What is it that allows a human and a horse to do the unthinkable? To join forces and perform intricate maneuvers, to charge boldly into dark hollows, to stretch out over five-foot jumps, to sprint unstoppably beyond breaking point? What part of each creature’s innate chemistry allows them to understand each other on a level so much deeper than verbal cues or even body language can convey?
Watch Ludgar Beerbaum ride a course on Ratina Z. Granted, he is one of the world’s top riders, and a very graceful and talented equestrian, but there’s something about his rides on the Zangersheide mare that stands out. Not only does she try incredibly hard for him, they seem to be of one body. Each move they make is a united, concentrated effort, a visible reach towards success. In defeat and through mistakes, they suffer together, both realizing the reality of defeat. In victory, they seem to celebrate together, Ludgar gesturing wildly, helmet in hand, Ratina stretching into an animated gallop, head raised and ears pricked, reveling in the thunderous applause.
Watch Debbie McDonald aboard Brentina, a pair firmly cemented in the history of the United States Dressage Team. The mare seems to float across the arena, her legs flicking forward effortlessly, driven by invisible cues. McDonald sits comfortably atop her, guiding her imperceptibly through the most intricate of dressage moves. Together, the two perform moves completely foreign to the simple mind of a horse; yet they do such patterns and figures effortlessly, gliding through a silent ballet.
Watch Secreatariat’s Belmont run. Something within Big Red compelled him to run faster and farther than necessary, to stretch his limits and soar far past the field, carrying Ron Turcotte into the history books. Watch Mine That Bird slide into a gap on the rail, trusting his jockey, Calvin Borel, completely and charging into a narrow path, hemmed in by competitors and risking being boxed in.
Beyond the world stage of huge races and packed arenas are the deep bonds that run between owners and backyard horses, projects, broodmares, yearlings, home-grown show horses or newly-imported prospects. Riders can go years training and competing horses they get along with, and perhaps are successful on, but can still lack that bond. They are certainly often successful on horses, and feel comfortable and safe on their backs, but do not share that innate understanding. Every once in awhile, however, they find that one horse that they simply mesh with. Riding them is no longer a hobby, task, or even a sport. On that horse’s back, they are given every freedom in the world; they are given the ability to speak without words, to share a relationship so close that it resides only within the depths of the soul. Between these two creatures, an understanding exists, one that is too heavy and meaningful for words. Some call it unity, others call it a bond or a connection, but really, it can only be understood in the heart. Nothing else on Earth compares to it.
To desribe it would not do it justice; the deepest bonds between horses and rider must be experienced first-hand to be understood. Essentially, it’s that feeling that when together, horse and rider are unstoppable, as if no harm can come to either when they are united. They are one being, brought together by a fire and passion and a similar goal. Perhaps it’s love; a deep need for the other to be safe and victorious. Whatever it is, it is both fleeting and enduring, an enigma one must not try to understand, but must simply accept and revel in.