Today is “National I Love Horses Day” so I’m taking a break from working on my Camp NaNoWriMo project to express my own love of horses, which began in my early childhood—despite having never ridden one. Does a pony count? I recall a pony ride from when I was around four years old, and that’s one of my oldest memories, but the closest I’ve ever been to horseback riding was when a New York City mounted police officer nearly trampled me with one once upon a New Year’s Eve at Times Square back in the late 1980’s (in his defence, someone had thrown a Champagne bottle at him, which probably startled the poor horse).
Anyway, according to NationalToday.com, a website that explains all these weird and wonderful “national day of’s” which modern society seems to have proliferated in recent decades, “National I Love Horses Day was created to highlight the importance of the animal in human history and development. Horses have been around for around 50 million years and they were domesticated by nomads in 4000 B.C. The animal is believed to have originated from North America, with increased traveling and globalization taking it to other parts of the world…. As human populations increased and commercialization started taking over, horses began being used to cultivate the land and other general agricultural settings. Because of the strength and endurance they displayed, horses were also being used for the transportation of goods and people over long and short distances. Over the years, horse racing and show-jumping contests also gained the attention of the public.”
Horses also appear to have been important religiously in many cultures that had contact with them. There is evidence of horse worship, for example, in Europe and the Mediterranean dating as far back as the Bronze Age. The worship or at least veneration of horses was probably also practiced by the early Anglo-Saxons, which is perhaps why the eating of horsemeat is still taboo in England as well as in cultures derived therefrom today. It has even been suggested (perhaps erroneously) that J. R. R. Tolkien invented the fictional race of Rohirrim, or Riders of the Mark, a horse-centred culture whose language is based on the Mercian dialect of Old English, as an answer to traditional history’s claim that the early Anglo-Saxons were defeated by the Viking cavalry because they themselves did not fight on horseback. At any rate, there is plenty of evidence that these early English settlers did have a strong horse culture, and the mythical brothers said to have led the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes into their newfound land according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, were even called Hengest and Horsa, whose names mean respectively “stallion” and “horse”.
I think I first became fully conscious of my love of horses when I read Black Beauty as a child. Then it was not long afterwards that I became fascinated by all things medieval, and of course the knight on horseback has always been a very prominent symbol of the Middle Ages. Of the few occasions that I got to see a horse up close, the most memorable were at the Medieval Festival at Fort Tryon Park, and the New York Renaissance Faire in Tuxedo, New York, both of which have always featured jousting. There were of course, numerous cinematic influences as well. One of these which I’ve already blogged about twice was Excalibur, a film adaptation of early Arthurian romances and the literature inspired by them, central to which is the concept of knighthood, which at its most basic is the culture of mounted warriors or soldiers. After all, a knight is almost always a member of the cavalry (a word derived from the French “cheval” meaning “horse”, which also gives us “chivalry”), as opposed to the foot soldiers, or infantry, of which the root word “infant” is not a coincidence, for it originally referred to soldiers considered “too inexperienced for cavalry“. So we see that from early on, the mounted fighting force was considered a class above the ones obliged to fight on foot, and this is even reflected in the lowly status of the pawn in chess. It is of course also telling that the chess piece known as the knight is represented by a horse’s head.
It was not so much that I wanted to own a horse (though I certainly fantasised about it as a child), but that my heart soared whenever I saw one, especially if it happened to be running. I wasn’t even particularly keen on riding one, or else I should have done so long ago—there were, after all, reasonably-priced horseback rides in Central Park until 2007, and I was surely making enough money in the early aughts to be able to afford one. That’s not to say that I don’t regret having never ridden a horse, and it is in fact on my bucket list—just that it’s not one of the things I prioritise in connection with my personal appreciation for these majestic animals. In fact, my love of horses once even prompted me to Google the question “Do horses like being ridden?” It had suddenly occurred to me that they—at least when domesticated—were very much at our mercy. Perhaps they would prefer to be roaming free? The answers I got were frustratingly inconclusive, but here’s the most comprehensive one, for what it’s worth.
The history of the horse is every bit as fascinating as the history of humankind, not the least because they are so intertwined (or at least, have become so in relatively recent times). I could go on and on about this subject, but then by the time I was done it would no longer be National I Love Horses Day, and I wanted this post to be timely. So I’ll conclude with this video that I’ve posted to the blog in the past, but which bears repeating. It’s a fascinating look into the origin and history of horses and their domestication for all those who are interested in such things.
Then once you’re done watching that, take a gander at this excellent music video from Of Monsters and Men featuring a hypnotic continuous animation of running and jumping horses:
Still need more horse love? Check out this list of the 50 best horse movies according to HorseNetwork.com.