A horse’s hooves galloping on the open range sounds like a fast-beating heart, its mane flowing and fluttering in the breeze. It is truly a miracle how a creature weighing more than a thousand pounds can leap into the air as smoothly as an eagle soaring on the wind.
Horses are used everywhere, and it is fascinating to see how the world changed as the horse became more and more important to humanity. Over time, through the eras, human have employed horses in various aspects of life, including agriculture, cattle herding, sports (chariot driving), militaries, transportation, skill-building, and as status symbols. Gloria Austin, President of Equine Heritage Institute, Inc., said “We have had 6,000 years of history with the horse and only 100 with the automobile.”
The oldest commonly known historical book, the Bible, mentions and describes horses about 150 times. In the Book of Revelation, the horse symbolizes different types of events to come.The Book of Job recounts an exchange between Job and God about how powerful and beautiful the horse was created to be:
Do you give strength to the horse? Do you adorn his neck with a mane?
Do you make him leap like a locust? His proud snorting fills one with terror.
He paws in the valley and rejoices in his strength; he charges into battle.
He laughs at fear, since he is afraid of nothing; he does not run from the sword.
A quiver rattles at his side along with a flashing spear and a javelin.
He charges ahead with trembling rage; he cannot stand still at the trumpet’s sound.
When the trumpet blasts, he snorts defiantly.
He smells the battle from a distance; he hears the officers’ shouts and the battle cry.
- Job 39:19-25
Though horses cannot handle long periods of stress in general, one of the most common jobs for horses, especially in ancient times, was riding into battle. The Bible describes the fearless charging into battle of a warhorse, an animal bred and trained specifically to carry a rider into the thick of a fight, without regard for weapons, noises, or movement. These horses were intact (ungelded) and had testosterone flowing though their bodies that allowed them to focus on the charge instead of imminent threat. Their design allowed them to be an offensive weapon instead of a defensive and fearful creature.
And yet as powerful as horses are, they are also capable of high intelligence, extreme gentleness and amazing curiosity. Horses have been said to have the intelligence level of average human 12 year olds. Beautiful Jim Key, an American horse in the early 1900s, was known for spelling words and solving math problems, all without taking visible cues from his trainer, who had trained him simply with “patience and kindness.” Beautiful Jim was one of the first mascots of the Humane Treatment of Animals movement. Around the same time, Clever Hans was a German horse who could read the reactions of the humans around him to give correct answers to difficult math and language problems.
Horses are excellent observers, and are incredibly talented at reading their surroundings; this is how they have been able to survive for millennia. Horses spend very little of their energy using audible language because most of their energy is spent searching for threats around them. They quickly and completely notice the flick of an ear, a swish of the tail, or a toss of the head, for example.
As for physical design, there are arguments both for and against whether or not horses were made to be ridden, but it is interesting to note that the strongest part of the horse’s back is right where a rider sits. Regardless of their originally intended purpose, their design has been utilized throughout history to carry humans and help us complete various tasks.
Horses’ strength allows them to use their hind legs to push their bodies off the ground in a leap, and then run 440 yards (1/4 mile), unwinded, to outlast predators. The fastest predator of horses can only run about 400 yards flat out, so a horse only needs to go just far enough to outrun its fastest predator.
Equines must live in balance. They were never meant to live in a high state of stress, with constant adrenaline, consistently on edge. This often causes horses to reach insanity if they experience long periods of adrenaline; they were created to see something and react quickly, but to also return to balance quickly. If they don’t come down from the adrenaline high, they can’t graze - they must be calm to eat. If their adrenaline is too high when they drop their heads down to graze, they would have blood rushing through their long necks to their heads, causing hemorrhages in their brains. They can have a pattern of adrenaline highs and lows many times in a minute, especially when they are in a new place. If they come from a quiet farm and are suddenly near loud traffic, they will be on high alert until (after a relatively short time) they come to realize that those loud noises and sudden movement won’t hurt them. This is interestingly true of wild horses in open areas where trains pass by regularly - the entire herd will completely ignore the machines on the track.
We all can learn from the horse. Humans spend most of their time learning to communicate orally, but very little time focusing on the language of movement (body language). As humans, we face traumatic events with a fight or flight response, generating adrenaline highs and lows. We get stuck in patterns and never find release from the high-alert state, and never escape the stress of fear.
Horses learn patterns too, but they mostly stick to identifying current threats. Humans assess threats and after pinpointing one, we create patterns to protect ourselves. We react to other things happening around us, and we often treat all threats equally, even though they are not equally threatening to us. Just like horses, we can choose to return to a relaxed state; trauma does not need to control us. We can choose to let it go and keep moving forward.
Horses in the wild don’t have phobias or mental traumas, and this is the natural state of the horse without human contact. When horses come in contact with humans, we tend to anthropomorphize them and place our feelings onto them. This is how we create horses who have behavior issues - natural herd dynamics never require horses to deal with constant imbalance and stress.
Horses can teach us to crave balance and seek peace. God made these powerful creatures for a reason, and we have a lot of knowledge to glean from them. They know when we are having a bad day, when we are happy, and especially when we are trying to control them or take away their freedom.
Horses want to be with us, but like us, they want to be treated with respect and love. We must learn to speak their language, not force our language on them. We must learn to change our approach to show them respect and have relationship with them to work together to achieve the results we seek. A horse very quickly learns a human’s intentions and will react accordingly. If we desire to control a horse, this will only result in beating them into submission. If we want to be partners with the horse, imagine what we can accomplish together with them!
The horse-human partnership has endless possibilities and can go infinitely further than any other combination of humans and horses, and respect is key. As one of the most versatile animals that God created, humans owe it to this beautiful and powerful creature to show them respect and love.