Equines lost all practical usability the very second motors were invented. Their pulling and carrying capacity just can’t compete with a tractor. They’re wildly impractical. As delicate as they are huge, if their spindly legs don’t snap eventually, their finnicky digestive system will act up and cost a fortune to fix. They eat enormous amounts of food and demand special grooming and manicures to keep their health up. They’re prey animals, which means that at any moment they may take off at breakneck speed or kick out. If this isn’t enough, they cost more than some people’s salary to keep.
So why on earth are they still so popular?
An old, well-known saying goes something to the tune of “Society was built on a horse’s back.” Much of what we have now we owe those big hairy creatures. Fast and brave, they were the first war machines and automobiles. Sometimes I ponder whether cars would even exist without horses. They both have “gears,” breaks, gas and steering mechanisms. Early “horseless carriages” were called so for a reason. Beyond practicality, they became a symbol of power and aristocracy. Indigenous Americans who could afford horses beaded the soles of their moccasins, so that lowly ground dwellers would see them and get the message Look at my soles; they’ll never have to touch the ground.
Let’s not forget this great animal’s humbler side. My favourite poem reads:
Where in this wide world can man find nobility without pride,
Friendship without envy,
Or beauty without vanity?
Here, where grace is served with muscle
And strength by gentleness confined
He serves without servility; he has fought without enmity.
There is nothing so powerful, nothing less violent.
There is nothing so quick, nothing more patient.
England’s past has been borne on his back.
All our history is in his industry.
We are his heirs, he our inheritance.
I often marvel at the horse’s ability to instill a sense of awe. Naughty, obnoxious children turn silent and obedient in their presence. They sense immediately the power and danger, present but unused, in this doe-eyed friendly giant. No one can argue the perfect symmetry of the equine form; so balanced, built for speed and aerodynamics and simple pleasure of viewing. Any rider can tell you about the inexplicable bond they have with their horses. There’s something entirely extraordinary about being on them, as if we borrow their grace, strength and sheer rocketing momentum. In return, they love you unconditionally (well, most do. They’re rather humanoid in that regard.)
Particularily as of late, society has fallen in love with horses all over again. Cavalia’s encore performance, Odysseo, was packed every night. Perhaps in this frantic state of global warming, climate change, ozone deterioration, warfare and pollution, we are longing for that simpler time before the machines, when our lives revolved around a beautiful, noble beast.