Why Horses?

Why are humans so fascinated with horses?  What is it about horses that intrigue humans?  Why are some people completely drawn to horses from a very young age, with no apparent background or history with horses?  Why do some humans still want to ride horses, even when they are dealing with crippling fear around what could go wrong?  Why have horses played such a huge part in our human evolution?

Big questions I know, but I am on a search for meaning and clarity, ultimately wanting to understand WHY horses? I have had a few personal realisations of late around being ‘present’ and ‘still’, I’ve found that when I am interacting with horses I come back to centre.  All other worldly things (THE MIND & EGO) seem to disappear into the fog and I focus in 100% on the horse in front of me. In a time in history where technology and distractions are everywhere, it’s my belief that the world can only benefit from reconnecting with something wild, spirited and connected, the horse.  

When you experience the calm and serenity that horses can offer, it becomes somewhat addictive.  I heard recently that a major part as to why some humans become ‘adrenaline junkies’ doing all sorts of dangerous extreme sports and hobbies, is partly because of a side effect, not actually the task itself. The side effect is that they are forced to be present in the moment, no distractions, just pure focus.  It’s quite literally life or death. This fragility and sense of ‘if I don’t pull my socks up and do something miraculous’ I could die, can make a human addicted.  Can you picture a life or death situation that frightens the living day lights out of you? Whatever is really really scary for you, like say being on a horses back when it bolts, bucks or rears? Or swimming in the deep dark blue ocean in front of a hungry shark? (this is level 10 for me!) Or jumping out of perfectly good plane and skydiving? Hanging off the side of a mountain? Whatever really gets your fear levels elevated. Now picture yourself in that moment of life or death, and tell me where do you think your level of focus would be? Would you be 100% present on figuring how to survive or would you be lamenting over what you are cooking for dinner tomorrow night or what your friend commented on social media? If I can hazard a guess, it would be 100% focused on surviving the next few moments of your life.  For me, this focus is similar to something I experience when I am working with horses, particularly the wild spirited ones. I am completely present (I am luckily not fearing my life) but I do understand the risks associated with horses and I meet a lot of people who battle with fears around horses.  I have also learnt that when I am not completely present and in the moment with a horse, the horse will feel disconnected from me in some way. I have found this to be one of the great challenges of horsemanship, how to remain focused and in the present moment at all times. 

Horses are massive beings, they can weigh around half a ton (500kg). They are the consummate flight animal, with enormous powerful lungs to draw in and expel air in large quantities to allow them to escape threats and survive.  They have massive hearts that have been adapted to pump huge amounts of blood around their bodies so they can maintain flight mode and they can move extremely fast, up to forty miles per hour.  They have huge muscular and skeletal frames and lightening fast legs and hooves. They have a huge head (which is very hard, trust me I’ve learnt the hard way!) with an extensive dental structure to deal with the constant grazing herbivore diet. In contrast to their other bodily features, they have a relatively small cranium (brain) area, suggesting perhaps they are more designed for feeling the present moment as opposed to thinking about it, a thought to ponder…  

As you can see horses are highly adapted flight animals, designed to eat, feel, flight and survive.  Pretty much the direct opposite to humans, highly evolved, highly intellectual, stuck in their head (mind), fight animal.  So pit these two beings against each other in a physical sense and guess who is going to win that battle? Well, it depends on the circumstance, the human will more than likely ‘think’ and ‘fight’ their way out of it and the horse will more than likely ‘feel’ and ‘flight’ their way out of it.  So now lets picture a less than confident human being on the back of horse, an animal who is willing to risk everything (including their own well being) to flight and survive, can you see a potential recipe for disaster my friends?  If the circumstance of sitting on the back of a 500kg flight animal when they fear for their life doesn’t force you to be 100% present, I don’t know what will. 

Now, I would love to be able to get you to experience this level of ‘presence’ that horses offer us, without the fearing for your life part. Sounds interesting?  Horses have a way of captivating humans, they have for thousands of years, you don’t have to look too far back into history to see countless examples of how the horse has inspired and shaped our ancestors history and ultimately their way of life.

Fast forward to today in an age of technology, I see some people overwhelmed and distracted (I know because I’ve been one of them!).  In my travels I notice more and more how humans don’t interact on a face to face level, technology distracts us.  Recently, I read about some of the side effects of technology and social media and how it can produce a chemical reaction in the human brain, it’s a dopamine hit, the kind of feeling that social media interaction, clever product marketing (buy this and you will feel like this…) and other forms of technology provide.  I also read a study recently about addictive habits of teenage children and the study found that teenage kids in ever increasing numbers are becoming more and more addicted to technology (gaming, social media, etc).  As a father, I would much rather see my child passionate and interested in something of the natural world, something wild, intriguing and compelling.  Something similar to us, something that helps us remain present and connected, something just like… a horse. 

I digress, back to my original question ‘what is it about horses?’  Well, you tell me…

Food for thought friends.


Justin Colquhoun

Hi There! I’m Justin Colquhoun. I founded Elite Horsemanship out of a dream to make real and effective horsemanship available to anyone at any level in the horse industry.

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Joyce Hollows

    I no longer have a horse but I still love to read about them. This is why I follow you. I just love what you have written here!! absolutely true!!

    1. Justin Colquhoun

      Hi Joyce, thank you for the comment! Glad you loved it. All the best – Justin

  2. Dixie Darch

    Thanks for this, Justin…really interesting. Being present is a gift that is easily lost for want of practice in our busy lives. Horses are indeed are great way in to that space.

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