A Magical Connection

By Linda White

At a small, outdoor Kentucky horse show a few weeks ago, a solemn little boy in clean, well-pressed, albeit second-hand hunt clothes and a shiny new helmet rode into class after class with his flea-bitten grey Arabian mare. When they lined up he would lean forward slightly and speak to her, tenderly stroking her neck. When the judge came up to them in the lineup during their first class, she asked the child if his mount was an Arabian. The small boy quietly replied, "Yes, sir. She is a purebred Arabian. She is 21 years old, and she is my best friend."

The judge, a lump in her throat, only smiled. She knew that when "child safe" is added to any horse's credentials, his desirability and value immediately increase, and buyer numbers seem to multiply exponentially. Since the horse-and-human partnership was forged thousands of years ago, the unique, somehow almost symbiotic relationship between the two species has thrived. Tme after time, century after century, over the roughly 6,000 years since the Arabian horse was domesticated, his intelligence and intuitive knowingness have expanded the comradeship into a profoundly meaningful, even redemptive, influence for adults and children. Correctional facilities widely use Arabians in therapeutic programs to assist prisoners in reentry into life as productive members of society.

The use of Arabian horses in therapeutic riding programs for physically and mentally challenged ad ults and children is well known. The magical link between horses and children is well known. Since 1941, when author Walter Farley tapped into the phenomenon with his famous The Black Stallion series, Alec Ramsey and his beautiful, wild black Arabian stallion have captivated generations of readers and fed children’s desire for a horse of their own. In 2003, the Library of Congress added National Velvet, an enduring, 1935 family classic about a young girl and her horse, to its prestigious, 375-film National Film Registry. The 1979 film The Black Stallion, based on Walter Farley’s novel, earned Oscar and Golden Globe nominations, and remains one of the most popular family films ever made.

Many of the 59 books Marguerite Henry (1902-1997) wrote were based on true stories of horses throughout history. Henry’s books included Misty of Chincoteague, King of the Wind, Black Gold, Born to Trot, Justin Morgan Had a Horse, San Domingo: The Medicine Hat Stallion, White Stallion of Lipizza, and Album of Horses. Misty of Chincoteague, Brighty of the Grand Canyon, Peter Lundy and the Medicine Hat Stallion and Justin Morgan Had a Horse were made into movies. Illustrated by artist Wesley Dennis, Henry’s series created indelible impressions and knowledge of horses her young readers have carried with them throughout life. Even today, hearing the list can give those long-ago readers chills.

The attraction is natural, and undeniable. The Arabian horse, second only to the domestic cat in having the thinnest, most sensitive skin in the world. That unique trait allows the Arabian to absorb far more sensory input than other equine breeds. Highly developed intelligence and a large, complex brain allow him to surprise and delight us humans with his retention and amazing information-processing capacities. When an Arabian horse learns something, he never forgets it. For example, even 25 years after he learns to raise up and set his head in a full English bridle, he will respond, promptly, appropriately (and gladly) to his rider's request. Sometimes, the rider can almost feel his mount's satisfied, happy little smile.

What creates the uncanny communication between horse and child? Could it be that the child, his brain not yet saturated with information, is more intuitive and receptive than the average adult? Research indicates that younger humans, their senses still razor-sharp, tend to act and react more instinctively to stimuli than do adults. This can lead to lifelong receiver-transmitter friendships between species. The link between Arabian horses and his young humans, one of those marvels science has yet to fully explain, can be a life-enriching encounter unlike any other. Basketballs, footballs, baseballs and golf balls can’t begin to compete with Arabian horses.

Since 1941, when author Walter Farley tapped into the phenomenon with his famous The Black Stallion series, Alec Ramsey and his beautiful, wild black Arabian stallion have captivated generations of readers and fed children’s desire for a horse of their own. In 2003, the Library of Congress added National Velvet, an enduring, 1935 family classic about a young girl and her horse, to its prestigious, 375-film National Film Registry. The 1979 film The Black Stallion, based on Walter Farley’s novel, earned Oscar and Golden Globe nominations, and remains one of the most popular family films ever made.

Many of the 59 books Marguerite Henry (1902-1997) wrote were based on true stories of horses throughout history. Henry’s books included Misty of Chincoteague, King of the Wind, Black Gold, Born to Trot, Justin Morgan Had a Horse, San Domingo: The Medicine Hat Stallion, White Stallion of Lipizza, and Album of Horses. Misty of Chincoteague, Brighty of the Grand Canyon, Peter Lundy and the Medicine Hat Stallion and Justin Morgan Had a Horse were made into movies. Illustrated by artist Wesley Dennis, Henry’s series created indelible impressions and knowledge of horses her young readers have carried with them throughout life. Even today, hearing the list can give those long-ago readers chills.

The attraction is natural, and undeniable. The Arabian horse, second only to the domestic in having the thinnest, most sensitive skin in the world. That unique trait allows the Arabian to absorb far more sensory input than other equine breeds. Highly developed intelligence and a large, complex brain allow him to surprise and delight us humans with his retention and amazing information-processing capacities. When an Arabian horse learns something, he never forgets it. For example, even 25 years after he learns to raise up and set his head in a full English bridle, he will respond, promptly, appropriately (and gladly) to his rider's request. Sometimes, the rider can almost feel his mount's satisfied, happy little smile.

What creates the uncanny communication between horse and child? Could it be that the child, his brain not yet saturated with information, is more intuitive and receptive than the average adult? Research indicates that younger humans, their senses still razor-sharp, tend to act and react more instinctively to stimuli than do adults. This can lead to lifelong receiver-transmitter friendships between species. The link between Arabian horses and his young humans, one of those marvels science has yet to fully explain, can be a life-enriching encounter unlike any other. Basketballs, footballs, baseballs and golf balls can’t begin to compete with Arabian horses.