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Horses Make A Landscape More Beautiful

The title of the book comes from the words of the Lakota holy man Lame Deer:

We had no word for the strange animal we got from the white man — the horse. So we called it sunka waken, “holy dog”. We could almost forgive you for bringing us the horse for bringing us whiskey. Horses make a landscape look more beautiful.

Horses make a landscape more beautiful is a slim volume of poetry written by the remarkable writer/activist Alice Walker. The work is a powerful collection of poems that are raw, honest and celebrate the ability to celebrate life and stand up against injustice and abuse.

Horses really make the scenery more beautiful. It’s a joy just to watch them graze and commune with the land — and their herd. This passage is poignant because of course alcoholism has caused so much long-term destruction to Native Americans. European settlers, including my ancestors, also brought other diseases, violence and the forced removal of indigenous people from their tribal lands. Yet amid this devastation, Lame Deer celebrates the horse’s return to America, saying it was almost worth it.

“Holy Dog” is coming home

Curiously, we know that Eohippus, or the dawn horse, the ancestor of the modern horse, lived about 58 million years ago. The horse is one of the few Ice Age animals that still survives today and is native to the forests and swamps of North America. Particularly common in the Great Plains, Eohippus was only about 14 inches tall. More like a dog than a horse, EM Ensminger describes Eohippus as “a cute little animal, just over a foot high with a thin face, arched back, short neck, thin legs, and long tail, adapted to living in swamps.”

Amazing fit

As the swamps dried up 18 million years ago, Eohippus adapted by developing a longer neck for grazing, a single toe or hoof, longer legs, and eyes with nearly 360˚ vision to detect predators. The ability to switch feed as tall grasses replaced the swamp habitat further allowed the horse to survive. Other large animals that survived the ice ages and drastic climate changes died because they could only eat certain foods that were not available.

Evidence suggests that descendants of Eohippus crossed the land bridge from the Great Plains to Europe and Asia. By 10,000 years ago, horses had disappeared from the United States. Ironically, the descendant of the horse that died in America was returned to its ancestral home by the conquerors and European invasions.

Holy Companion

The Lakota use of “Holy Dog” to refer to horses is interesting, especially since Eohippus’ ancestor was similar in size to a dog. The Saint captures the otherworldly or spiritual nature of the horse, while the dog conveys the special relationship of the companion. The words “Saint” and “Dog” when combined become a holy companion.

Is beauty enough?

Lame Deer talks about the beauty of horses and how they enhance the landscape. About fifty years ago, horses lost their jobs in transportation, agriculture, and the military in the Western world. Nowadays it is expensive and time-consuming to care for horses that are no longer used for “practical” use on the farm, for transport or for war. However, more and more women are becoming horse owners and riders. Is the beauty of horses enough to ensure their care and survival, in a culture that values ​​youth, productivity and utility?

Hundreds of thousands of women are voting yes with their dollars, their time and their love of horses. Perhaps they are looking for a sacred dog, a sacred companion to accompany them then on life’s journeys.

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