“A horse is a thing of beauty… none will tire of looking at him as long as he displays himself in his splendor.” Xenophon, Greek historian from the 4th century BC.
After watching the Kentucky Derby today, I once again realized how magnificent a creature the horse is. I knew that with a blog devoted to beauty, I needed to write a post about the horse. This creature, next to the dog the most important companion man has ever known, is one of the great sights and forces of nature. For us, without the horse mankind never would have advanced and developed, because with the help of the horse we could move out of our hunter/gatherer societies, travel and spread to different parts of the world and communicate with each other more easily. The horse also allowed us to move and build things with greater ease, since a team of horses can haul pretty much anything. Even as late as WWII, different modern, mechanized armies were still using horses to haul big guns and other weapons.
The horse holds a special place in the American psyche too. From the mythology and realities of the old West, through the medium of Hollywood especially, the horse is one of our national icons. Whether it be the cowboy riding alone along the plains or deserts of the Southwest, or the plains Indians, considered perhaps the greatest horsemen ever to have lived–a remarkable feat considering that they knew nothing of the horse until the Europeans arrived–the horse has and always will remain a powerful symbol of Americana.
But what is most magnificent about the horse is its simple power. A race horse is truly the personification of a brute but beautiful action and motion. The sculpted, muscular body, huge but still lithe and graceful, has always been an object of awe and admiration. I am always amazed how the jockeys control such powerful animals; yet somehow they do, making them race, even knowing when to apply enough pressure to force the horse into a winning stride. Simply to watch a race horse strut out to the starting line is to watch one of the great artistic movements in all of nature. And then, to see them charge out of the starting lines and race down the track, to hear the harmonious thuds of the many hooves on the dirt, is a production as pleasing as any musical concert or athletic event in the world. A horse race is probably the best two minutes in sports there is. When we consider how ancient and universal this sport is, we must stand in further awe of this magnificent creature and its power over us. Yes, we have physically tamed and broken the horse; we control it for our own purposes and pleasures, but the horse still controls us in our minds and imaginations.
As John Keats said in his poem, Endymion, “A thing of beauty is a joy for ever”. And it is true that the horse has been a joy forever for us to behold, a true thing of beauty, and will always remain so among all of God’s great creations.