The red cotton cowgirl scarf is an icon of western wear. My guest ranch buys them by the lot to give to visitors participating in our Taste of Montana events that feature horseback riding, roping, country/western music, and line dancing. You’re just not a real cowgirl without a red bandana around your neck.
When the tables turn and I become the visitor to urban cultural amenities such as theaters, symphonies, and culinary adventures, I often swap my red bandana for a fine silk scarf imprinted with an equine theme to proudly display my attachment to horses.
The adage “you are what you wear” applies to us all. We chose our apparel to announce who we are and what we value. As horsewomen, we are proud to proclaim our tribe and look for ways to “wear it on our sleeve.” Susan Jamieson of Red Scarf Equestrian understands this well. Her work centers on gathering talented artists – fabric designers and manufacturers, leather crafters, photographers, jewelers, painters – from across the globe to capture in physical form the beauty, wonder, and wisdom of horses so horsewomen can channel their affiliation.
It’s an affiliation that goes way beyond affection and appreciation. Horsewomen are singular. Becoming a horsewoman means embracing a world view that melds perspectives that are completely at odds with one another. For to partner with a horse, one must moderate human instincts to incorporate those of horses.
Horses and humans quite literally see the world differently. Humans are predators. Our eyes are set forward and work together to target on a single prey. Horses are prey. Their eyes are set apart and work independently to scan large areas for the presence of predators. Meaningful horse/human relationships require both parties to bridge that fundamental chasm in world views. Our shared need for social connections is what makes it possible.
The primitive lone human was an ineffective hunter; the primitive lone horse was easy prey. Humans’ and horses’ primal needs for social connections arose from necessity and have persisted through time. It has been a great evolutionary advantage for both, but each seeks companionship for reasons that are diametrically opposed. Humans seek companionship to be better hunters, to cooperate for collective achievement. Horses seek companionship to confuse and evade hunters, to better their chances of survival. Bonding with a horse requires us to learn an entirely new social dance.
This is not a dance that we can impose on them. We are not the teachers. They are. It is a dance that takes years of our watching and listening, trying and failing, then trying again. Our inherent predatory inclinations to take charge, set goals, and hyper focus on outcomes serve only to block our progress. We must stop, gather and center our energy, relax our expectations and doggedly stay in the moment just to get started. We must learn to read our equine companions like they already instinctively know how to read us.
I knew nothing of this as I began my journey with horses. Both children and horses came to me late in life. As a biometrician – a mathematician focused on biological problems – working with wildlife in Alaska, my job was to set up field experiments that would produce statistically valid data. This meant controlled field experiments. My mind had been trained to isolate the research question by controlling all other factors. In short, I was a professional control freak. Children and horses disabused me of that.
Luckily for both, I learned parenting and horsemanship at the same time. Both informed the other. My self-centered, controlling, and frankly arrogant ways of imposing scientific rigor on nearly everything around me not only did not work, it did damage. I had to change if I wanted to truly support my children and emotionally reach my horse. Neither were mine to mold. I had to put myself aside to find and nourish their individualities.
As I worked with my children and my horses, it gradually became apparent to me that deep emotional connections and bonding, whether with people or horses, come through vulnerability and intent. My children awakened in me the desire to put someone else first in my life; but it was horses who largely taught me how.
It may take years for our children to show the adverse impacts of our poor parenting while horses are masters at providing immediate, impersonal, and powerful feedback. As prey animals, they see inside us. They react not to what we say or even to what we may think we are doing or conveying. They react to our intent and our inner emotions. We cannot fool them even if we succeed at fooling ourselves. They will match us, emotion for emotion. If we are fearful, so are they. If we are brave; they show courage. They become vulnerable to us only if we are vulnerable to them. They build trust in us by our showing trust in them.
Yes, we horsewomen are proud of our tribe. There is an immediate connection between us. We see well beyond our human societal differences. We see each other through our horses’ eyes.
Our horses care not who we are in the human world. Our career successes and failures are of no matter. They are indifferent to our wealth or lack thereof. Where or how we live is of no interest to them. They hear whatever language we speak, but they respond primarily to our body language and emotional states. They do not judge our body shape or beauty; they care only that we can balance and mold our bodies to theirs to move together as single sentient being. They willingly partner with us to achieve our goals only when they can trust us with their need for security.
It is a continual process of hard work and humility to achieve oneness with another species so divergent from our own, to meld a predator with a prey. But the rewards far exceed the efforts. To pass through space and time as a single being breathing, thinking, and moving in unison is to reach beyond the boundaries of the human experience.
Susan’s and my relationship may be new in time, but it is old in feelings and understandings, for we have been honed by horses. Our individual paths with horses may have started in distant and foreign places, but they have steadily brought us to this point of convergence, like the confluence of two streams tumbling from separate mountain ranges forms a new river.
We ride together in red scarves, whether of silk or cotton, during these times of global medical and financial stress. We ride to gather our fellow horsewomen from near and far with the single purpose of ensuring the safety of our equine partners. It’s what we promised them; it’s part of our social contract. They, and we, need one another right now.
From Hands to Hooves– Equine Fund for COVID-19 Relief
An introduction made by the Montana Centre of Natural Horsemanship is how I met SuzAnne Miller.
Since SuzAnne and I were both aware of the discussions going on around the need to feed horses during this COVID-19 crisis, we wondered how we could help?
We decided that we would combine our strengths (SuzAnne favours Western riding, I favour English,) and try and do something together. And while SuzAnne is American and I am Canadian, the horse community is borderless.
With SuzAnne joining me, we at Red Scarf Equestrian changed the launch plans for our “Mascara” scarf. It will now be up for sale to raise money to help feed horses in this terrible time of need. All of the proceeds (less costs) from the sales of the scarves will be directed to this cause.
SuzAnne added her creative side to the project through the design of a Mascara Card of Thanks.
In addition, I have started to place calls to all of the leading mascara brands in North America, possibly creating a “ Mascara” beauty line that would join our sales efforts and potentially create a fund that essentially protects horses for as long as needed to get us to the other side of this situation.
The EQUUS Foundation headquartered in New York has agreed to step up and help us with monetary distribution.
I am going to borrow the words of Anna Wintour, as she talked about the creation of a Fashion Fund. “Of course, there is no simple fix for our industry; the challenges we face are profound.”
RSE's Partnership with the Equus Foundation
RSE is partnering with the EQUUS Foundation to help sustain horses in dire need because of the current COVID-19 pandemic.
The EQUUS Foundation is the only national animal welfare charity in the United States 100% dedicated to protecting America's horses and strengthening the bond between horses and people.
Most horses will have multiple homes during their lifetimes, but thousands of horses suffer from abuse, neglect and being shipped off to slaughter each year.
The purchase of the “Mascara” scarf benefits those horses most at-risk today.
We are horsewomen. We are strong.
We know that trust is fundamental to forming a partnership with a horse.
We know that the greatest reward for a horse is release from pressure: and
The greatest reward for a horsewoman is release from the pressure of being able to care for her horse.
The global coronavirus pandemic has created enormous economic pressure for many.
Under the watchful eye of “Mascara,” we gather to release that economic pressure.
We trust that those who can–will give generously.
We trust that those who need–will ask without hesitation.
We are horsewomen.
We trust and take care of one another.
WHO IS SUZANNE MILLER?
SuzAnne M. Miller, a native of Butte, Montana, has over 35 years of experience in biometric, biological, social science, and economic research. She has an extensive background in both quantitative and qualitative research methods. Her career focus was integrating socioeconomic information into public policies for natural resource management and development.
SuzAnne’s work and life passions have taken her to the back country and wild lands of some the world’s most beautiful places: Alaska, Canada, Central and South America, the Caribbean, Australia, New Zealand, Asia, and Europe. But no place captures her heart quite like Montana. Her love of animals – especially horses, dogs and birds – and of her great state prompted her to open Dunrovin Ranch as a full-service guest ranch and equestrian club offering unique back country adventures on smooth-gaited Tennessee Walking Horses. The installation of a web camera at Dunrovin for a joint science project with the University of Montana eventually lead SuzAnne to staking out a special space in cyber space with the world’s first cyber ranch at www.DaysAtDunrovin.com.