That question, in general, was raised in an excellent piece, found here, Grey Horse Matters: The Horse Gene, the other day. It's a good question, but for me it follows secondary to what I see as the first question: Why Do I Horse?
Because the simple, tangible reality of time spent with horses feels like precisely that to me: Real. Depending on your circumstances, perceptions of the actual, the present, the "real" can be elusive. "It's relative," people used to say, where today they might say, "Whatever."
But that reality is hard won; it was for me. I was born overseas to parents lashed tight together with cords spun from bitterness, deception and fear. It was a strangling life for them, let alone their accidental children. Trapped in just what "is" as a child, reality isn't even a concept until the first major thing happens, good or bad, that throws you out of yourself and then back in in a single involuntary instant. In my case, I would have been better off staying in "is." Reality, when I recognized it, trapped me between myself and my parents in the inexhaustible chokehold that exists between predator and prey. I became responsible for managing my own safety, or knowing that, anyway, but never understanding it. It was an oppressive climate of uncertainty and vigilant self-consciousness, one in which I was always struggling to stay invisible, desperate not be caught out by the din of terror clamoring in my head. There, I learned myself as a reactive creature, not a person, not an identity, not a being separate and apart from the forces threatening it. Trapped between the assaults wrought by one parent and the cool, unseeing facade erected by the other, I was never free.
Until the first time I stood near a horse. I don't even remember her name. She was a crazy pinto mare, a filly, really, who'd been ridden too young by the six-foot-tall farm boy who owned her. His farm was one of three on the long blacktop road where our little bi-level ranch house had been built, oddly out of place, and quickly sold to my parents. I don't know why my parents moved to the country. For me, it just meant there would be no place to run, no one to turn to. But I could get away with walks in "nature." My father approved of what he called the "American pastoral setting," so unlike what he had experienced in wartime Poland, while my mother preferred her dogs above all else and gave little care to absent children.
My walks took me again and again to that pinto filly. I would stretch my hands through the paddock fence, feeding her long grass from the roadside. There never seemed to be any people around, and she was alone. One day I climbed the fence and slipped onto her back. I can still remember the warmth of the sun on her sides. She trotted easily under a low-hanging branch and scraped me off, then went back to snuffling among the weeds.
There had been animals before, for me. My mother was a dog breeder, and we'd once had a cat. When whelping boxes had to be cleaned, the litters of puppies were brought to me for safekeeping. I loved those times, loved how it was to be with creatures just as vulnerable as me, but it was different with the filly. She was bigger than me, stronger than me, taller than me. She was a whole separate being who could react to me as she pleased. For the first time in my life, I wanted someone to like me. That someone just happened to be a horse. I wanted her approval, and I worked really hard to get it.
I think that is it with me and horses. Somehow, their self-awareness drew me in when I was a child, and it keeps me with them today. It's not a consciousness that we can know, I don't think, but we can sense it, just as they can sense ours. A dog will see you, a cat will regard you, but a horse will look at you. That pinto filly looked at me when I couldn't even see myself, and then I did.