Equestrian Culture in Rural Uruguay

9 April 2013


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Earlier at Estancia Tierra Santa I felt that I was deep in the rural countryside of Uruguay; here at San Pedro de Timote I know that I am deep in the rural countryside of Uruguay. You will find San Pedro de Timote 14 kilometers on a dirt track from the nearest town, and arriving here the isolation is palpable.

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And the reader will not be surprised to learn that rural Uruguay is horse country par excellence. Horses are in daily use for routine tasks here, and while Uruguay’s roads are modern and in excellent condition, it is not at all unusual to see a horse and cart driving along the shoulder moving a load of fire wood or something similar. In the countryside, even in the 21st century, horses are both useful and practical.

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But not only useful and practical; if one does not spend time around horses on a regular basis one is likely to forget how beautiful they are. And they are beautiful — or, at least, to my mammalian eye, horses are beautiful in the same way that tigers are beautiful, with a musculature that is so perfectly adapted to a particular way of life one cannot but admire to see such a body functioning at its peak.

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Both the utility and the beauty of horses is complicated by the fact that a horse has its own will, its own temperament, and even its own social milieu, just as each rider has his own will, his own temperament, and his own social milieu. When the chemistry between horse and rider “clicks” then all goes well; when the chemistry doesn’t “click,” it’s sort of like a bad date, which each pulling the opposite direction waiting only for the experience to be finished as soon as possible. One cannot simply “work” with horses as one works with a machine or a tool. Despite readily anthropomorphizing our machines and tools, crediting them with a mind of their own, the fact of a horse having a mind of its own becomes a central fact of working with horses; some of us are more suited than others to enter into the equine mind, and those who are most naturally talented at this will have the most effective rapport with horses; and, vice versa, some horses are more adept than others in entering into the human mind, and such horses have the most effective rapport with human beings.

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The utility of a horse to its human handler is directly proportional to the individual’s ability to appreciate and understand the horse on its own terms, in which case the relationship is more one of cooperation than of “use” in the narrow sense, and this is the essence of domestication: we are as much an agent of the species we domesticate and bring within the structure of our civilization, as we are the representatives of our own interests narrowly construed. “Ownness” here is the ownness of the civilization we have in common. And however far we project that common civilization into the future, it will continue to be a common civilization, jointly the product of the several terrestrial species that constitute it, and the co-evolutionary development of these species (and their successor species) will continue to constitute that civilization that we have in common.

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Grand Strategy Annex

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