Usually my posts in this blog are solidly and intentionally nuts-and-bolts, designed to provide a factual place for the writer to start when it comes to writing about horses. I’ll be doing lots more of those, but on this day of the Winter Solstice I’d like to tackle something a little nearer and dearer to the fantasy writer’s craft–though if you write science fiction, it could prove useful as well.
Horses attract magic and magical practitioners with remarkable consistency. Maybe not quite as much as cats, but wherever you find horses, you find a complex fabric of mythos and mystique. From the Pooka and the Kelpie to the Chinese Horse of Heaven, from Epona the divine Mare to the Ghost Stallion of the American West, horses loom large in human mythmaking as well as human history.
Practically speaking of course, the animal that made possible major advances in transport and warfare would take on a distinctly mythic resonance in people’s minds. But to many lovers of horses and all they represent, that isn’t all there is to it. From the old horse cults to the modern equine spirituality–perhaps best known through Linda Kohanov’s Tao of Equus–humans have come back over and over again to the idea of the horse as spiritual power.
Now I’ll be honest. This sort of thing makes the inside of my skull itch. I’m psychically allergic to it. Those nuts and bolts, those practical posts, are to a considerable extent the real me.
Like the latest wave of plumbers and techie guys as paranormal investigators, I have to concede that there are some things I just can’t explain. Oh, I can explain the way horses seem to be telepathic: they’re observant well beyond the human capability, and perceive and react to tiny movements or changes in expression of an ear or a nostril or a tail; plus they can hear and smell far better than we can. When a horse curls his lip in that comic fashion, he’s exercising an organ on the inside of the upper lip, which enhances his sense of smell.
There’s plenty of anthropomorphism out there, and more than enough imposition of human ego on animals who don’t know or care that they’re supposed to be representing this, that, or the other to the humans taking their name and nature in vain. But if you approach a horse as a horse, as a separate being with a different psychology and biology and social structure, you start to see that there’s something else going on there.
This is a very intelligent animal. Every new study that comes along ups the score; it’s getting up around a human toddler for broad cognitive skills now, which in my experience is about right–as far as it goes. As long as we’re talking about the kinds of things the human brain is good at: counting objects, reckoning causality, measuring time. Abstract thinking in general is a big thing for humans. For horses? We don’t know yet.
What they are really, really good at–and studies have barely touched on it at this point–is manipulating energy. A long time ago I read about a trainer who was hooked to an EEG, as was the scared and spooky horse she was working with. Very soon as the session went on, the horse’s brain waves, especially the alpha waves, came into synch with hers. This was regarded at the time as a proof of human brain power over the flighty equine, but these days I wonder. Any horse lover can tell you that the best cure for a bad day or an upset mind is to spend some time with a horse. There’s a zone of calm around the animal that can make the human mind stop zipping around and learn to be still. It works the other way, yes, but time and again, for every story of the human who calmed the horse, I hear a dozen about the horse who calmed the human.
If you ever get the chance to observe an integrated herd of horses on its own, without humans yapping and yanking at them, watch and see how they move around each other, and see if you can pick up the vibe–how the herd feels. Peaceful, usually. Quiet. Content. Stay around long enough and keep your mind open enough and you’ll feel the same way.
That’s impressive, but there’s something beyond even that. This is where I humph and hem and haw, but I have observed animal communicators who were spot on (and plenty who were clearly full of hooey–but those few who got it, they got it). And not from observation, either: these people work by phone and do readings cold, without input from the caller. Horse telepathy? Possible. Highly usable in fiction. Is there a great equine collective consciousness out there? Again, possible. And usable. Not all magic needs to be invented. A good part of it is right there in front of you, if you know how to see it.