Horses: Brothers and Sisters in the Eyes of Native Americans
Historically, in tribes the horses and humans worked together toward the common goal of sustainability and wellbeing.
by LEAH JUAREZ
"Appeal to the Great Spirit," outside of
the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA
In today’s society, stress and anxiety seem to be at epidemic proportions. It’s no wonder; the crashing economy, war, civil unrest and the upcoming political elections are the main things being broadcast on TV, radio and the internet.
People are constantly bombarded by mainstream media with negativity that produces stress-inducing thoughts such as not having enough money and never having enough time. Any sense of inner-peace seems to have become quite elusive.
However, many people have been finding that by turning (or, better yet, REturning), to nature, they feel more connected, balanced and centered. This is really no surprise to those who understand Native American culture.
According to ancient wisdom, total wellbeing is really as close as one’s own backyard, or at least a small patch of grass, a tree or even a dog or cat. Because Native American culture teaches that human beings are no different than any other living thing, it makes sense that everything shares a common bond on some level, especially spiritual.
This cannot be seen more clearly or beautifully than when observed through the sacred relationship between Native Americans and horses. Traditional Native Americans consider horses, and all animals for that matter, as brothers and sisters rather than utilitarian animals here only to serve the needs and wants of humans.
Therefore, their wisdom teaches them to treat the animals as they would a beloved family member, and not like a piece of sports equipment that can be honed to simply win people blue ribbons or bunches of money.
Historically, in tribes, the horses and humans worked together toward the common goal of sustainability and wellbeing. This relationship was embraced by the Mississippi Choctaw Indians, before these people were relocated via the “Trail of Tears” to Oklahoma.
Film producer, John Fusco wrote in a 2006 article, “The women were the Keepers of the Horse. It was the way of the Mississippi Choctaws; the men did the hunting, their wives later tracked the catch on horseback, with little more than a broken twig here and there to mark the trail. Even 'five moons' pregnant, it didn’t matter. Her Choctaw Pony was born gaited–like riding a cloud."
"In the dusk," Fusco continued, "while cooking for her children and the elders, her horse would fatten on grass nearby, small bells fastened to his outsized mane keeping him in earshot. Before dawn, she would travel to the bean field for harvest, walking alongside her horse while her small children, all three of them, would sit up in the packsaddle which was also bundled with supplies. She needed no rope to lead her partner. He just followed where she walked.”
In fact, the common image of Native Americans riding bareback with only a rope and leg cues for guidance is quite accurate. Simply because of the strong bond they established with their horses, harsh bits and mechanical coercion were not necessary.
Even today, to which many natural horsemanship advocates can attest, once this authentic relationship between the horse and human is in place, these artificial items are not needed, with any horse.
In her book Centered Riding, the late author Sally Swift points this out and teaches the perfect riding position by referencing the artwork called Appeal to the Great Spirit. This sculpture beautifully depicts a Native American warrior, sitting on his horse with his head back, eyes closed, arms outstretched with palms up, and legs relaxed and dangling on either side of the horse. Because there are no YouTube videos available of Native Americans riding hundreds of years ago, authentic, cultural artistic images such as this, and traditional teachings, are extremely valuable.
In 2010, for the Native American website, Whisper n Thunder, (WhisperNThunder.info), trainer Millie Chalk wrote, “We as Native Americans have a great heritage to live up to in many regards, but none so noble or worthy as being exemplary horsemen and women. No doubt our ancestors believed this in that the horse was more to them than simply a beast of burden. Their beliefs imbued the horse with great spiritual power along with strength and courage, the qualities they wanted to integrate into their lives.”
She continues, “The point I’m trying to make is that I feel strongly that we as a people have a cultural obligation to be an example to the world as we once were when it comes to how we care for our animals in general, but particularly when it comes to our horses. I believe we should make every attempt to learn as much as possible about everything that pertains to our horse’s well being, both old and new, and to develop a greater awareness of what it takes to be a proper steward of one of the Great Spirit’s most magnificent creations.”
These are wise words, indeed, and today’s society could use a strong dose of this powerful horse medicine. Maybe the mainstream media will pick up on some of these horse whispers on the wind before stress and anxiety reach any higher levels.
For more information about Millie Chalk, visit her website BackyardHorseman.com. Leah Juarez is the President of Equesse, produces the Equesse Channel for women who love horses and contributes regularly to Natural Awakenings' East Michigan magazines. Leah has developed a long list of projects designed to help people enrich their lives through a passion for horses. Leah's personal mission is to make a positive difference in the world through a love of horses.