I saw a horse the other day.
It was tied to a lamppost in a paved parking lot, drinking water out of a 4 litre (one gallon) ice cream container. It was harnessed to an old buggy with wooden wheels- like the kind you might see a bride and groom parade in, only much, much worse. It was dirty and worn. What struck me the most was the state of the animal. While looking muscular and healthy overall, it was dirty and sweaty. It had a matted and stringy mane, and its tail was not much better. It’s winter hide was starting to molt in uneven patches. Standing alone, it was a desolate scene.
That got me thinking about horses and their history. The horse in the parking lot was definitely a working horse in all ways, and it caught my attention. It was not a Heartland version, or a 4-H show animal, or a Calgary Stampede winner. This was a stuff-of-earth humble horse.
The house I live in was built circa 1834, and it is believed that there were horse stables across the road. Horses were very valuable to this original homeowner as he was the first postmaster of the village and had to travel constantly on rough roads in all weather. Joshua Bates, Esquire, was one of a group of men who were given government contracts to improve the roads. They designed corduroy roads- logs placed tightly side by side- to avoid the mud (no wonder they were called corduroy- can you imagine taking a buggy over that?) and tried other road-building innovations as well. Long before taxes for roads, our little village collected tolls. That all to say that these horses of pre-Confederation played a large part in carving out a place from the wilderness for future Canadians. They helped clear land, move rocks, move people and mail alike in the development of the country.
I wonder what the horses of Joshua Bates looked like, and how well groomed they were. They must have had some rough days. And if the humans in charge of their care did not make the effort to haul the water to wash and comb them, some of these animals must have been very sorry looking. Perhaps I am wrong, but I have a hunch that horses at that time were generally not given the care and pampering that so many of today’s horses receive.
But my romantic side cannot leave it at that. Undoubtedly some horses were very loved and very well cared for. Some were full of good character, working diligently and faithfully in often difficult circumstances.
Which is more beautiful? A well-groomed, majestic animal or an animal working hard in the face of adversity?
I love the sight of a beautifully groomed horse (and I am not alone, given the amount of time horses spend in the media), but perhaps we can learn some lessons from the working horse.
True beauty is not limited to outward appearances, but to a great extent is revealed by inner character.