“There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.”  This famous quote by Winston Churchill, touches upon that mysterious something that draws people to the horse in ways words cannot explain.

What is it about the horse that effects people so profoundly, no matter what their involvement?  I have yet to hear anyone say that they do not like horses – dogs and cats, maybe, but not horses.  They always have a story to tell about something that happened to them that involved a horse.  Most children pass through a “horse crazy” stage and some never get out.

My father-in-law grew up farming with the cheapest horses his dad could find.  “Cheap” because through mistreatment by past owners, they had figured out how to protest work by laying down in the field and not getting back up …  None of this he blamed on the horses themselves and he has a lasting love and respect for them.  Today, there is nothing he seems to enjoy more than being with our horses.

The Transition – Work Horses to Play Horses

Wild horses died out in North America 10,000 years ago.  They thrived in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, where it is believed horses were first looked at less as dinner and more as a tool and partner.  It is thought that horses arrived back into North America through the Spanish coming from the south.  The Native American Indians are thought to have acquired them before the revolt against the Spanish in New Mexico in 1680.  Because of their versatility and usefulness, horses were greatly desired and spread quickly through the United States and Canada.  Horses made it much easier for the Plains Indians to hunt and follow buffalo.  Before horses, moving with the buffalo was limited as they originally traveled by human and dog power.

Travel, trade, play, work and wars have all been profoundly shaped by our use of horses.  It opened up much of the American West by making it possible to travel vast distances and pull loads.  Horses brought goods to areas normally hard to reach geographically.  They have allowed us to farm larger areas and provide food for more people and animals. In war, the addition of horses changed the balance of power between civilizations.  When both sides had horses, tactics and strength, played the major part in battles.  Many of the movements we see the Spanish Riding Schools Lipizzaner horses perform today are derived from war maneuvers.

Over the last Century, people transitioned away from using horses mainly for work, which caused a sharp decline in their numbers.  Today the number of horses in the world has climbed to 58 million and many of them are now used for more recreational purposes.  Although, many people still find using horses for ranching, farming, logging, and transportation to be rewarding, versatile and less invasive in many ways.  Cultures in other parts of the world still rely heavily on horses for all parts of their lives.

Horse Economics

The following 2005 statistics taken from a comprehensive and thorough study initiated by the American Horse Council are very telling about the horse in the United States today.

There are 9.2 million horses in the U.S., owned by 2 million people.   4.6 million people are involved in the horse industry as owners, employees, volunteers, and service providers; of those 460,000 are in full time paid positions;  702,000 when you add in part-time and seasonal positions.  With the addition of spending  by  suppliers and employees, full time jobs increase to 1.4 million.  The direct economic impact on the U.S. economy is $39 billion a year.  When indirect spending is added in it reaches $102 billion.  The horse industry pays $1.9 billion in taxes to all levels of government.  Our total impact on the Gross National Product is $101.5 billion.

As far as horse households go, 46% of horse owners have a yearly income of $25,000 to $75,000.  34% are below $50,000 and 28% are above $100,000.  Dispels the misperception that horses are for the wealthy, doesn’t it?  70% of horse owners live in communities of under  50,000, but travel to urban areas for showing, training, exhibitions and racing.  All 50 states have horses and 45 states have at least 20,000.

Horses ridden for recreation top the stats at 3.9 million, followed by showing at 2.7 million and racing at about 844,000.  The American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) realized in the last few years that of its membership, only about 10% actually participated in AQHA shows.  This led to their addition of the trail riding program to log miles and the Versatility Ranch Horse program to give ranch horses breeders a place to showcase their horses.

As a state, Colorado produces $956 million in goods and services.  102,400 of us are involved in the industry as horse owners, service providers, employees, and volunteers.  There are 5,800 people with full time employment in the horse industry which multiplies to 21,300 jobs when you add those supported through spending by suppliers and employees.  Over seventy percent of Colorado’s 256,000 horses are involved in showing and recreation.

Colorado ranks 4th in membership and in number of AQHA owners, only behind the big three states of Texas, Oklahoma and California.  With our central location and top class facilities, Colorado hosted 4 of the 5 top AQHA Versatility Ranch Horse shows,  International USET competitions, top Dressage and Hunter/Jumper Shows and National competitions for many breeds and disciplines.

With the economy, price of feed and no bottom to the horse market, there has not recently been a better time to buy or adopt a horse.  Today, you can get a lot more horse flesh and bloodlines for your money than in the past.

The Horse Designed

The qualities that make horses and humans work well together, the wild horse already possessed.  They are herd animals and desire to live in groups.  They are receptive to people becoming part of their herd and letting them be their leaders.

Mentally, their brains work in a way that they desire to learn and obey subtle commands from us.  In order to be a good trainer and leader of a horse, we learn to understand and work with their natural instincts, not against them.   A good leader is honest, self- confident, respectful, fair, clear and concise and a horses herd behavior paves the way for us to be their leader to train and guide them.

Physically, horses are designed to use their powerful bodies to carry a person or to pull a heavy load.  Unlike ruminants, who must stop and rest to digest their food, horses can graze and work all day.  Horses have a natural gap between their teeth to accept a bit for guiding.  Where the nose goes, the body will follow.  Additionally, horses can also thrive on a wide variety of climates and feed sources, which makes them able to live most places people do.

But there is something more transcendent than just their physical and mental attributes.  Widely known Hunter/Jumper trainer, Frank Madden, said recently of the horse, “They are mystical animals and they become so adaptive to whatever situation you put them in.  They spoil us and they allow us to become victims of their nobility – to the point where we take them for granted.”  One way we take them for granted is that those who are around them all the time may not always be aware of what they do to the inside of us.  Just share your horse with some friends or family and watch them be transformed.

Therapeutic riding and equine assisted psychotherapy and learning are some of the programs that are tapping into this complex well of healing waters.  In our penitentiary in Canon City, prisoners have a program to start Mustangs under saddle to later be sold.  The addition of horses to prison settings appears improve behavior of inmates and help reduce recidivism when they leave.  Recently, new studies using heart monitors are showing that the heart beat of a human around a horse, will align with that of the horse.

Measureable and immeasurable, horses have a profound effect on us.  Unexplainable by words, but known by those whose lives have been touched by the horse.  Even Jesus is coming back riding a horse – He is definitely a horse nut too!

The wind of heaven is that which blows between a horse’s ears.
– Arabian proverb

Copyright 2013 Heather McWilliams.  Photo by Susan Williams,