Horses and the Human Fear of Nature

I have written before about the fear and domination aspect of so many horse “training” programs, including “natural horsemanship” techniques.  Stand outside the horse world for a moment.  Look at the use of tools such as whips, spurs and chains.  Look at the way we confine and punish horses.  When does a “correction” become a beating?  Why would an owner who claims to love her horse allow a trainer to beat him?

I watched one “natural” trainer at the Western States Horse Expo this year hit a horse and then admonish the owner for “letting him get away with” it.  I would have punched the trainer in the nose but lacked the courage.  Besides, it was not “my horse.”

I am not suggesting horses be given free rein to run over humans.  I am suggesting that many of the techniques we use to “train” horses make it more likely that they will run us over once they have the chance.  I know I would be waiting for the day.  What sentient, self-respecting creature wouldn’t?

The Equus exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City in 2008 featured an illustration of a horse with a braided mane, in a bit and bridle, with its chin tucked close to its chest, and tight nose and brow bands.  This image looks beautiful to many observers and is a “classic” look for the domestic horse.  The exhibit itself, that I viewed when I was in New York last summer, was heavily geared toward the S&M aspect of the horse/human story, with depictions of horses in battle gear and pulling chariots, and of humans carrying crops.  There was little commentary on how that story might be told as a tale of slavery and oppression.

We now believe that horses were originally hunted or kept by humans for food.  Humans continue to use horses as a food source today, and the idea of raising horses for food in the United States is gaining momentum, with several states considering or passing measures to allow slaughterhouses for production of horse meat.

The concept of a horse without a human use is apparently so threatening to some humans that they refer to such horses as vermin, trash, mongrels and ferals.

The online version of The Horse exhibit discussed the difference between a horse that is domestic and one that is wild:

When animals are domesticated, the change can often be seen in the bones. In dogs and pigs, for example, the muzzle becomes shorter in relation to the rest of the skull. By contrast, early domestic horse bones look very much like wild ones. So archaeologists studying horse remains must use other clues to tell whether they are domestic or wild.

I am no scientist, but maybe”domestic” horse bones look like wild horse bones because there is no difference.  Perhaps the horse is not our “little brother” and not a “beast of burden” but a citizen or another nation as Henry Beston wrote.  Or perhaps horses are the intelligent and imperious Houyhnhnms and humans the savage, stupid Yahoos that Jonathan Swift described in Gullivers’s Travels.

Perhaps the domestic horse remains wild, acting sometimes in cooperation with humans for its own purposes, usually in captivity, and waiting.  Waiting for the gates to open.  Waiting for the bonds to break.  Waiting for the day that horses and humans throw off the restraints, forgo the busy work and live in harmony with the seasons and the pulse of the earth.

For whose needs and for what purpose is all this training, leading, riding, picking, brushing, longeing, walking, bridling, saddling, bitting, shoeing, pulling, braiding, tacking, spraying, clipping, scrubbing, washing, cleaning, wrapping, packing and injecting activity anyway?

What is the “and” that binds human and horse?  Do they love us?  Do we love them?  Can you love what you are not free to love?


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