"Why do some horses look better than others when they run?" a student asked just out of blue as we were finishing up chores. The horses were running across the big field where they could really let loose and gallop. I smiled as we both paused from work to watch these magnificent creatures fly across the field. We could hear their hooves, like a drum beating across the meadow. I could feel the vibration in my boots. The horses glided across the field, each one taking turns being the leader and the galloping as fast as he could until the end of the fence and then another would take a turn. I don't know about you, but the sight of horses running never ceases to amaze me. I thought for a moment about her question and decided to respond with another question.
"What does "look better" actually mean to you? I asked.
My student was silent for awhile as she kept her eyes glued on the horses. Then she said, "I like the way Magic moves across the field. He looks like he's floating. Like I could sleep on his back while he is running. His canter looks very different from Doc. Doc looks like a rocking chair when he runs. "Do you think it's harder for Doc to run?"
I was so impressed with this observation from an 8 year old that I thought we should introduce the word "sound" and what it means.
Being "sound" means the horse is able to do what they were meant to do without lameness or pain. It also means horses are able to do their job with movement that looks the way it should - conformation is important and effects the overall "look" of the animal. So does age. Doc happens to be over twenty. The fact that he gets a little stiff is part of being a senior horse. He still knows how to gallop with the best of them.
When researching all the different horse breeds and how each one was created from a desire to have a certain job and look to go with it, there is an argument that the way a horse "looks" has become valued more than ability of the horse. Is this all a pursuit of beauty? Did we breed for a characteristic that was useful in the past and no longer value that? All these questions started popping up in our heads as we looked at the way horses move naturally in the field. There are many books written about different horse breeds, their gaits and how to get horses to perform those gaits consistently. Training a horse to do what it naturally does when we ask is the key to training them in the first place. They do not need our help when walking, trotting, or galloping across a field. Keeping them in gait - something us gaited horse owners love to do, helps develop the horses abilities to stay smoother than silk, balanced and sound for the rider and for the health of the horse. Every horse owner, no matter if it gaited or not, should strive for keeping their horse in shape. It's incredibly important for the owners of horses to allow a horse to be a horse... Meaning they are meant to be outside, in a field with others. They are meant to relax and eat grass all day. They are meant to rest, be social, and just be. Balancing the mental needs of the horse will improve the relationship the horse has with their owners and also help the horse trust the owners as they are working together. In the horse world, a sound horse is the goal. It means the horse is solid, balanced, has the ability to use his/her gaits correctly and does so fluently. The entire horse - mind, body, and soul are working together to produce a beautiful being.
I can't help but think the same thing about humans. We all want to be sound in our minds, bodies and souls. In our relationships with our families, friends, co-workers, and ourselves we want that balance. The ironic thing about soundness for humans is how easy it is to structure our entire lives and completely forget about what we were meant to do. For each one of us, it's a little different. I would suggest that all of it boils down to our faith in our selves. The best way to develop our faith is to be present. We cannot help ourselves by being an island of isolation, yet sometimes we need to step away from all distractions and do just that. Humans, like horses are meant to live in herds where we respect each others boundaries, honor each others gifts, and enjoy each others company. When one of those things is out of balance or off kilter, it will be felt and noticed. When these times creep into our lives, going within, reaching for our faith - giving the control to God gives us peace and soundness. Giving ourselves the opportunity to listen to ourselves and everyone in our life brings about soundness as well. Listening to a person means that person leaves the conversation feeling "heard". Pun intended. :)
I do believe that we are all striving for soundness in our lives. Stopping to pay attention is the hardest part. Recognizing that there is a problem is the awareness, but you have to go further. Choosing to do something about it is the next step. Asking for help is the big one... Once you take that step, you will never be the same person. You will begin your journey to wholeness. Your journey to soundness, just as the horses running in the fields. I will always believe that horses are God's gift to humanity. They are not only deeply spiritual beings in our history, but also in the daily lives of the people that care for them. I walk in my faith every morning that I walk to the barn and my horses speak to me. The only way we can continue that walk to soundness is by listening. To me, that is the most beautiful freedom there every could be. Strive for soundness. Everything else falls into place.