Empowerment is the sort of subject usually reserved for the self-help section of bookstores, and, increasingly, very odd YouTube videos featuring women in spandex going for jogs. So ordinarily it’s a point that I wouldn’t belabor.
But sitting on a moderately large horse today, feeling him lift up his back, draw his hindquarters beneath himself, and push himself forward and up with bigger and more enthusiastic bursts of energy, empowerment was a word I couldn’t get out of my mind. Not for myself, but for my horse.
What is it about teaching a horse to use his body that clearly makes them feel so magnificent? A horse’s number one desire must surely be for grass on an empty, sunny plain – a sedentary lifestyle enlivened only by the yearly changes of the herd as young horses age, as new foals are born and then weaned, as new alliances are forged and new herds branch off. Why can we say, with assurance, “My horse loves to have a job”? What about the grazing animal’s natural life would ever imply that he would be in search of a fulfilling job?
I think the secret, as always, is in the herd, and survival, and flight. And as I cantered around the paddock with my horse snorting in a most lordly warhorse fashion, I thought that all of it comes down not to serenity, but to power. Horses survive, and reproduce, based upon their power. The stallion attracts mares through his peacock parades of extended trots and tossed manes. Horses thrive upon power, because it takes them away from their enemies, and because it attracts their mates. Yet horses, all but the very few boss mares and alpha males, live to serve. The survival instinct makes them crave power; the herd instinct lets us control it.
The dressage horse that learns to leap forward from tightly coupled muscles, halt to canter to pirouette – the jumper that learns to constrict and to extend in order to fly over obstacles – the racehorse that revels in putting his nose in front – it is all about training our horse to feel powerful. It is all about empowering our horse to be his very best. They love their jobs because it makes them greater.