Friday, September 27, 2013



Originally published in Horse Directory,                                                OCTOBER 2013

By Tom Gumbrecht

It's not unusual to read about how life with horses can help to develop many positive character traits in young people. I can bear witness to that concept, having read and even written about some amazing transformations observed from the vantage point of the horse barn. But this really isn't about young people. 

From the time that I was a child I, like most young boys, became aware of that largely
"Courage is being scared to death, and saddling up anyway"
John Wayne
undefinable but very real quality known as "being a man," and set out on a convoluted journey to achieve it. It began with smoking, drinking with the guys, and building fast cars. It progressed to things like working in construction, flying airplanes, learning to jump out of them, extreme off-roading; always finding new ways to indulge in risk taking to a degree that I hoped would earn me that elusive title. But as much I pursued it, it always seemed to stay just out of reach.

I met the first horse I would eventually ride, Circus, while on an electrical construction project at a Long Island show barn. I became quite attracted to the horse, the riding, and horse people. It didn't fit the mold of what I decided was "manly" but two things happened: 1) I was developing a passion for horses and horsemanship to a degree that it would not be derailed by preconceived notions and 2) I had gotten a little older (ok, a lot older) and didn't care as much how people perceived me.

It was as if I had given up on my pursuit of the ultimate manly activity in order to follow the path on which my heart was taking me. In doing so, I discovered completely new definitions of what it was to be a man, as taught to me in what would ultimately become my own barn and by my own small herd of horses.

I learned the difference between controlling and cooperating. Airplanes are to be controlled,
The author's OTTB mare, Lola. Partners, not master and servant.
and that's what my life was about at the time I was actively flying them. Horses are about cooperation, I was to learn, sometimes painfully. Imposing my own will only works for a little while, with horses.

I learned how it is to truly put the needs of another being above my own. I had payed lip service to the concept in the past, but never owned it. I learned powerlessness and what it feels like to just do the best I can, without any knowledge of what the ultimate result will be. I learned how to let go when letting go was the right thing to do.

I learned that "my way or the highway" does not fly with horses, and in learning that, I learned that it does not work very well with the humans in my life either. I learned, to a large extent, to ignore transgressions and not take them personally, and to be generous in rewarding when compliance is attempted. 

I had sought out experiences to make me appear aggressive and brave, as I thought those were the makings of a man. The horse does not care how you appear, for he knows what lurks in your soul and responds to only that. In horsemanship, we become honest or fail. I
DannyBoy taught me the ways of the horse.
was taught all about honesty by these beings that live in a world that knows no other way, and found that total honesty in dealing with others requires more courage than aggression or threats.

I wanted to excel in my horsemanship, and in doing so I was forced to live in their world, the world of the here and now. Moving forward required letting go of the past and not obsessing about the future, and I eventually had to learn a new way if I were to achieve that elusive oneness with my horse.

I learned to be playful and silly with these giant playmates who required no mind altering substances to facilitate it, and I learned to take time for the things I loved. I discovered that if you are lucky enough to uncover and pursue a passion in life, then you are lucky enough. 

Most of all, I rediscovered my belief that there is a power greater than myself, and horses are all the evidence I need that he wants me to be happy. To aid me in my struggle, he used horses to help me to become the man he wanted me to be.

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