Animal Magnetism

A horse is an animal that weighs half a ton, has a brain the size of a tomato, and is instinctively alarmed at the approach of any predator, including man. Horses can be trained and they can become affectionate toward humans, but they never develop the slavish trust and devotion of dogs. Horses are prey and their trust in us is always provisional, maintained shakily on top of their fear, which can rise up as panic in an instant. We fear their size, their speed, and the strength behind their kick; they mistrust our intentions. It’s this mutual wariness that can make riding even the gentlest horse just a little tricky.

I didn’t know any of this until eight years ago. I had never been on a horse except for pony rides as a child. But my daughter turned out to have a young girl’s typical fixation on horses. Over the years of picking her up at the stables after lessons, I was drawn into the world of the horse. I had always been a sucker for the romance of horses and horsemen. Movies about cowboys and traildrivers, tales of brave cavalry officers and knights in armor on horseback, the equestrian statues of kings and heroes, and most especially, the riderless horse in President Kennedy’s funeral procession — they all made emotional sense to


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