Trust: What Horses (Prey) Can Teach Humans (Predators) about Love, and Life.
But put me on a city bus with even one other human, and all my senses become heightened. I look for the nearest exit. Check the driver, to be sure that s/he looks to be alert. Hands gripping my purse firmly, I put my feet flat on the floor, ready to exit early–or kick–if need-be. (These responses may seem to be harsh to many of you, but I’ve been assaulted in public places four times in my Life.)
So I’m claustrophobic when it comes to other human beings. Don’t like many of ’em, don’t trust most of ’em. For me, trust isn’t just given away. In spite of the fact that my professional life appears to be very public, I’m a profoundly private person. I don’t trust just anyone with my life, and my story.
But horses? Every equine on the planet is a potential friend and family member. Horses, donkeys, mules, zebras, jennies/jacks–if s/he is a member of the horse family, equidae, I love them.
What brought about this confession of my affection for equines,vs my mistrust of humans? Well, just yesterday a friend posted a vid to my Facebook wall.
In that video, a young man was doing Yoga with his horse. The postures they did together–the absolute, unbreakable trust between the two of them–was beautiful to witness.
A friend from NYC (whom I’m guessing never has met a horse in person) noted on my wall that the video was a little “weird” to her.
I was taken aback. I had to step back for a moment, and realize that people who aren’t close to horses can’t understand the intimacy that our two species can share. The uninitiated don’t Get It: of course it looked “weird” to a person who’d never kissed a horse smack-dab on her velvety lips.
My friend–and many others–don’t stop to think about the fact that horses are prey animals. And that their instincts tell them that everyone and everything is a possible threat. And humans are predators. So for a horse to trust a human–well, that’s a very special thing, because that means NOT that the horse is stupid, or has forgotten that humans are potentially dangerous.
No, it means that the human has proven herself/himself to be worthy of said horse’s trust. Love, even.
I recall in 2006, walking around the Saratoga backstretch with my friend, Joe Gleason. As a gigantic Thoroughbred glided past us, escorted by his groom, Joe looked at me and said something that astounded me:
“They let us do that.”
He went on, that horses are SO much bigger than humans–and stronger–and that for a horse to allow a human to hold him by a rein (a silly little string, really)–well, the horse was allowing that to happen. At any minute,the horse could kick the person in the head–rear up and run away. But whenever you see a horse passively walking alongside a human–it’s because, to that horse–the human poses no threat.
Let’s g back in time, say, 55 million years. When first the equidae appeared on the scene, it was small and had many toes. This animal was a prey animal, meaning that to other animals–horse was good eating. Virtually every other animal–those who ate meat–was a potential enemy.
Even that first tiny prototype of the horse had eyeballs on the sides of their heads. A-ha! This, gentle readers, is the first clue about the difference between prey and predator.
If you want to assess an animal for its role in the proverbial food chain, find the location of its eyes:
Prey animals have eyes on the sides of their heads.
–all have eyes on the sides of their heads. This is so they have a better chance of surviving in their natural habitats: if you can see dancer from all angles, you have a better chance of living to see tomorrow.
Predators’ eyes are on the front of their heads:
Dogs (Wolves, Coyotes, etc.)
Cats (Domestic Cats, Tigers, Lions, Cheetahs)
Now, some predator species can be prey to others: my cat, Pandora, doesn’t go outside because a Hawk could get her. But introduce a mouse into her domain, and she’s all predator.
And Humans–sadly, God knows–Humans are notorious for their willingness to kill anything that walks. Humans are among the precious few predators on Earth who kill just for the hell of it. (As opposed to killing for food.)
A couple of years ago, a gentleman who’s an ecologist “corrected” me when i referred to horses as being prey. He said, “Well, maybe at the beginning, but not anymore.”
Ummmmmm, no. Horses were and are vegetarians. Never have they “evolved” (or, de-volved) into omnivores. They’ve been vegetarians since the beginning. (Even their teeth give a clue to this: no canines,with which to rip flesh.) Yes, ecologists out there–horses are prey. Still.
So, given the fact that Humans are by Nature predatory and Horses by Nature are wary of all predators–it’s a miracle that we can tack up a horse and put ’em on a racetrack.
For that matter, it’s a miracle that any horse, at any time, ever came to trust a human. (For many horses who have trusted,that’s proven to be their personal Last Action. Certainly, many humans should not be trusted with the gentle soul of a horse. Or any life form.)
But somehow, approximately 5,000 years ago, a human proved himself (or herself) to be worthy of the trust of the magnificent Horse.
I’m quite certain (based on historic evidence) that those first trustworthy humans were in the region we now call the Middle East. The Arabian Horse is the world’s oldest extant breed of horse–it looks basically the same as it did over 5,000 years ago. And a good deal of that constancy can be attributed to the savvy and insightful breeding concepts of the Bedouins.
So some humans, somewhere along the line in our shared history, proved themselves to be worthy of the trust of a gigantic animal whose first instinct is to run. Their second instinct, to kill us if they can’t run away. (If horses can’t run,then they resort to kicking. “Flight or fight.”)
And we today get to reap the benefits of that first relationship. Now, I am not saying that every human is worthy of trust–not at ALL. I know this from my own firsthand experience.
And I don’t posit that all horses will trust every human they meet. They shouldn’t. Any more than my friend’s daughter should trust every man she meets on Match.com. (Or any man she meets there, for that matter.)
This is because horses DO have that instinct–and they’re intelligent, sentient, emotional beings. And they KNOW when a human is not to be trusted.
Hint: If your horse hates your new boyfriend, dump the boyfriend. The horse intuits more about him than you do.
But I believe that horses are a gift from God. (Really.) A gift because they can teach us about trust and love. Think of it this way: if an animal whose instinct for 55 million years has been to run like the wind away from danger–and all humans since our beginning have been predatory–if that animal can intuit who can be trusted, and who can’t, so can we.
And if we are so blessed as to earn the trust of a horse–we are blessed, indeed. If said horse comes to love us–actually love us,and wants to be with us–we are triply blessed. As you horselovers know–there’s nothing as pure, as perfect, as sweet as the love of a horse.
We humans have much to learn about God’s Earth, and how not to abuse her. We have even more to learn about His animals, and our correct role in the pecking order.
If we as individual predator humans can learn just one good thing during our entire life journeys–to become still, gentle and worthy of the love of a horse–then we (as both a species and as individuals within that species) have the ability to change ourselves and our world for the better.
Peace to you, all, and to all the animals in your lives.
NOTE: Here’s a video I think you’ll enjoy. The official promo for this year’s Dubai World Cup. A lovely telling of our history with The Horse, and our role as predator–then as humans who can love and appreciate our equine brothers and sisters: