I’m working this summer, but really, if I were just doing what I wanted, I’d be spending my time galloping horses around fields all day. I started learning how to ride when I was seven, and ever since then, it’s been a powerful need, a central part of my happiness and my identity.
My dad refers to it as a crack substitute. I see his point. So do a lot of other horsey people I know.
But why, though—why the intense, widespread magnetism between people and horses? If you ask American pop culture, you’ll get roughly three answers. There’s the cowgirl explanation, which has something to do with dirt, toughness, Americana, and general badassery. Then there’s the “horse girl” concept, which comes up in a lot of apparently infinite book series for children featuring heaps of quasi-Freudian devotion and improbable anthropomorphizing. And finally, there’s the big one, the one I see the most: “horse girl” part two, meaning sparkling, blond, wealthy, vaguely bitchy princesses. (Wearing her velvety cap, she places her velvety lips on her horse’s velvety nose. They’ve just won a golden trophy, and she loves her prize more than she’ll ever love you…)
None of these stereotypes are wrong, exactly. Most of my horse-obsessed friends and I have all been covered in a combination of sweat, dust, manure, hay, and dog hair at some point; we’ve also collected Breyer model horses as kids and enjoyed our fair share of blue ribbons and expensive hunt coats. But the types aren’t really fair in their weird, dismissive gendering of the sport, and more importantly, they miss the point. The thing in question—this thing that’s continually proven itself stronger than genetics, career ambitions, budgets—isn’t about saving the day or having a best friend or winning. I think it’s something strange, something transcendent.
Here’s what happens: you wrap your legs around an animal and you begin to speak to each other in an infinitely subtle, infinitely complex physical language. And then, together, you perform a kind of difficult, technical, mutually dangerous dance. This dance requires a kind of trust that you won’t find often between two people. When you face a four-foot fence, your horse trusts you to put him where he needs to be—impulsion, collection, spacing, focus, angle—to clear it. When you face a four-foot fence, you trust your horse to leap correctly when you ask and bear you safely through the air to the other side. You have your astounding language, of course, but sometimes that won’t seem like much assurance when your bodies are at stake. And what you’re left with can look a lot like pure faith. (Human: “Pony, take care of my bones, okay?”)
If you do it right, sometimes you get to nirvana. Sometimes, your internal monologue disappears. Your conscious mind evaporates, and you find yourself in a silence of heat and hoofbeats where you have six legs, four lungs, two hearts, and two intricately fused awarenesses. It’s like a really abstracted form of sex. It’s what the Greeks were thinking about when they made up centaurs. And there’s a lot I would do, a lot I would give up, for just a few minutes of that feeling.
Charlotte L.R. Anrig '18 is an English concentrator living in Leverett House.
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