Thursday, May 17, 2012

Little Kids and a Very Big Horse

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of spending a beautiful sunny Saturday in rural Snohomish at a stable with sweeping views of the Cascade mountains and a lush green valley.

The occasion was a demonstration of equestrian vaulting, the art and sport of gymnastics on horseback with roots that go back to ancient Rome and Greece.

A friend's little girl, a child as petite and lively as a cricket but flexible as a rubber band, was participating in this event aboard a giant of a horse: a Belgian named Curious George.

The vaulters, all associated with a school called Above and Beyond Equestrian Sports, ranged in age from a wee five-year-old wearing butterfly wings to an adult woman.

The vaulters leaped onto the horse and landed lightly, as if the action were no more difficult than playing in  waves.

Fearlessly, they executed twists, turns, stands, and other acrobatics while patient George walked, trotted, and cantered at the behest of his trainer.

At the event's conclusion, George returned, stripped of his surcingle and other gear.

The big horse never moved his massive hooves as children clustered around him, stroking his broad flanks and chest and reaching up to pat his velvety nose. He delighted in nibbling the blond, wispy haylike hair of one small boy, sending him into rivers of giggles.

Clearly this is a horse who revels in attention.

It was a relief to look back on this weekend because unfortunately I'd started the day by reading an article about the horrific abuse endured by Tennessee Walking Horses at the hands of so-called trainers who employ barbaric tactics to make their horses walk like goosestepping Wehrmacht soldiers.

My photos from that beautiful Saturday reminded me that many people honor and cherish the horses who serve them so faithfully and remain mindful of what the Greek writer Xenophon stressed more than 2,300 years ago in his work On Horsemanship:

"What a horse does under compulsion he does blindly, and his performance is no more beautiful than would be that of a ballet-dancer taught by whip and goad...The performances of horse or man so treated would seem to be displays of clumsy gestures rather than of grace and beauty. What we need is that the horse should of his own accord exhibit his finest airs and paces at set signals...The majesty of men themselves is best discovered in the graceful handling of such animals."