I looked at the horses tied and stabled amongst the trees and knew that if the message of this documentary was heard, that it might mean the end of these big gentle creatures. How would these and all other horses fit in with our human society if we were to stop valuing horses for their ability to carry and pull our physical loads? Already, the historical uses of horses, first for meat, then for transportation, warfare, and agriculture have been left behind in most of the developed world. For now, horses have been holding onto their place by being re-purposed as recreational vehicles and status symbols for those who can afford their care and training.
The Path of the Horse isn’t my message. It is something larger that has been stirring in the souls of many of us who have been called to be with horses. More and more people are beginning to see the actual costs of having their own horses. For those of us who want the best possible lives for our horses, in addition to regular veterinary and farrier care we can add on the cost of having a large enough pasture to give the horses a sense of well-being, the cost of our commute to that pasture, the cost of our time feeding and caring for the horses, or paying someone else to do these tasks, the cost of not being able to take a trip if we can’t find or afford adequate care, the emotional cost when tough decisions have to be made. Also we need to add in the time and care needed when a horse gets injured, factor in what happens when we lose a job and can no longer afford our mortgage, it’s enough to make me think of the newspaper story about the homeless horse trainer living in the back woods of Sacramento, California with his three horses.
When these costs are totaled up they would probably make even the wealthiest among us pause before agreeing to buy her daughter a pony. The average lifespan of a well cared for horse is 30 years. If I were to breed a horse today, and take full responsibility for bringing this new life into the world, it wouldn’t be until I was 67 years old that I would be free of this commitment. How can I know what my own life will look like for the next 31 years? How can I know that I will even be able to take care of my own needs for the next 5 years? Probably the toughest decision a horse owner has to make is what to do with her horse when her life changes enough that a horse no longer fits in it. When we are kids, our parents usually make those decisions. Many young hearts have been broken when their best friend gets sent away.
Fortunately, I don’t think the future for our horses is as bleak as it might seem from what I’ve written so far. An unexpected solution presented itself as I was talking with photographer Felicia Story-Chapin over lunch a couple of weeks ago. She was saying that if she had the money, she’d fence in the area around her house and have a horse of her own. The world-weary trainer in me looked out at her and readied the list of all the things she probably hadn’t considered that made it a bad idea. Then something else came in. What is the concept “my horse”? Why couldn’t it be “our horses”? And why couldn’t “our horses” be those already living in the pasture?
I could see the difficulty if a person wants his own horse to be able to ride and show. Sometimes people work out partial leases or rent horses as a way to have a horse to ride without the full costs of ownership, but what about people who are more aligned with the message of The Path of the Horse? There are already places around the world that offer workshops based on this message using their own horses, but I’m thinking bigger than this. What could be created by those who want to be part of an ongoing relationship with a horse based on what is best for the horse? What if, just as horses form together in herds, a group of people could form together based around caring for this herd…and each other? In this way, resources could be shared and horses would have the benefit of multiple people who could care for them.
One of the things that I think has shattered the souls of many humans in the culture that I am familiar with is the fact that we are alienated from so many in our own human herds. We have learned that money will buy us autonomy. Instead of coming together around one communal fire, if we can afford it, we choose a single mate and build our own separate versions of security, largely cut off from our neighbors.
Important pieces to have in place would be a strong human leader whom everybody involved respected, a vision that everyone shared, and a willingness on the part of the humans to work out the difficulties that will arise.
Now it is March 2010 and the draft horses will again convene at the fairgrounds next September. Maybe there won't be as many of them, maybe some of the classes will be canceled. Maybe someone who goes to watch will think of a documentary they saw called The Path of the Horse and wonder about the horses flipping their heads and wringing their tails. Maybe in 2011 that person will hear about a place he can go to hang out with a herd of horses and help them scratch their itchy spots and swish away the flies. Maybe in that pasture he will get a chance to reconnect with something he has been searching for.
Obviously this vision is in its infancy and will be developed as more people start thinking about it. I’m interested to hear if anybody has tried this and how it went. What were some of the benefits and what were the challenges?
In closing, I’ve got to mention the comment from Jenny in Finland about the book Kinship with All Life by J. Allen Boone. It is one of my all-time favorites. You gotta love Freddie the fly! Thanks for mentioning it.