Our farrier, Scott, was here the other day, and like most times when we get together, chat about what was going on in our lives mixed with chat about hoof health. After our horses had their shoes removed and their hooves trimmed, some had shoes put back on and some were left barefoot in preparation for going to pasture this fall.
Scott mentioned that since people began domesticating horses, we have been looking for the best way to care for their feet. It began with ancient people wrapping horses’ hooves in animal hide. Next came the Roman “hipposandal,” then, around roughly 1000 AD, cast bronze horseshoes with nail holes started showing up.
Iron (as well as steel and bronze) horseshoes have been mass-produced and used since the early thirteenth century. Currently, the development of various types of boots, glue-on shoes, and trimming according to specific principles has expanded our hoof-protection choices.
However, my intent here isn’t to take a position on one side or the other in the barefoot vs. shoes debate.
My point is that my casual conversation with Scott made me aware of The Big Picture: the revelation that, how we take care of horse’s feet has a rich and varied history that spans thousands of years over many continents in the world. Were we able to travel that far back in time to revisit the many cultures that depended on the horse, we would see people just like us searching and experimenting and finding ways to do something that needed to be done.
This is also true of just about everything we take for granted in our daily lives, things that came into being because someone, somewhere saw a need for them. Sofas? We can thank the people of seventeenth-century France for them. Tablecloths? A poet named Martial (who died in 103 AD) mentioned them, and in the eighth century, Emperor Charlemagne reportedly used one made of asbestos, throwing it into the fire after a meal, and when it didn’t burn, would use this to convince his guests of his superiority as a leader.
Or, more currently, the development of our space program. In general, it was based on our understanding of airplanes, which themselves were developed through the study of birds, but also, of wind and water currents (not to mention a whole lot of going up and coming down in very short order.) It’s perhaps a gross oversimplification, but as I understand it, we got to space by watching nature, and by making a lot of mistakes, some of which cost people their lives.
When we study something, and follow it back to its source (or as far as we’re able), the enormity and evolution of that something, whatever it is, is awe-inspiring.
That all those eons ago, people were doing essentially the same things we are today with horses? That what they did led us to where we are now, and that what we are doing now will lead to what others will do in the distant future? The idea that millions of individuals have been born, lived, invented things, and then passed on so the next generation could do the same? I feel simultaneously as though I matter and that The Big Picture will go on whether I involve myself or not.
When we study anything—horses, geology, x-rays, vacuum cleaners, or furniture making—we touch people we will never meet, and somehow contribute to the life of that thing. Everything in our lives, every object, every being, everything in nature, has come to exist in this moment on the backs of millions of things before it. This includes you and me, our horses, dogs and cats, tablecloths, sofas, and space travel.
What does this have to do with horses, or horsemanship? Well, it struck me with great clarity that when we study The Big Picture, we might, in the process, find a bit of ourselves. It’s as though understanding something at a macro level gives us a way to comprehend it at the micro level as well. I’ve seen the way a dawning understanding of our own behavior and motivations has been extended to our horses; oftentimes, our horses are the ones who initiate that dawn.
I’ve also seen, more times than I can count, the way a fuller perception of ourselves at both macro and micro levels makes things better for our horses. We ask more and demand less, hold their comfort—both physical and mental—as much a priority as our own. We do things with more softness and good intent. And because we have a broader perspective, the things we do with our horses may be more understandable and approachable to them.
I can’t help but think that reminding ourselves of the big picture also releases us from the mindset of having to get something done with our horse this very minute. That having faith that our horse’s skills (and our own), and the relationship with our horse, will evolve and grow. This can be felt by the horse within seconds of us making that change, and I no longer underestimate the power of going slowly.
For those of us who seek the best and most compatible equine relationships, it’s very much about coaxing the inside of the horse to the outside, so that what we see in the horse is a reflection of who the horse truly is. After that, the stars are the limit.