Yes, you can train a horse, dominate it, bend it to your rational will until it behaves like a subjugated creature, a servile beast, until it seems domesticated, “a good ride,” “bombproof.” And you can personify a horse, seek identification, turn it into a “character” in a novel, story, movie, poem.
In their own way, horses have character. Some seem to us docile, some joksters, some bitches, some narrow-eyed mean…some seem like actors, performing obedience while waiting for their moment to rebel. But all horses are herd bound, loyal to their own species first, and to us second, if bound to us at all.
So to what extent do we project our characters onto them? How much do we anthropomorphize them?
A horse is a nonhuman. Humans are predators while horses are creatures of prey.
Horses have survived through fear since prehistoric times…what power does fear give them? Fear can be a powerful driving force, which can lead them to survive. They know instinctively, telepathically, instantly, if you are in fear of them, no matter how hard you try to disguise your anxiety. A horse throws you up against your own fear, and if you cannot master yourself, horses can be deadly.
Let us not idealize the horse. You could die in an instant riding one, or even caring for one. It can bite, buck, bolt, trample, kick…so you must focus…learn its temperament. You must pay attention to the horse as a nonhuman character that can bring us face to face with the other.
Horses can bring us up against our deepest fears, as, for example, horses do to the human characters in my novel, Horsefever. As the horses act instinctively, so the two couples act impulsively even though they seek entanglement. Horses force the human characters to see that love is contradictory, that fear lies within, that death is imminent.
Horses stand separately from us…they have their own dignity…their own mystery…Yet we can learn to entangle ourselves with them, to feel into the horse…We can learn to relate human to nonhuman, and come to where we do not dominate, but to where we relate beyond ourselves…to where we transcend.
As the writer Lori Gruen says of “entangled empathy” with animals, ”It is a demanding reciprocity, a being together in pain that can be healed if shared. In becoming acquainted with what is outside the self, we enter into another kind of knowing.”
Pay attention to the animals, to the nonhumans outside of us.
Pay attention to the horse as character. Because the horse reveals our character.