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Horses inspire me in hundreds of ways. I love their beauty, their athleticism, their gentleness, curiosity, intelligence, and their sense of humor. I marvel at their sensitivity, their mastery of herd dynamics and communication, and their instinct that survival is found with their herd. For Thanksgiving, I honor these amazing animals who have cooperated with humans for so many thousands of years that most of us take them for granted.

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Getting us there

The domestication of horses around 4000 BC changed the history of the world. Horsepower allowed hunters to target bigger and faster prey. Horses aided the spread and evolution of civilizations since people on horseback could travel greater distances. Learn more.

“History was written on the back of a horse.” – Kentucky Horse Park

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Straight from the horse’s mouth

Horses left hoof prints all over our language (and many others as well) with some of the most colorful expressions in modern English. These sayings entered our language when nearly everyone had first hand knowledge of horses:

Don’t put the cart before the horse ~ That’s a horse of a different color ~ Horsing around ~ Horse sense ~ He’s a little long in the tooth ~ Got a burr under your saddle? ~ Work horse ~ You’re beating a dead horse ~ Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth ~ You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink ~ That’s lame! ~ Hold your horses ~ Being put out to pasture ~ Get off your high horse ~ Don’t change horses mid-stream ~ Chomping at the bit ~ Take the blinders off ~ It’s too late to close the barn door after the horse has bolted ~

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Partners in sport

Some jobs horses do so well that nothing has replaced them: mounted police, search and rescue, cattle round up, and wilderness transportation to name a few. Horses, donkeys, and mules are still used for farming and transportation in many areas of the world, but as engines replaced actual horse power, horses’ value as partners in sport has soared. Sports like dressage, eventing, and show jumping derive from military training, while rodeos demonstrate the practical skills needed by ranchers. In every endeavor, horses have worked willingly in partnership with their rider or driver to accomplish a task.

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Poetry in motion

Seeing a horse run all out is breathtaking. Their rippling muscles, flying manes and tails, and fiery yet gentle natures reflect beauty in many forms. Velvet noses, hay scented breath, and shining coats draw us to their lovely presences.

“The joy of horses is that they bring us into contact with elements of grace, beauty, spirit and fire.” – Sharon Ralls Lemon

Consider Pegasus, the Trojan Horse, and Al Borak. How would the sun cross the sky from dawn to dark if not pulled by a celestial horse? Al Borak, a horse with the head of a woman and the wings of an eagle, raised Mohammed to Seventh Heaven. Bucephalus carried Alexander the Great into victorious battles. Visit the amazing Paleolithic cave paintings of Lascaux by video to be reminded, again, of how humans and horses evolved together.

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Dr. Ed?

Today horses are finding new roles as our teachers and therapists. Used to help people with disabilities develop muscle tone and balance, horses’ natural gifts make them ideal for hippotherapy and handicapped riding. Their sensitivity to their riders, no matter how small or fragile, and their rhythmic gaits blend physical challenge, mental stimulation, and fun. Little Bit Therapeutic Riding Center and Animals as Natural Therapy are two local organizations (in Western Washington) that provide healing services with their herds of horses to communities of autistic and disabled children and adults, veterans, teenagers in recovery, and more.

Spending time with horses taught me about how prey animals live in the world. Every fiber of a horse’s being is oriented towards tracking its environment for possible danger. Survival is based on running away, and on being part of a herd. Their amazing sensitivity coupled with their instinct to be in relationship (with the herd) makes them effective facilitators of psychotherapy and human development. In partnership with human facilitators, horses demonstrate collaboration and connection brilliantly. They are natural mirrors, offering potent reflections and guidance to their human clients. Sandra Wallin, of Chiron’s Way, who has incorporated horses into her practice for years, offers programs designed around the gifts of her lovely herd, as well as her own.

Where in this wide world can man find nobility without pride,

Friendship without envy,

Or beauty without vanity?

Here, where grace is served with muscle

And strength by gentleness confined

He serves without servility; he has fought without enmity.

There is nothing so powerful, nothing less violent.

There is nothing so quick, nothing more patient.

– Ronald Duncan, “The Horse,” 1954

My greatest inspiration came from owning and caring for my horse, Blue. He named my marketing business, and I cherish his memory and role in my life every time I introduce myself. Read the story of Blue.

Why are you grateful for horses? How have they inspired you?

This article was published in Horse Back Magazine in November 2015.

Photos purchased from iStock.