Look into my horse’s eyes

Something from my old website.

From time to time, I have heard people say, “it’s only a horse” or “it’s just a dumb animal, it has no soul.” There’s something about that concept that makes me feel just a little bit ill at ease. Somehow, it reduces a horse to the status of an “it” instead of a “thou.” It diminishes a horse from a living, thinking animal to the status of an soulless, inanimate object and that’s a dangerous thing because machines are disposable. They get manipulated, used up and thrown away. This should never happen to a horse.

How we interact with our horses is the foundation of how we work with them. If our training techniques treat the horse like a machine that is to be programmed, we end up dominating and controlling a horse as though it were a machine. One should not try to dominate and control a horse; we should use techniques that gain cooperation by putting us in accord with the horse. I tend to think of horses a “someone” and not an “it.” I remember a story that I was told when I was about four or five years old. It has been passed down through at least four generations of my family, originating with my great-great-grandfather. According to family legend, it was told to my great-great-grandfather while he was hunting buffalo on the Great Plains shortly after the War Between the States. Apocryphal as the story might be, it bears a kernel of truth.

* * * * * *

When the closing of the American “Frontier” was about to be completed, White settlers were rolled over the Great Planes and changed the land forever. They brought with them, not only railroads with the “Iron Horses” that cut the prairies but the iron plowshare that cut it skin. They brought with them disease that not only decimated Native American Populations, but, as my great-great-grandfather and great grandfather contended, was the actual cause of the demise of the great herds of buffalo (10,000 well armed buffalo hunters could not have kill the estimated 60 million buffalo in the allotted time span of the great buffalo hunts if they tried). Another thing the settlers brought with them were the missionaries who were out to convert the “Heathen, Uncivilized Indians” to Christianity.

Now this, to make an understatement, did not sit too well with most Native American tribes whose religious practices tended to view nature as something to be in accord with and not to dominate. Some Indians refused to be converted to this new religion, and, as the story goes, and at least one Indian remained unconverted because of his horse.

According to legend, a missionary approached a plains Indian of unknown tribal affiliation and began to preach to him. The missionary told this particular Indian that in the religion of the White Man, when you die, you go to Heaven if you’re good and faithful and do not sin.

The Indian asked the missionary, “will my wife and family follow me to this Heaven?”

The missionary responded, “yes, if they convert to the Whiteman’s religion and are good and faithful and do not sin.”

“Will my horse follow me to this Heaven you speak of?” added the Indian.

“No,” replied the Missionary.

“Why will my horse not follow me to this Heaven?” said the Indian.

“Because your horse has no soul. Only Man has a soul.” preached the missionary.

“Well,” said the Indian, “Your religion must be a false religion. You look into my horse’s eye and tell me he has no soul.”

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