Spring 2018 Update

It’s been many seasons since posting. Not so long by some measures, but in social media terms it has been ages. Sometimes you need to resource your motivation and find the right stability for achieving goals. Regeneration is a hopeful project.

I came to see horses differently after doing research for the books. There is so much evidence that humans benefit from experience with horses, even if we don’t know this anymore. You can see the belief in our history: the art, the literature, the language and myths and political forms all recognize and respect equestrian influence. But not anymore. It seems a huge change to ignore.

Most have lost the horse connection–rip! it’s gone–and the ramifications are unknown. Another era is upon us. Horses are mute actors, large canaries in the coal mines of human coalescence. This seems true in all times and places. Horsemanship reflects consequence of action; our troubles are theirs.

I have even come to believe horses are important for our future. We seem to need the remembrance they represent, to feel the history that still lives with them. Horsemanship was a herald of human civilization. Both dawned together, and maybe that matters. I now think it might.

People may actually need the connection to nature that horses provide. In one sense the horse never left the prairie, we just built around them; horses are still wild inside, still afraid of lions.

It would be funny if it turned out that human primates need the horse’s original ancient lessons of strategic leadership and internal control in order to sustain society.

Maybe the flaw of machines is you don’t need to care. Maybe we need to care.

The brutality of the corporate vision offers vital despair as it approaches the horizon, but there are other paths. Paths once hallowed. We may have dismounted in haste, but the horse is still with us. Not in the guise of the betrayed plow horses or those we bred for carriages or drays, but within the intimate bonds of equestrian sport, recreational riding and therapy. The deepest partnership we have with animals has continued to advance and unfold. That itself seems a guide.

The exciting–thrilling–spark of our new day is something that wasn’t knowable before, and people may not think of even now. The love of horses is still alive. Horses are proving to be a curious antidote to the commercial world and will surely become more valuable over time, not less. Many still feel the ancient bond, proving love is indeed as perennial as the grass.

NYC could honor horses with small “Horse Village” in Central Park

The Legend of the Great Horse trilogy was inspired by man’s partnership with horses … the following is a response to an exceptional challenge to the horse’s place in society today.


The NYC carriage horse situation has given me the idea to ask the horse welfare activists to help with a project for the future of horses—by helping reconnect the public with their equestrian roots.

A New Era

The recent move to ban horse carriages in NYC follows a number of controversies involving the place for horses in modern society. The struggle against horse slaughter, the fight to keep free-running mustangs in the American West, and, for me locally, the disbanding of the Boston police horses and detached dismanagement of Suffolk Downs—these issues point to a need for an informed public conversation about horsemanship’s role in the modern era.

This is a conversation for our time. The discussion couldn’t have been had in 1900 when cavalry competitions in Jumping were new and gaining unprecedented popularity with horse-experienced audiences. In the following decades the ‘horse and buggy’ was being replaced by automobiles and made into a cliché of being old-fashioned and obsolete. A conversation about the future of horses wouldn’t have been hopeful in the WWI & II years as 21 million US farm horses were summarily ‘retired’ in favor of tractors and horse cavalries were being disbanded the world over. Even as new recreational forms of horsemanship were growing in the post-war era, it was too soon to see whether popularity would sustain or how the new forms would develop.

Today we have the evidence that human interest in horses goes beyond their use in transportation and war, and valuable experience in how humane forms of horsemanship can continue to benefit mankind. We are at a historic crossroads and, as the challenges to the horse’s presence in society are showing, we need to have that conversation for the good of our horses and future generations.

My proposal is to ask Mayor de Blasio to set aside in perpetuity a quiet 1.5 acre plot in the 840-acre Central Park for a ‘Horse Village’ dedicated to sharing horses with the public.

Continue reading “NYC could honor horses with small “Horse Village” in Central Park”

History began with Horsemanship

Greek bronze statuette (late 2nd-1st Century BC)Though it may seem obvious that writing/reading is a basic skill of civilization, horsemanship has fewer advocates as a cultural practice …

Yet we live in a world of paradox, and our partnership with horses should not be dismissed too lightly by the world they helped to create.

Author’s note: Research for ‘The Legend of the Great Horse’ trilogy led me to greater appreciation for the role of horses in human history …

Civilization developed slowly … discovering, inventing, destroying, re-discovering, re-inventing. Always building from what has gone before.

Eclipsed by Shadow - cover image coin Today we stand on a ladder of human progress. We may retreat a step–or fall off completely. History shows mankind’s progress is not steady or certain. Basic ideas which create a society can be lost.

What should be retained and what should be let go?

A plea for tradition

As we discard old ways in favor of new, we should recognize the importance of keeping the foundational skills that developed civilized humanity. Mankind has tried countless ideas that have failed … yet some specialized human activities have brought success to a wide range of cultures throughout history.

The Test of Time

History is not a clear guide, so nothing can be claimed absolutely. Cycles are not uniform: time-spans differ; some cultures persist while others vanish.

Yet even as we move into a new era of powerful, immersive technology, our society retains many activities that have been shared across successful cultures, such as honoring the dead, music, dance, agriculture. Perhaps these are threads that create the conditions of social interaction; perhaps they continue to exist in our societies because human culture needs them to survive.

Horsemanship, though recently less common, is one complex thread of human activity, one as old as writing. There are strong echoes between horsemanship and literary endeavors, two foundational civilizing arts.

Both horsemanship and writing involve education that opens doors to new experience. They share a mindset. The horseman craves the order and efficiency of a book. Yes there is passion, and whimsy, but quiet concentration is a goal for both. Informed comment is respected in both fields.

Without making claims, and taking a generalized (therefore mostly useless) stance, and accounting for generalities or patterns, it is interesting to notice some things.

Both writing and horsemanship began almost simultaneously at the beginning of civilization … in their unique history, there are other connections:

  • Both developed slowly and flowered at the very beginning of the city-state societies that formed early civilization.
  • Both have been virtually universal across dominant cultures.
  • Both are highly adaptable and incorporate developing technology and materials.
  • Both flourish or decline with the rise and fall of human society.
  • Both have renewed themselves in society throughout history.
  • Both are a combination of art and science.
  • Both have many levels of expertise and support a lifetime of learning.
  • Both reach their highest expression in successful societies.

And what may be their most important aspect …

  • Through teaching empathy, both develop human consciousness.

Horse pulling Plow (1939) USAWriting & Horsemanship: Twin harbingers of civilized culture throughout history

Though it may seem obvious that writing/reading is a basic skill of civilization, horsemanship has fewer advocates as a cultural practice.

Of course a pen is nothing like a bridle. Yet even if the relationship between writing and horsemanship is not clear in a material sense, they share a profound place in human culture. We live in a world of paradox, and our partnership with horses is sometimes dismissed too lightly by a world made by ancestors who revered the animal.

A Crossroads in Human History?

Unfortunately another similarity between writing/reading and horsemanship is that both are under commercial pressure … and both face a certain detachment by the broader public.

It is unthinkable–but not impossible–that a preoccupation with market-based solutions could influence us to let go of the ancient arts and sciences that helped form human consciousness and modern society.

Commerce has led many cultures down a blind alley.

If modern society puts the cart before the horse and cuts the reins … are we sure of ourselves, making this decision, or are we simply reacting without understanding? Our horses have seen us lose ourselves before; writing has recorded it.

Image Credits

Greek Bronze statuette (c. Late 2nd-1st Century BC), © User: niborean / Metropolitan Museum of Art / Wikimedia Commons ‘Wikipedia Loves Art’ project / CC-BY-SA-2.5

German Grobe, “Farmer with Horse & Cart” / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain / PD-Art

The Greatest Revolution in Horsemanship … Just Happened!

Even devout horse-lovers may not appreciate how much horsemanship has transformed in the past century. After thousands of years, our relationship to horses and new-found concern for their welfare is a revolution from practices of only a few decades past.

Horse pulling Plow (1939) USAEven devout horse-lovers may not appreciate how much horsemanship has transformed in the past century. After thousands of years, our relationship to horses and new-found concern for their welfare is a revolution from practices of only a few decades past.

The 20th Century saw broad fundamental change to society … as it always has, horsemanship holds a mirror to cultural upheaval and growth.

The Horsemanship Century … a complete transformation

Over the past century, the world has undergone a massive change from using the horse in war, transportation and farm work … to sports, recreation and therapy.

A hundred years ago in 1912, early “High Wheeler” automobiles were being replaced by the Ford’s Model T, or the “Tin Lizzie.” In 1912 tractors were being introduced to American farms; and, though the horse and mule population continued to increase for another 6 years to reach some 26.4 million animals in 1918 … 30 years later horses had almost vanished from the farm.

This steep, rapid decline brought the idea that horses are ‘obsolete’ … the horse-and-buggy has become a metaphor of old-fashioned ways ‘dying out.’ Yet an amazing thing happened that changed the picture of the horsemanship’s anticipated decline: recreation and sport. In the 1800’s jumping was discovered to be an exciting and humane challenge: modern equestrian sports ignited ancient passions for riding and created a new world of horsemanship experience. Even now frontiers in healing horsemanship are opening, providing therapy and rehabilitation for a range of human disabilities.

There are an estimated 9,500,000 horses in the US today, but the horse population is no longer farm animals and cavalry: the demographic has been completely transformed. Our increased focus on equine welfare–almost unseen in earlier human society–is a hallmark of our new ways of horsemanship. The horse helped build civilization, and, amazingly, our modern partnership has risen to new levels with potential to continue into an even brighter future.

Related Links:

Early American Automobile Industry 1894-1929) Pics of 1912 “High Wheeler” and other contemporary autos … vintage shots of vehicles from 1894 to 1929.

History of Horse-Powered Farming in America A look back at the history of farm horses from Colonial times to the modern horse-farming movement today.