Time moves a little differently out here. Our past is not as far away, the future does not press quite so close. For instance, the age of the horse lives on here while it has passed into history almost everywhere else. Up til comparatively recently man and horse were codependent. We needed horses to move our commerce, to travel and to fight our wars. In return we introduced the horse to every corner of this planet. In eastern Oregon a little bit of this 4000 year old partnership remains. We don't use horses here as much as we used to, but there are still some who need a horse to do their work. Human beings were different in the days when we really needed another species to do all the things we could not do without them. In 1928 Virginia Woolf said \"On or about December 1910 human character changed.\" That was almost exactly the time when the automobile first became more useful than the horse in the life of an average person. Our dependence on machinery may be even greater today but the relationship is different. Every living being be it a horse or a fruit fly has an agenda of its own that may coincide with human desires or may run directly counter to them. Machines work or they break down but they never sulk. Everyone who has ever lived with a cat or a dog knows this but with horses the attitude of the animal is crucial. A big human being weighs 300 pounds. A small horse weighs 800 pounds. We can pick up cats and drag dogs by their leashes but no human being has ever physically compelled a horse to do anything. Everything involving horses is a negotiation requiring a combination of bribery, cajolery and psychology. We are used to machines which obey every whim and which never push back because they are tired or hungry. At the same time, the machine never goes beyond its program. A horse can be a partner as anyone who has watched a good cutting horse work a herd of cattle can attest. Every machine of a certain type is functionally identical but every horse is different. Some are gentle, some are mean, some are workers and some are lazy. And just like people they have moods, good days and bad ones. A horseman must exercise a higher level of awareness than a machine operator needs. Horses have been so useful to us because they are very specialized animals. Their speciality is running and they do it very well. Asking a horse to run is like asking water to flow downhill. This also makes horses dangerous. The runaway carriage and the riding accident are clich├ęs of nineteenth century novels because they were commonplace. Regardless of the horse or the surroundings, a rider must always be prepared for the moment when some loud noise or a random flash of movement precipitates a crisis. caption [5] = "Far from being a negative aspect, just as with a motorcycle, the danger is part of the appeal especially for the younger riders. There do seem to be some gender differences though. Teenage boys think having sixty inches of hot steel between their legs is the coolest thing in the world. For adolescent girls the equivalent is one thousand pounds of sweaty meat. Even though all terrain vehicles have supplanted the horse for most daily ranch chores, there are still some things where nothing else works quite as well. Horses can round up cattle in thick timber and over downed logs where an atv would be useless. And no atv is smart enough to work with the rider the way a trained horse can. And of course no rodeo or parade can be really complete without horses. Our fossil beds prove that the horse originated in this region. In the deep layers of volcanic ash we can trace the development of a little dog sized,multi-toed creature into the muscular, hoofed running machine that sped over the hills and valleys. And then they all went away. Along with the camel and the rhinoceros, they left north America for reasons we still don't understand. About 500 years ago they came back with the Spanish Conquistadores. A short time later escapees from Spanish herds established themselves in here in the Blue Mountains of eastern Oregon. The Indian tribes in the Blue Mountains adapted their culture to the horses to the extent of creating a distinct breed of their own: the appaloosa. Several of the tribes of this region became noted for the quality of their horsemanship and the size of their herds. Even today these mountains offer an ideal environment for horses. The tribes and the ranchers no longer round up the mustangs and now a burgeoning population of feral horses in the region has become a hotly contested issue. Today we offer tens of thousands of acres of wilderness to explore, equestrian events such as distance riding and camping and guest ranches where guests can join in cattle drives. It is not a show or a spectacle it is the continuation of a cycle thousands of years old enmeshed in an even more ancient way of life, that of prey and predator which rules in every wilderness.
This Week:
People and Horses
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