Victoria Shields takes a moment to reflect on the generosity of equine spirit.
Recently I found myself trying to explain to a friend of mine (who isn’t quite as horse-obsessed as I am) why I would pay to have my horse regularly adjusted by a chiropractor. I wound up just telling them that I think it’s only fair to make sure his back is taken care of, considering the fact that I ask him to carry 100+ pound riders on it on a regular basis.
Later that night, I started to consider what it means for horses to “carry” their riders. I think a lot of the time I tend to focus on riding my horse, and how much I can get him to extend, to collect, to round, to use himself in a better way, but I don’t really consider that, while I am riding him, he is willingly carrying me. If you think about it that way, it changes your perspective.
My horse, a thousand pound animal who could easily crush me if he chose to, not only allows me to climb onto his back, but actually listens to me and tries to understand what I want him to do. I hope I never forget how amazing that is. This is nothing new, of course; horses have carried humanity’s very history, through wars and exploration, from deserts to mountains. But, more personally, horses have carried me through the majority of my life. Patient horses carried me while I bounced on their kidneys, forgiving me when I accidentally balanced myself with the reins or kicked their sides without meaning to. A lesson horse carried me when I was thrilled and grinning the first time I cantered and I felt like I was flying, and another carried me when I gripped his mane in terror the first time I jumped a tiny crossrail that felt like a six-foot oxer.
Horses have been there for me when I was happy, and I have experienced some of my best moments on their backs. But they have also been there when everything else in my life seemed to be falling apart. I always knew, no matter how bad it got, that I could swing a leg over the back of a horse and count on them to take away my worries for an hour or so.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Not every horse I have ridden has wanted to carry me, and those that didn’t want to have, on occasion, found different ways to get me off of their backs and onto the ground. But the vast majority of horses have accepted me, and all of my flaws, onto their backs without complaint.
I think about the horse that I have now, and consider how far he has carried me already, as well as how far we might still go. He has patiently gone with me on beautiful trail rides, galloping across pastures, jumping over low obstacles and trotting around bareback in the snow. He has come across things that he was unsure about, but gone through them despite his uncertainty at my request. Conversely, he has felt my fear and carried me through it anyway, lending me his own confidence. He has already accepted me onto his back more times than I can count, for no reason other than the fact that I asked him to.
I can’t wait to see where else we go, and I hope that he will always know how thankful I am for the humble, quiet gift of simply letting me see what life looks like eight feet above the ground. Even if we don’t always get our goals accomplished, and even if we have frustrating rides when I can’t get him to collect or use his back the way I want to, or when we miss one too many jumps, he has still allowed me to ride on his back, and he is still always willing to try again for me tomorrow.
I think about the horses that once carried me but can no longer do so, either because of soundness or health issues, or because they have passed on. I think about all of the beautiful experiences that they have given me, and I am absolutely humbled. I hope that they knew how thankful I was to them, and that they enjoyed carrying me as much as I enjoyed being carried by them.
I cannot think of a better way to go through life than to be carried by such awe-inspiring but humble creatures. So to all of the horses that I have been lucky enough to ride over the years, from tired lesson ponies to high-strung jumpers and everything in between, there is one thing that I wish I could say to you, from the bottom of my heart: Thank you for carrying me.
Victoria is a Horse Nation reader and a horseback rider from Ohio. She currently rides all-around with her five year old Quarter Horse gelding, Houdini.