The Eye of the Beholder: Looking Beyond What Is to See What a Horse Can Be

“… when fed and ridden well, horses become remarkable… They become the magnificent beasts that we picture in our minds and ogle over when we see them — even the ones that aren’t naturally so. Their beauty becomes apparent to all who behold them…”

There is an adage that goes “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Never is this more true than when it comes to horses. This is true not only when it comes to our own horses, but also when it comes to purchasing horses or assessing other people’s horses horses.

Of course we all think our OWN horses are beautiful. No matter how turned out, over at the knee, sickle-hocked, bug–eyed or sway-backed, we see the beauty in our own horses. I’m sure the fondness we develop for them makes us overlook their flaws and see that which we love about them.

However, beyond our own horses, there is something to be said for the well-muscled horse that rides nicely in frame. In fact, a little bit of appropriate muscling can go a long way in making a plain or relatively unremarkable horse absolutely remarkable. I’ll use my own horse as an example — and not just because I love her and, therefore, think she’s beautiful.

She has her flaws. Her face is a little crooked (okay, maybe a lot crooked) perhaps due to some in utero pressure and she is a mostly plain chestnut. She has three white socks and a small star, but that’s it. She’s not flashy and she’s an average mover (remind me never to write a sale ad). Her conformation is solid — she’s put together nicely even if her hip is a bit smaller than I would like. But she’s not a horse that people look at in the field or even tacked up and exclaim, “Wow! What a beautiful horse!” She’s your average, honest mare.

Rightful Goddess shortly after I got her. She’s a little lean and a lot gangly. Photo by DeAnn Long Sloan.

But — and this is a big “but” — here’s the thing. With good nutrition and proper muscling, a lot can change.

Rightful Goddess after a few months of riding and number of pounds. Photo by DeAnn Long Sloan.

When she’s under saddle and in frame, she becomes remarkable. Literally. People remark on her movement. They remark on how her canter looks smooth. They remark on how good looking of a horse she is.

My mare, Rightful Goddess, at the 2018 Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover. Photo by GRC Photography.

Believe me, as the one sitting on her back, her canter is not smooth and her trot is not floaty. It takes a lot of work to get her driving from her hind end and carrying herself correctly. But the work is worth it. It’s not only better for the horse and better for the rider, but also it turns my average, mostly plain mare into one that people remark upon. Even to the uneducated eye, the beauty of the horses’s movement becomes apparent.

The reason I write this isn’t just to gush about how wonderful my horse can be (although that’s always fun, too). No, the point is that when fed and ridden well, horses become remarkable — no matter how average they may be. They become the magnificent beasts that we picture in our minds and ogle over when we see them — even the ones that aren’t naturally so. Their beauty becomes apparent to all who behold them, no just those that love them.

Shootyeahimalildevil (aka Bebe) upon arrival at NC Equine and then one month later. Photos by Nicole Cammuso.

Shootyeahimalildevil after some good nutrition and training by NC Equine, LLC. Photo by Marcella Gruchalak.

I know people who will bypass a horse because it’s “not cute.” They have trouble picturing how an ugly duckling — or even an underdeveloped duckling — can transform with proper nutrition and riding. Obviously if the structure is there, a hose can and will develop beautifully. But even horses with flaws — the ones whose structure is a bit lacking — will develop, become more appealing and benefit from enhanced and correct muscle development.

It’s important that we, as riders and buyers, see what our horses can be, not just what they are. Of course, not all riders are in a position to do that. Those who are new to the horse world and/or first-time horse owners likely shouldn’t take on a project for which they are poorly equipped. And upper level competitors likely need a horse that is fit when they buy it.

But for the rest of us, most of whom are not upper level competitors, we need to learn to look past a plain wrapper or poor muscling. If we’re willing and able to put in the time and effort, we can take the horse that wouldn’t be seen as “cute,” the average one, and make it remarkable. We have the privilege of finding the true diamonds in the rough — the ones the others passed by — and turning them into the gems they can become.