The Gathering of Horses
The Gathering of Horses
By Wayland Keck
There is a secret society of horse people.
I met these people while on a trip to paint landscapes in Southern Canada. I was camping in a remote valley when horses and riders came in from all points of the compass. Not driving trucks and trailers but riding on their partners in this shared romantic dream. I found out that they were from all over the world.
The people erected a huge tent with great pageantry and joy. The horses helped hauling up the long ropes and poles that would support the bright fabric. Each of the Horse folk had their own smaller tent that they set up. They had also packed in food and equipment. The tents were brightly colored and each rider had his or her own standards and heraldry to announce who they were to the rest of the group. I never saw any nationality or flags stand out. It seemed they all rode as individuals and friends. And they all seemed to know each other. It seemed about 500 people were there.
They saluted with grave dignity when they met. And commented on the shining horses that they rode. The politeness of the group was remarkable. They were broken into different degrees of riding ability based on time and courtesy.
The Apprentices were mostly under 21 years old; the youngest I saw was about 12.
An Apprentice always addressed someone older as Ma’am or Sir. And the horse people often bowed in respect to the eldest of the horse folks that sat and watched the riding. The oldest group was the Masters of Horses. The Masters were the most skilled of the horse folks. All of the masters I met were well in their 70’s or older. The Apprentices stayed with their particular Master till he or she died. Though they go to another Master when some skill or movement is giving particular difficulty. There seemed to be no jealousy in this….
There are horse people in their Journeyship. They no longer work under the direct supervision of a Master. These people have trained since childhood and now are taking all their knowledge and creating their own art with their horses out of the wisdom they have gathered throughout their training. They are usually in their forties or fifties. They become Masters only when the group acknowledges it.
I met only one Olympian that was invited to this meeting and this person did not ride at that time, and asked me not to use their name. Although later I found out that if you joined this society you seemed to disappear from the normal horse circles. Their passion is for knowledge and shared joy of horses. When I asked them about competition they told me simply that their motivation was different.
In these meetings of the Gathering they share with each other the skills and techniques they have learned during the year. Many different disciplines were demonstrated.
Often they fight each other using real swords and javelins, and real bows and lances. Sometimes they dance together with their horses and perform for each other majestic ballets of riding to music.
There was a race of endurance that ended at this meeting that I was told covered 1000 miles!
They do prove their riding ability. But they do it with swords that are not toys. Against opponents who are not afraid of drawing a bit of skin and blood. Although to injure a horse is strictly forbidden. And I never saw a horse injured while I watched.
One ancient horse stood proudly by the old man that had been his rider. The man bent and crippled in a wheel chair. The horse showing his age by his jutting hipbones and puffy ankles.
Often an Apprentice or Rider would approach this old horse and lay flowers at his feet. Then bow to the old man. I asked the old man if I could watch. He told me, “Of course, in fact I expect you to write a story about what you have seen at this gathering.”
A young apprentice, her eyes shining with awe came up and gave the old horse an apple. And placed a flower across the old man’s knees.
“Why did she do this?” I asked him.
“Ah..young Careen, her teacher learned on my friend here. She is paying him respect.”
“Oh I see.” I replied.
In the beginning of the meeting people gathered together and walked from tent to tent, talking and swapping stories and ideas. They cleaned tack and polished metal. The horses were divided into groups of hot and warm and cold blooded horses. Although I never heard mentioned breed or registry or show qualifications. Most people rode stallions or mares, although there were a few geldings. And I asked the old man how they bred their horses.
He told me this. “First a person must reach their Journeyship having trained at least 5 horses to the highest skill level, and 3 of these horses must still be working with him.”
“So he sells the others?” I asked the old man.
The old wrinkled face scowled. “No! Never! He would be banned. None of his horses can be sold if he is in Journeyship. He could possibly give one away to a beloved Apprentice or Master.”
“What does this have to do with breeding?”
“If he is not a good person and does not care for his horses why should he breed them? After he has the horses trained to their highest skill level. And the stallions must be at least 13 years old, the mares we allow to be younger as it is easier on them being pregnant. Though 7 or 8 years for a mare is the preferred age.
Then at one of these meetings another person in their Journeyship will see him and his horses. They will love each other’s horses and decide to help create another. That foal will be given to the oldest of their Apprentices who is at least 18 years old. If the foal is not able to use herself to the ability of the sire and dam, those horses are never bred together again. And the foal is kept as a pet and never bred. Most Riders only have 5 or 6 horses. So it is important not to breed horses that cannot be used, although if we breed a horse we are responsible for it for life. We ourselves and no other!”
“It is complicated then. You must have a lot of bickering. My wife rides and there is a good deal of arguing from what I see.”
The old man smiled. “I know, precisely why the Gathering was formed! No arguing! No money! Only art and beauty and true skill and bravery.”
A woman rode by on what I can only describe as a Barb. A small dark horse with a barouge head and compact form. Her hair was hanging down loose, long and shiny black. A drawn scimitar was held against her knee. She raised it in salute as she walked past the old man. But her eyes were fixed on the rider across the meadow from us. He was mounted on a warm-blooded type horse a chestnut with a proud neck and soft eye. The man carried a broad sword upright in front of him.
“Now…..” said the old man, “Watch… This is not subjective.”
I have seen my wife compete in many various facets of riding. Dressage, Three day…jumpers but watching these two was transfixing. They wore no helmets….the swords were real metal. The horses were ridden in simple bridles and no spurs.
They passaged towards each other and met in the center of the meadow and saluted gravely. They then turned and saluted the old Masters and then the crowd that had gathered to watch. Then they wheeled and charged each other.
My wife had told me that dressage came from war. But I was not prepared for the onslaught of power and ability as the two came together. Canter pirouette it seems was made for the sword and the horses whirled and ducked as the two slashed away. They hit with the flat side of the blade and I could see dust rise from their ornate clothing as they twirled. The horses reared at precisely the right moments bearing down upon the other. Then I noticed the reins were dropped across the necks of the horses and the riders were controlling their mounts with unseen weight and leg cues.
The little Barb was quick and the woman caught the man by the sleeve as he leaned close and he fell heavily as the barb reversed, the woman pulled him abruptly from his mount.
He got up and smiled at her. His horse, rather than run away, had stayed at his side. The man walked slowly, limping, up to the woman and laid his sword at the little Barbs front hooves.
“It is over…and in our way of thinking we choose when we are defeated. And there is no shame in losing. Indeed there is no losing. It is just a moment of life.” The old man told me.
The Rider of the chestnut raised his eyes to the crowd and saluted the woman and on foot led away his horse that he patted and praised. The woman jumped off the little Barb and picked up the sword, showed it to the crowd and walked over to an old woman that stood leaning against a tent pole. The old woman looked as if she could be blown over by a gentle breeze but she took the sword proudly from the Barb’s Rider and dropped her head in a little bow smiling all the while.
The woman jumped up on the Barb and the crowd cheered. When she rode by I could see blood trickling from her hand where the blade had grazed her.
“Jane is honoring her teacher.” The old man stated. The old Woman meanwhile had walked towards us and lay the sword at the feet of the old horse.
“For you….my good friend…..and husbands mount.”
The old Man smiled and embraced what I took for his wife.
“So stranger,” Said the old man, “We honor the horses that have taught us. And keep them safe when they are no longer able to use themselves for art.”
“But this is very irresponsible to risk getting hurt?” I told the old man with a frown.
The old man looked at me with pity. “You would risk very little for your art….isn’t that true. And yet here we revel in life and art and we know that there must be risk. But not injury of the soul and spirit but a scratch or two or maybe a broken bone. Your way is odd. You revere the shininess of the gold but not how it is dug and formed into real beauty that has meaning and purpose.”
“Yes, stranger which is more valuable the gold coin or an old wedding ring between two ancient warriors.” The old Woman laughed and those around us laughed as well and she walked away. A young apprentice ran over to help her.
“How long do you train?” I asked the old man.
“All our lives.” He answered. Another young girl ran up. Her skin dark and glistening with sweat. Her braids bouncing on her shoulders.
“Master! Journey woman Jane asks you to look at Sinbads legs.” The old man nodded to his Apprentices standing near and they wheeled him away.
I walked on to look at the rest of the gathering. The young girl went with me. Everywhere there were horses and riders working their partnership in a strange community of art.
There were archers and spear throwing. Heavy chargers and people in actual armor. The din of the clanging when they fell was deafening.
There were sleek little horses and big powerful horses and all working for what they were most suited to do. In fact I even saw a simple horse race, and jumping but both were done with no equipment whatsoever.
I asked the girl walking beside me. “How did you hear of these people?”
“I was asked to come to the Gathering by my Aunt. That’s how it happens. Someone you know. Usually you can tell if they come to the Gathering because they disappear every now and then. I was asked but we are not supposed to talk about the Gathering to everyone. Only the few that are wishing for a place where they can be real.”
I considered the girl’s words. “Real? What do you mean?”
The girl tossed back her braids. “Real? You know! It is real what we do…. No one says…this looks nice…. In the Gathering you and your horse can move in balance or you cannot. With a sword in your hand it better be that you can balance and move well.”
She gestured towards two young men twirling around a long colored pole stuck into the ground. They each took turns hitting at the top with a staff. They aimed for the very top. The pole waved back and forth and the horses nimbly turned under their riders.
The girl sighed, “You must play a few of these games over the years before you are allowed to carry a real sword.”
“Who decides this?”
The girl looked at me strangely as if I was simple in the head.
“You yourself do. Would you come against someone with a sword if you were not well prepared.”
I smiled a bit foolishly. And I wondered, this girl seemed, as if she were only 15 yet she was very articulate and wise for her years.
I pulled out my little camera and shot a few pictures. A few riders turned my way as I flashed away then approached me smiling. They came up to me like a horse that could spook at any moment and one put out his gloved hand and grabbed the camera and squashed it in his black fist. He looked as if he were Mongolian. He then handed it back to me.
The girl told me gravely, “No pictures I’m afraid.”
“Well that’s a shame! How are you to bring in more people? To support this? Where is the revenue….”
The Mongolian man smiled a bright and gentle smile.
“We do not want revenue. We all contribute as we can. It’s on the honor system. We place more value on this.” He drew a circle around his heart then strode back to jump back on his spotted pony and resumed shooting arrows at a dead run into a target.
The young Apprentice then told me. We support our old Masters and their horses when they retire. In Journeyship it is important to remember where you came from and where you are going! All of us contribute to the Gathering.”
I watched the Gathering of Horses for a week. Then as quickly and silently as they came they rode away. The last person I saw was the man who had squashed my camera he was riding on his spotted pony and leading another. He waved and turned and I took one picture.
You may believe this or not. But I saw this…..has anyone else?
Maybe a person who dropped out of the normal circles of horses? Someone who is gone every other year and comes back with a few scrapes? Someone whose has children around their barn that talk about….Journeyship.
Maybe at a small farm you have seen an old horse with flowers at his feet.
Leonard aka Oldman's Blog
Posted on December 16, 2009 at 12:41am
How necessary is the human ego ?, I believe you will conclude that it's only purpose is to regulate the animal within and nothing more.
Does an animal have an ego? no is my first thought , they don't have the coolist cloths or wear the coolist shades nor do they drive the coolist cars. What you see is what you get.
CAN AN EGO PRODUCE LOVE ? ? ? . Only a copy in my opinion , in street talk that means it has a lot of CUT in it . If you watch nature shows you can see the LOVE and… Continue
Posted on June 19, 2009 at 10:41pm
To realize the life around you is to realize the life within.
Posted on April 28, 2009 at 3:48pm
Respect is taught by EXAMPLE ONLY and by no other means
"NEVER MAKE ANOTHER IN LIFE A PRIORITY IF THEY ONLY MAKE YOU AN OPTION"
Posted on February 11, 2009 at 4:00pm
Any one or culture that does not believe that jesus christ is the only begotten son of god born of the virgin mary.
Posted on February 11, 2009 at 3:30pm
Society has developed an seemingly incurable disease (NOT SO) we all optain the memories of our youth, the closer you get to your soul the more these memories will come into the light .
Some will make you happy , some will make you sad , Some will make you out right ashamed ,. We need to realize these memories for what they are .
Its called school. Sometimes people make mistakes in life Mine for example was to raise my children and to teach them to believen a false god , one that… Continue