As a child I was afraid of horses. Now they intrigue me.
I’m fascinated by their eagerness for company, and I’m amazed at how they have put up with us humans for so long–pulling our chariots, then our milk wagons and plows, trusting us to sit on their backs, carrying us long distances, patnering with us in waging war, running races at their best speed…
Ancient remains suggest that they disappeared from the North American continent for thousands of years. Why? In my reading about their history, I haven’t yet found an explanation. Ancient remains of horses suggest that they started out as small animals and grew larger, then more specialized, as they became willing to provide for our demands and needs.
Recently a friend loaned me her Simon and Schuster guide to horse breeds Every feature–from their legs to the breadth of their withers–is noted. Each horse and pony breed is honored with a quarter page list of relatives. I was amazed at each breed’s detailed history.Their portraits are gorgeous.
The horse is truly one of the most beautifully crafted of animals, with its sleek musculature and beautiful eyes set before a lovely mane and matching tail. In this guide I also enjoyed reading about the five horse gaits. I tried practicing them with my thumbs and first fingers, aligned to mimic the horses four legs.
Each gait has a certain number of beats. To practice each.gait, align you thumbs and first fingers on a firm book or table. Use your left thumb as the horse’s left hindleg. Put your first finger above your thumb on the table.
That is the horse’s left foreleg. Your right thumb is the horse’s right hindleg, and your right finger is the horse’s right foreleg.
Begin with all four fingers on the table.two inches apart. Your horse is standing still.
To practice the gaits, tap your fingers in the order given below. Note that some legs must strike the earth at the same time. Repeat each gait until you get the feel of it.
WALK: (4 beats) Right hindleg–Left foreleg–Left hindleg–Right foreleg
TROT–(2 beats)–Right foreleg and Left hindleg–Left foreleg and Right hindleg
CANTER–(3 beats)–One hindleg–Other hindleg together with the Opposite (diagonal) foreleg–then the Other foreleg
GALLOP–(4 beats)– Same as the Canter but first beat is One hindleg, and the second beat becomes two beats (2 is the Other hindleg and 3 is the Opposite diagonal foreleg)–the Other foreleg as the fourth beat.
PACE–(2 beats) Legs on each side alternate: Left foreleg and Left hindleg together–then Right foreleg and Right hindleg together.
To round out this essay, I’m quoting from the book “The Social Behavior of Older Animals” by Anne Innis Dagg, (John Hopkins Press, Baltimore, 2009). On page 7 she notes that race horses are “not allowed to race in North America beyond their 15 th birthday.”
On page 15 she notes that senior horses (over 9 years old) are better at raising foals, especially in their first more risky 20 days. She notes that one elder pony was revived back to health by “constant repetition and reward” in learning tricks and games.Horses have been known to approach and listen while music is played.
Her most telling story is of the horse Old Dan. After a lengthy illness Old Dan beckoned to to his owner, nodded at various gates. His owner opened them as they walked across the fields. Finally the y reached their “old homestead two miles to the south.” There the horse stood still for a few moments looking around.Then they returned to tOld Dan’s current stable. The horse was “seemingly satisfied,” and he died a few hours later.
Why have horses tolerated us and our demands for so long? We owe them our deepest thanks–and even more respect–for an intelligence we have undervalued too often.