Delightful as Companion and to Ride
Copyright by Rick Synowski 1995
from ARABIAN VISIONS Sept/Oct ’95
used by permission of Rick Synowski
“The perfect union between horse and rider” is a state of being for which the true horseperson strives, and achieves momentarily, perhaps. Exhilarating moments difficult to describe unless you have been there. In these moments, described by someone as like having a wire between your brain and that of your horse, you are aware of your mount’s keen ability to know and understand you. You are aware of his delight to function in harmony with your thoughts, your will, and your emotions.
Perhaps beyond his other attributes, this is the unique quality possessed by the Arabian horse which has been passed on in varying degrees as the progenitor of light horse breeds. This attribute was valued above all others by the Bedouins.
In his article: “The Arabian Horse as Your Friend and Companion” (Western Horseman, November-December 1942), Carl Raswan writes in his inimitable style, “The gift of an intelligent spirit was bestowed upon the mare of Ishmael and an intuitive soul to dwell within her beautiful, strong and symmetrical body. Psychic powers of her animal spirit were gifts of God, but her conscious mind developed through her intimate human association.” Though Raswan’s poetic description seems archaic to contemporary readers, he did faithfully reflect the Bedouin sentiment.
Do we believe this about the Arabian horse, or do we account it as another one of many myths which have come to us from the desert? Do we believe the “scientific articles” appearing in various horse magazines and recently in U.S. News and World Report which ascribe only rudimentary intelligence to horses beyond unconscious responses to basic, instinctive drives? What we believe is critical because it determines how we train, handle, and manage our horses, and what we experience of them. It even determines how our horses respond to us, or maybe more accurately how they do not respond.
It may be an inconvenience to perceive the Arabian horse as a complex thinking, feeling creature with a capacity to experience in some way similar to our own, because it begs the question how our horses experience the circumstances we force on them. One would define abuse in terms of how one understands this mental capacity as well.
Like other traits, the Arabian’s mental/emotional capacity exists in various degrees and with differences which are specific to families and to individuals, and this based largely on inheritance. Within the breed one finds a wide range of personalities and intelligence. One should expect that different horses respond differently to various kinds of handling, training, and management. Perhaps this is why certain bloodlines are more popular than others with professional trainers given the methods of training, managing, and showing horses which have become the norm. Horses which possess the greater mental/emotional capacities may adapt less satisfactorily to these methods.
“[D]elightful as companion and to ride” was penned in her journals by Lady Anne Blunt following a June 4, 1891 ride on Sobha. This was one of several references she made to the intelligence of the Sobha line. Riding and companionship of her horses was doubtless to provide respite for Lady Anne Blunt from her life made tumultuous by conflict with and eventual estrangement from her family. What she noted was the capacity of these horses to provide for her that which people no longer did.
It is difficult to imagine any quality more valuable than that which Lady Anne Blunt describes in the Arabian horse. In the Selby Stud Catalogue published 1937, Roger Selby quotes, “But it is his fine disposition coupled with his great intelligence that have made the Arabian ‘a horse you can chum with, a real trustworthy pal, one that adapts himself to the moods and whims of his riders.” Yet today one can thumb through any of the breed journals without finding a single reference to these qualities. You can be left only with the conclusion that at least in “the industry” these qualities are passe’.
The Davenport desert import *Wadduda, noted by Davenport as having been “the favorite war mare of Hashem Bey” (Sheik of the Bishr Anazah Bedouins) was extolled for her “almost human brains” and like Sobha she passed this trait to her descendants. Her grandson Antez was credited by W.K. Kellogg for saving his life by staying “cool in a crisis.” Kellogg later returned the favor by making sure Antez had a permanent home to live out his last years. Pep, a great-grandson of *Wadduda, was trained as a trick horse for the Kellogg Sunday Shows. Pep apparently got bored with the routine and discovered his calling as a stand-up comedian muffing his cues and exasperating his trainer, sending his audience into hysterics. It was reported that after the performances when he was taken ’round the barn to be corrected he did his routine without a hitch.
I remember the surprising cleverness of my own first Arabian, a double great-grandson of Antez, which he displayed from the first day we brought him home. He was six months old and just off his mother when my father and I brought him home in the back of our pick-up truck. About halfway home the canvas cover, which was lashed over the side-panels, tore loose and began flapping violently in the wind, collapsing over the colt. I don’t know how far we drove before we noticed, but the colt stood calmly while we stopped and pulled the canvas off him.
The next year there were more incidents. One day our hired man came to the house to tell us how the colt was helping him put up a new fence. He explained that the colt would carry nails in his mouth from a keg near the barn over to where the man was nailing up rails. That year we took him to his first show. We had arrived the evening before our class and left our now yearling colt in a stall in the race barns at the fairgrounds. It was his first night away from home since we got him. When we returned several hours later “Antez,” which we called him, was missing from his stall. Unable to find him we found friends who had been there the whole evening. They took us to where Antez was now stalled and recounted his evening of mischief and adventure. Apparently he unlocked his door and let himself out of his stall. He then proceeded to go down the barn aisle and free other horses. Surprised in the act by the night watchman, Antez ran into an empty stall, standing as if totally innocent, amidst the melee of loose horses.
Fortunately, Antez outgrew his mischievousness and matured to become a fine riding horse and wonderful companion for 28 years. Maintaining a mind of his own, he was never one to be forced to do anything. But working together as a team he was willing and eager to put himself into any task from trail horse to English pleasure, dressage, jumping, and even herding cattle. Each thing he did with eye-catching style.
One hopes we can get beyond our Arabian-as-living-art phase. His physical beauty is just one dimension to be understood and valued. It was this physical beauty which caught the eyes of Westerners perhaps, but it was the beauty beyond the physical for which he was valued by the Bedouin. His conversable personality and companionable nature may be the finest assets he brings to the horsepersons of this day and age.