Everyone knows girls love horses. But why? What is it about these large animals that has attracted girls throughout the ages?
The first time I remember my daughter anywhere near a horse was at a small county fair when she was about eight years old. While the rest of us took shelter in a barn full of horses, she stood outside, too afraid of those flicking tails and nervous hooves to come in out of the rain.
Today, at 15, she rides with confidence. Her room is nearly wallpapered with horse pictures. And the owner of the stables where she rides hires her to clean the stalls, feed the horses and help with camps for younger kids.
So enamoured is she with horses these days, she’s even come to love their particular smell, to me a cloying mixture of hay, urine, sweat and a certain animal gaminess given off by their oily coats.
I have a theory about why the confident adolescent girl on the horse was once the frightened girl in the rain. She was simply too young to fall in love with horses. It’s not that younger girls can’t. It’s that for many girls, horses give them what they need at a critical time in their lives.
Girls love horses — the phrase has become one of those truisms about growing up that’s nearly cliché. A whole genre of children’s literature grew out of it starting with Anna Sewell’s only novel, the classic Black Beauty.
Since its publication in 1877, 50 million copies have sold. Black Beauty excluded, my daughter complains about the formulaic nature of the genre. The mothers in the stories are always dying. Through her love of horses, the young heroine somehow finds her way. The genre has moved to television with the successful series “Heartland” about girls who struggle to control the horses and the men they love.
When I asked my daughter to put into words why she thinks girls love horses, she came up with some compelling arguments. From the days of knights on horseback to Hollywood’s idolization of cowboys on the silver screen, she theorized, it’s boys who’ve been associated with horses, not girls. According to her, the invention in the Middle Ages of side saddle riding just made women look ridiculous. It was only when women took up pulling their pants on one leg at a time like men that they were able at last to sit astride and develop that most natural of bond with horses.
History is one thing, but she also had a lot to say on the personal relationships girls develop with horses. “Do you know what it feels like to ride a horse? You have as much power as what you think you are controlling. The amazing part is that your horse responds in some way to everything you do. Every little thing.”
Imagine a girl saying the same of her parents or of the boys who catch her eye. My daughter came to love horses at that stage in her life when radical and inescapable changes were happening to her body and her mind.
Suddenly, life seemed far more complicated and uncertain. On the back of a horse with the reins in her hand and spurs on her heels, she was in command. That huge, powerful animal will do whatever she asks of it. With a subtle pressure through her knees or a gentle tug on the reins, she can bring that beast to a gallop or to a complete stop. She can even back it up, something completely against the horse’s nature. And all the while, she praises the horse, looks into its large, soft eyes and feels affection for it because it’s doing what it’s told.
A Youtube video set to the Mariah Carey song “We Belong Together” opens a door into the heart of girls who love horses.
1) A horse will never judge you on your looks.
2) You can cry into your horse’s mane without having to explain why.
3) No matter what mood you are in, he can always make you smile.
4) He will never give up on you.
5) He will always try his best for you.
6) He may knock down a jump break your arm but he would never break your heart
7) He will never stop loving you.
I still harbour a fear of the big animals. They can bite. They can kick. The can buck and throw you from their backs. They can crush you against the walls of their stalls. But girls don’t see it that way. They love horses because they find in those big, gentle beasts what suddenly seems at risk in human relationships: trust, loyalty and unconditional love. Here’s how my daughter so elegantly describes the nature of that relationship:
“Horses give you the respect you yearned for. Horses have that uncanny power to sense your mood and change it, and you are always trying to improve the way both of you work together, like a living project?
“Girl riding Mystic Jazzy Joke” © Darcy Rhyno
“Girls Love Horses” © Darcy Rhyno