What the Horse Means to Me

Horse & Rider - - Inspired Rider - by Bob Welch

LATELY, I’ve been ask­ing peo­ple what the horse means to their lives.

Some an­swers were sur­pris­ing, some sim­ple, and some ex­pected. Some have an­swered that horses “have meant ev­ery­thing” to their lives. I can’t claim that. De­spite my love for the equine, peo­ple and things more eter­nal out­rank the horse.

With­out ques­tion, though, horses have been a sig­nif­i­cant part of my life. Grow­ing up on a ranch, we did all the work we rea­son­ably could horse­back. In adult­hood, they be­came more of a hobby. Tran­si­tion­ing from a desk job back to man­ag­ing cat­tle, I find the horse has once again be­come a part­ner in busi­ness. Horses have al­ways been a part of my life, but to char­ac­ter­ize them sim­ply as “part­ners” or “hob­bies” doesn’t do the re­la­tion­ship jus­tice.


Per­haps the most ba­sic role the horse serves in my life is that of con­nec­tion-maker. The most im­por­tant re­la­tion­ships in my life are deep­ened and ex­plored through the prism of the horse. With my wife and chil­dren, char­ac­ter flaws are re­vealed, life lessons are learned, and op­por­tu­ni­ties to bond are made. Forg­ing friend­ships with fel­low horsepeo­ple is easy with the equine as a base­line.

Through the horse, I’m con­nected to my an­ces­tors. I can ride a horse that de­scends from horses my great-un­cle trained or my fa­ther bred. Less lit­er­ally, I’m con­nected to my great­great-grand­fa­ther, who took herds of cat­tle from Texas to the rail­heads in Kan­sas horse­back. In fact, I’m con­nected to horse­men through­out his­tory. From J.E.B. Stu­art’s First Vir­ginia Cav­alry to the Co­manche of the Texas plains. From the Royal Scots Greys to Genghis Khan to the Cru­saders of the me­dieval pe­riod to the Greek horse­man and soldier Xenophon.


Horses bring an un­de­ni­able dig­nity to their rid­ers. Both lit­er­ally and fig­u­ra­tively, horse­men have al­ways been looked up to. It’s a feel­ing I take com­fort in, be­cause through the horse I’m some­thing more than I am alone. I can cover ground faster than afoot and tra­verse ob­sta­cles that stop ma­chines in their tracks. I can rope and tiedown a big year­ling steer or sort a wild, dry cow from the herd. I have jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for feel­ing an “oth­er­ness” when horse­back be­cause the pair­ing of man and horse is some­thing dif­fer­ent than any other pair­ing a hu­man can ex­pe­ri­ence. While it’s rooted in prac­ti­cal­ity, the part­ner­ship tran­scends a pro­fes­sional re­la­tion­ship. It’s minds and bod­ies in syn­chronic­ity. At its best, the use of a horse doesn’t make me stronger, it makes me smarter, more creative, more thought­ful, and more imag­i­na­tive.


But the horse also keeps me hum­ble. I’m work­ing with a colt now that ev­ery day re­minds me just how in­ept I am. The process of bring­ing the best out in a horse is a siren song that has kept peo­ple seek­ing it out—per­haps more than ever—even in a posthorse cul­ture.

Yet, for as much as we glean from horses, they need us too. For all their tough­ness, they can be so frag­ile. A mouth­ful of moldy hay, a change in the weather, or an es­pe­cially hard work­out can end their lives. To not only de­pend on a horse, but have a horse de­pend on you, gives a sense of pur­pose and duty. We all want to be needed.

Above all, for me, the horse is an ever-chang­ing, ever-de­mand­ing, ever-grat­i­fy­ing source of ex­pe­ri­enc­ing life. To pair with, learn from, and lead a fel­low crea­ture through this world is a priv­i­lege I’m learn­ing to ap­pre­ci­ate more and more all the time. 

Through the horse, I’m some­thing more than I am alone. I can cover ground faster than afoot and tra­verse ob­sta­cles that stop ma­chines in their tracks. I can rope and tie-down a big year­ling steer.

Bob Welch has spent his ca­reer writ­ing and think­ing about horses, rid­ers, and the West. When not sit­ting at his com­puter work­ing through writer’s block, he and his fam­ily en­joy be­ing horse­back, work­ing cat­tle, and com­pet­ing in ranch horse shows and ranch rodeos.

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