Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Hoofbeat Effect

There's been plenty written about how positively a connection with other species affects the human psyche.  Naturally, I'm going to belabor the concept.

Here's a statistical rush for you from a Horse Channel industry report:


4.6 million people are involved in the horse industry in some way, either as owners, employees, service providers or volunteers. This includes 2 million horse owners, of which 238,000 are involved in breeding, 481,000 in competing, 1.1 million involved in other activities, 119,000 service providers and 702,000 employees, full- and part-time and 2 million family members and volunteers. That means that 1 out of every 63 Americans is involved with horses.

I pulled that section for highlighted because in my mind it gives one pause as to the reasons for horse ownership.  

Not surprisingly, there are a lot of people involved with horses.  I wouldn't have guessed a number as large as 4.6 million, but what the hey!  These stats are only a year old, so probably as accurate a reading as is available at the moment (especially considering how loathe horse owners are to give up their personals to surveyors and census takers).  

Equally unsurprising is the fact that about 5% are breeders.  I would have expected that number to be higher given how many horses there are, but we're keeping them alive longer, so fewer replacements are needed.  And that 5% is really doing a bang-up job of supplying babies, apparently.  

Continuing through the list, there's some overlap here and there, but the bottom line appears to be that over a million people here in the US are involved with horses for no apparent reason.  They're not employees or breeders or competitors or service providers.  They're just horse people.

Why do you think that is?  I'm going to hazard a guess that it's partly because we've grown up here with the horse story as our backdrop.  The cowboys and even our own grandparents rode horses.  Some of our recent ancestors used them on farms.  The horse seems to be in our blood...sufficiently so that 1 out of ever 63 Americans is somehow involved with one or more horses.

I'm going to divert you for a moment to a really fascinating Nova episode discussing Biophilia ("Love of Life", which translates into living being being inherently attracted to the very life force of other living beings).  There's a bunch of nifty stuff in there about why we humans live where we live and how Biophilia determines that, but I'm going to take just a piece of it for my own purposes and propose that part of our fascination with pets of all varieties is biophilic in nature.  We're drawn inexorably toward Nature, and we can't help but want to bond with other animals (or plants, as the case may be with some of my friends).

Last week I posited that some of us ask too much of our horses when we expect them to be our therapists instead of just our partners. We make them a sink for all our crazy and then wonder why they're neurotic and often afraid of us in ways that we can't understand.  It's true that being around animals is good for the human mind (I'm not using "heart" , "soul", or "spirit", because I don't want to debate any of those concepts).  Read the article I just linked and you'll get that it's a two-way street.  

We are a species (at least in the Developed Nations of Insanity) constantly in search of solace, and we don't mind spreading our pain to other creatures.  It would behoove us in our quest for connection to understand that the other creatures are equally in need and would like very much for us to occasionally get outside ourselves and see their pain on their terms, without the chronic anthropomorphism that comes with egocentric human thought, and enter into a give-and-take.  

So my conclusion is that we love horses because they have a connection to the natural world and because we've been taught that they are part of our society.  That explains the number of "otherwise involved" horse folks.  I'd also like to conclude that we are reaching out to them for both our sake and theirs without our egos interfering.  

Sounds like a viable goal to me.  

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