As I was walking back up the (somewhat muddy and slippery) aisle from turning out the last pair of geldings, I saw something wonderful. The mare herd was grazing close together, and a large flock of Barn Swallows was swooping in and around the mare herd catching the insects that were being stirred up. Most of the swallows were only inches from the ground, and moving very fast. They had no difficulty going right between horses who were only a couple of feet apart. The horses paid them no mind - I expect the mosquito, fly and gnat removal services are appreciated.
As I was watching the mares graze, very peacefully, I started thinking about horses, and asking myself the question: "What are horses for?" Horses are about other horses, and herds. Horses are about grazing - hay is nice but grazing is the real deal. Horses are about open space, and grasslands. Horses are about eating continuously, jaws always moving in a rhythmical way. Horses are about rhythm, and grace, and movement. Horses are about fear - of predators and unusual things that might be dangerous to them. Horses are about self-calming - their fear may lead them to act, but they settle themselves down again. Horses are about expressing the inside - how they feel - with the outside - how they act. Horses are about the colors of the earth. Horses are about interacting with the others in their herd - grooming and playing, and about playful behavior on their own - bucking, rolling, rearing, pawing. Horses are about vision, and seeing everything around them.
Horses most definitely, to my mind, are not about people. If you think about the earliest interactions of humans with horses - where horses were just another meat animal to be killed for food - it's no wonder that they're suspicious. Horses are not about bits, saddles, harnesses, carts, whips, spurs, horse shows or other competitions - that's all people stuff, done for people purposes. Horses aren't about horse trailers - in fact it's always amazed me that any horse will ever get on a horse trailer. Horses aren't about dominance - and in fact (sorry if I offend anyone) in my opinion the school of training that claims that we have to be the "alpha horse" and get the horse's "respect" is a projection of "people-thinking" onto the horse world and is based on a profound misunderstanding of horse herd dynamics. I expect that way of training works, in a mechanical and somewhat "forcing" way, but lots of other training methods that are much more suspect also "work", if by "work" we mean that the horse does something we make him do, or give him no choice but to do. Now understand, I'm not a horse, so I may be wrong about this, and lots of other things, too!
The only reason horses accept us at all - as opposed to just tolerating us or putting up with us because they have to - is because they are willing to accept our leadership, if we show ourselves worthy of trust. But we have to earn that trust - it isn't a given at all. If we can get the horse to trust us a little bit, we can begin to build on that to work with the horse, not just do things "to" the horse. To my mind, leadership isn't at all the same thing as dominance - or at least the "tone" of those two things is very different.
I don't know if any of this makes any sense to anyone else. When I see horses together, grazing, I realize that in many ways we are completely irrelevant to them and their world. To the extent that their world and ours intersect, it's very strange and weird and worthy of profound awe. We can't learn to think or see in the way horses do, although we can try to observe and understand to the extent we can, and I expect horses find they often can't understand us, but if we can keep reaching across that divide between species, as thoughtfully and softly as we can, sometimes we can have a conversation and even sometimes, in rare and magical cases, a partnership.