Friday, February 1, 2008

Women and Horses

“What is it about women and horses?” I am often asked. I certainly don’t intend to speak for all women who love these amazing four-legged creatures, but I can tell you why they have captivated me. It started when I was just a baby. My mother pushed me in a stroller every day to the farm down the road so I could squeal and laugh with delight as the horses poked their noses through the fence rails.

When I was a little kid, sitting up high on a horse’s back, surveying the world made me feel like I was really in charge of something. It gave me confidence in myself that this huge powerful animal listened to me and did what I asked. In fact, it still does.

As a grown-up, after fifteen years of not riding a horse, I visited friends in New Mexico and went for a trail ride. Just smelling and touching a horse again made me deliriously happy. We rode down into the arroyos, dried up river beds that run for miles in the desert. The flat sandy soil was perfectly smooth. “Okay, let’s go!” the guide called, and my horse took off. Even though I had cantered and galloped my way through childhood, it was the first time that I had ever ridden as fast as the horse could go without any destination or need to stop. We were flying. There were no motors, no noise of a machine, only the wind and the sound of the horse’s hooves on the soft ground. Mostly, I heard the two of us breathing in rhythm. When the horse got tired, we stopped. I wanted more.

Years later, when I was boarding Silk and Siete near my house while I worked day and night in a pressure-cooker job, the scent of my horses saved my sanity. I’d race to the barn to see the girls in the morning before going to the office. After rubbing their favorite itchy spots, my hands would be covered with the sweet smell of horse. For the rest of the day, I’d hold my fingers up to my nose when I’d get aggravated or stressed out. The scent of Silk and Siete would ground me and remind me of “the real me”.

I believe that as a woman, I identify with horses because I too have that “prey instinct”. Granted I’ve never been attacked by a mountain lion. Still, after years of living in New York City, I know I’ve experienced the same feelings of caution and fear of predators while riding in an elevator alone with a strange man or walking through a parking garage by myself to get to my car. I aspire to build my intuition and my gut instincts to be as finely tuned as Silk’s.

Shambhala Buddhists’ use the phrase “windhorse energy”. “Wind” is the strength, power and exuberance to carry yourself beyond self-concern. “Horse” is the courage to ride over obstacles and achieve what you intend. The first time I heard about “windhorse energy”, I recognized it was the gift that my horses offer to me. They help me to be more than I ever believe I can be. So that’s why this woman loves horses.


the kittens' mother said...

What a wonderful story!
I have heard that question before too. I think 1) it is the way you have been brought up and 2) I think it might be something to do with women being sensitive and mothering and are able to relate to horses.
I too was brought up around horses and other animals. We would visit all sorts of sanctuaries, rescues and shows. There is one near us called Bleakholt Animal Sanctuary and my sister used to volunteer there for a short time. We would go around and see all the dogs and cats and then the rabbits, guinea pigs, the pot-bellied pigs and last but not least the horses, donkies and goats where we would spend most time. We also visited a rescue called Foals and Horses, it is actually where we rescued our dog Shelly when she was just a few weeks old. We found her wandering on the lane leading up to the rescue. At the rescue, I had a favourite horse called Danny Boy. He was a shire horse, absolutely beautiful like the ones we would see at the annual Lancashire Show. I had another few favourites; a pony called Gizmo, another pony called Rocky, a goat called Freddie and a gorgeous black and white horse called Edgar and a donkey also called Freddie. We didn't have the environment to adopt a horse or pony, so we had to all agree on one horse/pony and we sponsored Gizmo. I have ridden a couple of horses but they were always led (one of them being my friend's horse). My sisters and I have grown up around all sorts of animals too but it mainly affected me. My younger sister is more of a material girl, my older sister is now disabled but still manages a dog and cats. But me, I wish I could have a farm so I can fill it with animals! Between myself and my mum, we have 3 dogs, 6 cats, a hamster and a budgie and a cockatiel who we would like to find girlfriends for so they can breed and have an aviary to fly around in. I couldn't live without animals in my life. It is hard not working with the kittens and cats anymore but I still have my two girls, Tia and Rani. They drive me mad with them aggrevating one another but I love them both more than I can say. Have you ever been so happy to have your horses that you feel breathless or get tears in your eyes? I have with my cats. It's undescribable but it's like you know they need you, you know they love you and they know you love them and you can't even imagine your life without them. It's a wonderful feeling.
A lovely post Victoria! From Meg and the cats xxx
P.S. Sorry for such a long comment!

Victoria Cummings said...

Thanks, Meg. I love your story too. I'm glad you shared it with me.

detroit dog said...

Funny thing, smell. I still take out my dog's collar and smell it. The week after she died, I slept with her blankie. I wrote a story for NPR's "This I Believe" (it wasn't read, but is in the database) about my dog and about her smell.

Sense memory....

BTW, thanks for always letting me leave a comment. I think I've been talking too much lately, but your posts always seem so relevant.

billie said...

Victoria, I too was enamoured from very early childhood with horses. I remember riding in the car and squealing every time I saw one in a field as we passed.

I rode from around age 10 until 20, and owned a horse for 5 of those years. Then didn't ride for 23 years. It's been the most amazing thing to go back to something that brought me such joy, but now I hold the purse-strings and can make my own decisions about care, etc.

I love the passage about the Buddhist windhorse.

Victoria Cummings said...

DD - Are you kidding? I love it when you leave a comment- I thank you! Our lives are rich because of our animals.

Morenna said...

I've been a horse nut for as long as I can remember. I'm not sure what started it, other than their absolute beauty and grace. Once I started riding, I learned about their power and agility. I have confided my biggest hopes and fears to horses, knowing that they wouldn't betray me. I have shared my joys with them, knowing they wouldn't rain on my parade. Although they may be devious at times, horses are, by and large, honest. I've always enjoyed getting to know different horses and learning their personalities, watching how they interact with each other and with people. I would love to have the time, space and money to have a horse or two and to keep them at home, but alas my career and finances aren't quite there yet. For now I'll settle for taking riding lessons and planning for horse ownership.

Horses are just the best smelling critters, aren't they? That was one of my favorite things about working at the track--smelling the horses all around.

Callie said...

The first time I was set on a horse I was three and that's what started it for me. Nice post!

Andrea said...

going back to you hay dilemma. My father has limited hay storage for the horses as well and he has made an arrangement with his hay grower/provider where he will buy 500 bales (he is feeding a few more horses than you) and the guy stores it in his barn. Whenever dad needs hay he just goes and grabs it. And he always know he has some.
In our self boarding area of the barn we have also made use us the high area above a couple of stalls to store boarders hay. It has to be dry and well ventilated of course but if well packed they can fit in 50 bales easy.

Transylvanian horseman said...

Being in the riding business, I can say that, yes, there is something between women and horses in the Western world nowadays. Of my clients, 90% are women. Male riders, especially the macho ones, are far more likely than female riders to cause problems or be inconsiderate to their horses and other guests. On the odd occasions where female riders cause problems, the culprits usually are a macho minority who feel that they have something to prove, and an opposite insecure minority of girly-girls (sorry, I can't think of a better term right now) who trade on faux-weakness and then complain when they don't get their way.

This does bring out questions about what are authentic "male" and "female" character traits. We could discuss that endlessly. From my perspective, men who are confident and calm, showing positive leadership traits, seem to do well in the hierarchical world of horses. Thinking about women who ride here, those who do best with the horses are also confident, moreover they are good observers and communicators, are patient but don't stand for nonsense, encourage and reward good behaviour, are gentle until they need to be firm. These characteristics do seem more common amongst women than men, even when (in theory) I ought to be seeing a subsection of men who are relatively attuded to horses.

Those male clients who have been good horsemen tended to come from backgrounds where the positive skills described above are required: for instance schoolteachers and army officers. (The British army is strong on good leadership and management. I've had officers from 2nd lieutenant to general ride here.) The poor horsemen tended to from backgrounds where they had benefited from privilege and expected their orders to be followed without question: minor aristocrats, sons of the wealthy, a conservative politician.

Personally, I prefer working amongst female clients. The atmosphere is gentler and more humane. Being male, I'm not drawn into what competition there is amongst my female clients. When a guest is weak, women are more likely to support them. This kind of company tends to bring out my positive characteristics. On the other hand, I am more likely to be judged for stereotypically male faults such as impatience. However, I have rarely been judged unjustly by female clients, so I have little to complain about.

I hope that this comment is of some interest, and isn't too long!

Victoria Cummings said...

Julian - I always enjoy your insights. I know that the men who are attracted to horses often fall into two categories: One group is patient, calm and have a good sense of humor. The other is high-ego, competitive and dominating. I've encountered many men who are horse trainers who fall into the later group. There's definitely a different dynamic between the horses and men - not necessarily better or worse, just different.

Mr. Beer N. Hockey said...

Something else women are sometimes drawn to is wisdom and, to paraphrase one of the few lucid passages of the Koran, all the wisdom of the world can be found in the eye of a horse.

Victoria Cummings said...

Mr. Beer N. Hockey- You speak the truth. Thanks for the comment. You're pretty wise yourself.

Rising Rainbow said...

I think I was born loving horses. I cannot remember a single time when I didn't love them.

While I didn't get to ride much as a child and didn't even get my first horse until I was forty, they are all the things you've said and more to me.Horses are not just my passion, they are my destiny.

Andrea said...

It is interesting reading all the comments.
I have been with horses for as long as I can remember and the strange thing is that the instructors in my life who taught me how to communicate the best with my horses and get the most out of both of us as a team (three day eventing and dressage) were actually male instructors. and yet the only male owner in our barn was/ is my father who owns the barn and doesnt even ride. Yet he knows every single one of those horses in that barn better than the owners themselves.
Hmmm I dont know if it is a man thing or a woman thing - I think it might be a soul thing and who and what type of person you are on the inside that gives us that connection with our animals.

Gecko said...

"After rubbing their favorite itchy spots, my hands would be covered with the sweet smell of horse. For the rest of the day, I’d hold my fingers up to my nose when I’d get aggravated or stressed out. The scent of Silk and Siete would ground me and remind me of “the real me”."

I'm glad I'm not the only person who does that! I sometimes thought I was weird when I sniffed my hands in the middle of school. A lot of the time I'd purposly give them a big huge so the smell would be on my school mother would always curse when I came home 'smelling of horse.' =)

I also agree with trusting your instincts. I'm reading a book at the moment called "The horses too are gone", and it's a true story about a farmer looking after his cattle in the drought on other people's land. He's always mentioning his instincts and how they've got him out of big trouble. Just today a good example of instincts...I was rounding up a herd of cattle on the quad bike and my insints told me to go around wide and bring them along with the dogs...but my brain told me to follow along close behind them...I did this and, I got bogged.
There ya go eh?

Bron said...

Hey Victoria
Im Bron and I heard of your blog and came on... Im not the only person like me!(most teens have the random feeling that no one has the same problems as them)Expect more comments but I kind of have no time at the moment. The reason I think women have a thing with horses is that most teenage boys are scared to be "uncool" if they ride horses cause some very cruel people will call them gay and lets face it... some boys really need to be cool around their friends and girlfriends. Dont get me wrong...most men are very good with most horses but of course there are exceptions. Anyways be back soon!

Rbhoofprint999 said...

The story is cry-wothy and the horse is beautiful. Is she registered? She has wonderful markings and conformation. She is beautiful;)AS a fellow horselover, im telling u ur very lucky!!

XAgirl said...

I happened upon your blog while at blogger's homepage and since I am a horse finatic myself, thought i'd check it out. I get a similiar exhilerating feeling when upon a horse, not because I am in charge of something, but a freedom to go anywhere, explore anything. For a few exhiklerating moments I can leave behind a wheelchair that reminds me of my disability every single day and become swept away by one of God's amazing creatures (next to the dog of course).