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Connecting the human spirit to the spirit of horses

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO: JULIE WARD OF JWARD PHOTOGRAPHY - Leah Baer is a major believer in the power - and human connection - of horses.There is a trail high above Lake Oswego Hunt that serves as the focus for this story:

I ride this — in places, dangerously narrow — trail on my dramatic American saddlebred. His registered name is Corporate Image, but we simply call him Image. He’s 26 years old (I’m 70 years old) and before last year he had never been on a trail in his life. This is potentially risky business for both of us, but he goes there despite his fear because we’ve spent years building a trusting relationship. (And because my friend, riding ahead of us on her pragmatic Tennessee walking horse, inspires us with confidence.) Trust, kindness, patience and companionship are the concepts that keep us safe on our journey.

A word about Image: It’s a name to which he will readily respond —especially if you come bearing gifts of peppermint candy or red licorice. Image is a bit dramatic but he’s a true southern gentleman. He has been at Lake Oswego Hunt longer than any other horse currently boarded here (11 years this  May) and at 26, he is the oldest horse there.  Because of his age and wisdom, he will soon enter the Lake Oswego Hunt Riding School (on a limited basis) as a School Master horse teaching young beginning riders in longe line classes.

He and I are the elders in our Lake Oswego Hunt village. When Image’s and my collective ages number 100 (in two years) we will do a dressage ride that will make us members of  the Century Club (riders across the nation, when their — and their horses — ages total 100 years, ride in this special class) and we will  win a special black and gold ribbon and we’ll have our picture on the cover of a local horse-themed magazine and we’ll then be in a national listing.

The Century Club is a testament to all humans and equines who — even when we get a bit creaky in the knees — have absolutely no intention of stopping or ever losing interest in life just because we’re older.

Horses once tilled the fields that became the streets of Lake Oswego. People rode on horseback not only on the trail behind the Hunt, but on to Tryon Creek and across the city. And the hoof-beats of thousands of horses once echoed across the soil beneath our pavements.

They were the creatures who helped us build our lives and on whose backs we built the city. Working so closely with these animals meant we were simultaneously building our own character as well. (You can’t succeed with a horse unless you build a trusting relationship. And when you do this, you develop skills that make you a better human being.)

Long before iPads and Xboxes and other technologies began to aid and dominate our lives, we knew this to be true. Now, we so often live free from nature that we forget these truths.

But when kind people thoughtfully step aside on the trail to make way for my friend and me on horseback, when a man steps next to a tree and quietly extends his hand, which my horse sniffs while measuring which is more terrifying, the man by the tree or the descent to our right, when a runner, noticing that our horses are frightened, stops running, perhaps those people remember — if only for a moment — the centuries-old bond between humans and horses. 

Perhaps at those moments, within the minds and hearts of those kind, courteous strangers, a memory stirs. Perhaps some part of their collective unconscious remembers all the years and all the horses who came before us on that trail. Perhaps they remember that the easy lives we live today were, in part, once made possible by horses. Perhaps when they pat our horses and say kind words to us and to our horses, they feel something of the primal connection (that may be coded in our DNA) between horses and humans. 

If this is true, then at these moments on that trail, I can be assured that we have not, after all, completely lost our history.

So long as we have horses to help make us human, so long as we have horses to help us remember to remain so, we are safe from that loss.

Leah Baer is an equestrian who enjoys riding horseback from the Lake Oswego Hunt.




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