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horse blogSome psychologists say we measure our life by a tally of our “peak experiences.” I was reviewing the rough cut of an upcoming episode from South Dakota, writing the script and reminiscing, when I was reminded that one of my peak experiences included horses. And sharptails and South Dakota. It’s an unbeatable trifecta, and while putting words to it I finally figured out why:

For you it might be Maine woodcock, New Brunswick ruffies or Alaska ptarmigan, doesn’t matter. What counts is that you take the journey, live the experience toe to head … inhale it, let it fill your lungs, oxygenate your blood and transform to life force. Straddling a Tennessee Walking Horse does it for me.

I know enough about horses to stay far from the kicking end and on top as often as possible. That’s the first lesson everyone learns, sometimes the hard way, sometimes not. If you own horses, you’d likely agree – even a mature horse acts like a two-year-old kid – easily spooked, unpredictable, but this two-year-old weighs in at 800 pounds. Theory meets application when you’re stuck in a stall with a freaked-out horse.

Beyond the clear and present danger of concussion or lung puncture, horses are beautiful animals. We’ve lionized them in literature and cinema for good reason. They are (in their way) loyal and noble partners in so many of humanity’s triumphs and tragedies, rightfully the subject of our admiration. Since the Spanish Conquistadors brought them back to North America in the late 1400’s we’ve partnered with Equus ferus caballus on exploration and migration, adventure and duty … at times trusting our lives to them.

I’ve spent a couple decades around them, as have most of my dogs. They are elegant animals that seem to dial down the stress level whenever one sets foot in a paddock. Their calming influence is universal, chores become less of a drudgery, dogs in their adjacent yard also mellow in their presence. At rest, horses breathe deep, slowing our own heartbeat. Their size is comforting much like an aesthetically pleasing building makes a welcoming home.

When you saddle up in search of prairie grouse, those factors combine, transporting you back in time and across rolling hills. Your mental pace slackens and you become, for a bit, a pioneer. Your perspective is different, literally, being eight feet in the air. Once you get the hang of staying in the saddle, your outlook is also altered. It’s another reason for you to try a horseback hunt – you come back changed for the better.

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