You might be wondering what’s so different about an old horse? Lots of people have old dogs and cats—what makes old horses so special?
Good question. I’ve asked myself that many times.
It’s just different. That’s the best I can do.
Maybe it’s because of longevity. A horse’s life span can be up to two or three times that of a dog or cat. Sure, there’s horses that don’t live much past 20 and there’s some dogs and cats that live into their late teens, but those are as unusual as a horse that’s past 35. Most dogs and cats live around15-18 years, where a horse can expect to live at least ten years longer than that—and, in Bars’ case, almost double. In our case, we’ve been together over 22 years, which is one of the longest, most stable relationships of my life!
Maybe it’s because the nature of the work that horses and riders do together is different. There’s lots of dogs that are taught to do very high level work, like rescue, agility, search & rescue, and so forth, and they have to work very closely with their people to do their jobs. But a horse and rider are physically linked in a way that just doesn’t happen with a dog and his handler. The horse and rider must ultimately learn to move together in something resembling harmony. The most adept make it look like magic, where the horse and rider move as one, with the tiniest cues that seem invisible to all but the most practiced eye. The science fiction writer Anne McCaffrey, herself a horsewoman, created the sort of relationship many riders would want with their horses in her Dragonrider books, where the animal, in this case a dragon, is telepathically linked for life to his or her “rider,” who becomes really more like a life partner.
Maybe that’s really it. The relationship with a horse is, at least for me, more closely resembles a life partnership. Many people, including myself, have close emotional bonds with other pets, but a horse is a different kind of partner. If you pay attention, you will grow and learn from each other in ways that parallel a human relationship more than the bond with a dog or cat.
One of my riding coaches once told me that finding the right horse was really like finding the right mate. The right mate is truly a life partner, and that’s what Bars and I have been for each other. Hopefully we’ll still have a long time together.
It’s just different.