch, or a horse that was scared of 90% of things.
In the months since, Buddy has learnt to trust me, the process of this has been one of the best experiences of my life. I am so proud of him and how far he has come. I had never owned a horse that everyday tested my patience. My horses have taught me patience, trust but above all my horses teach and show me love in every aspect of their interactions with me. Buddy has become such an incredible mount and the first one to run over when he hears me, sometimes not everything goes right, but his trust and love for me has been my favorite love story.–Kiera Burrows, Aussie Urban Huntress
On the ground or in the saddle, working with horses is a gift. To them, I want to say thank you. Thank you for making me laugh when you are silly. Thank you for making me smile when I am crying. Thank you for testing me and teaching me patience. Thank you for teaching my daughter confidence. Thank you for teaching me that giving up control is what I need to become a better rider. Thank you for everything you have given me.
Thank you for being a horse.
Heather Wallace is a certified equine and canine sports massage therapist, co-owner of Bridle & Bone Wellness LLC, and equestrian & canine blogger at Bridle & Bone. She is an adult amateur equestrian in unrequited loved with an OTTB and has two rescue dogs always up to no good. You can follow her on social media @bridleandbone or bridleandbone.com.
If you are a pet owner with writing skills, Lincoln Animal Ambassadors would love to hear from you! We’re especially looking for content about birds, exotic animals, and horses. Content may take the form of an advice column or how-to articles. You may even simply wish to act as an expert consultant. If you are interested, please post in the comments and we’ll be in touch.