Gift Horse (Or, How I Overcame My Fear of Horses)

Colorado Horses

“I  discovered that the horse is life itself, a metaphor but also an example of  life’s mystery and unpredictability, of life’s generosity and beauty, a worthy object of repeated and ever changing contemplation.” ~ Jane  Smiley

Colorado horse Magpies

Since I can remember, I’ve been scared of horses.  No one is scared of horses, you say.  Well, I am scared of horses.  Since I was a child and set upon a pony for obligatory photos, I’ve found it easy to imagine them charging, biting and kicking their way through me at any moment.  Yet, when I see horses roaming the countryside I see God putting the finishing touches on a static land.  I see myself riding them proficiently, masterfully, over the mountains and into the sunset.   It was with this conflicted mind that I set about trying to photograph them.

Aspen Horse Close

A fresh snow had fallen overnight.  I stood on the road between Aspen and Snowmass at 5 o’clock in the morning with only a faint sense of the surrounding mountains and the hope of a brilliant sunrise.  In the distance I could hear the exhalations of horses.  The sound grew louder.  Though the sun didn’t break through the cloud cover as I had hoped — the presence of these horses was an unanticipated gift, and the interaction was much more meaningful than a decent photo.

Colorado Horses

It wasn’t long before a mare approached.  Light brown with a white patch of hair running from forehead to nose, she smelled the air and put her head over the top of the fence, peering at me with black eyes.  I backed off a few feet for fear of her biting off my hand or arm.  (I never said it was a rational fear.)  She left once I took a few more steps down the road.

Colorado Horses

Soon another came to the fence–this time a white horse with a broad face and a more direct disposition.  His eyes hit mine square on and, with camera in hand, I found myself remaining still, not out of fear, but with intrigue at what it might feel like after twenty or more years of avoidance to touch a horse.  I didn’t.  Instead, I took photos as the horse sniffed at my pockets, nudged the sleeves of my jacket, and, for a split second, I think, tried to attack me.  He eventually walked off, leaving me to take photos of the mountains, reeling from the fact that I had let the beast touch me.  Over the next few minutes more horses left their grass eating behind and came to the fence.  I had become a popular attraction.

Colorado horses

Now interaction was unavoidable.  Several horses lined the fence.  I cautiously touched one on the head– coarse hair, slightly matted, stiff.  I withdrew my hand quickly, but quickly put it back on the horse’s head as his breath fogged up the air between us.  I patted in between the ears, the long hair, softer, finer, and I pet the neck, feeling the twitch of the immense muscles.  I may have even whispered to the horses (but I’ll never reveal the truth).

With the touch of the horse’s mane I acknowledged the fine line between fear and respect–something I certainly had not set out to do when I left the house.  Did I really fear horses?  Up until that interaction I was certain that I did.  But now I prefer to describe horses with a profound respect; for their beauty, their majesty, their speed, agility, endurance, and their power.  As Jane Smiley says, they are “an example of  life’s mystery and unpredictability, of life’s generosity and beauty, a worthy object of repeated and ever changing contemplation.”  And thanks to them, the morning’s lesson of fear and respect was a gift better than any sunrise photograph on earth.

Colorado Horses

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2 Comments on “Gift Horse (Or, How I Overcame My Fear of Horses)

  1. These shots are gorgeous, Marc! Clearly, the horses are used to being hand fed and came over looking for a snack. Thanks so much for sharing this — loved it!

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