The Old Souls

The draft horse gets its forename from Old English, from the Dutch and German languages. The guttural appellations meant “haul”, “draw” and “carry” – indicators of distant blood lines that partnered with the working man in long-forgotten fields and roads.

The muscles of the draft horse are broad and patient. They are built for slow and tedious jobs. They are not curving and shapely, like a Baroque violin. The bodies of the Frisians and Lipizzaners are coiled and sturdy, but their blood is a heady mixture of draft and Andalusian, Barbary or Destrier. Frisians were dark and made of muscular silk; the Lipizzaner dated to an 18th century studbook as exclusive as any gentleman’s club; Andalusians were compact vessels of barely contained fire; the Destrier quartered its ancestry with the crests of knights it carried into war or the jousting stage.

In the competitions at fairs I enjoy watching the draft horses pulling coaches in tandem with shine and power, pockets of dust raised around the steel crescents of their hooves. The earth shakes with the buried energy pounded by over 1500 pounds of domesticated flesh. They move with a substantial, physical grace. Bridles and harness shake in dainty, metallic tremors – the teams of workers detached from their plows to go on holiday.

Later, I’m able to visit these gentle laborers in their stables. I admire their serene nobility, and I tell them so. I brush my hand against the lavender velvet of their muzzles, and place it against their cheeks, carefully tracing the spiral tread of hair. Usually their mane and tails are unraveled, but sometimes they are still wound with ribbons and flowers. But no treatment affects their dignified calm, their dark, evocative eyes.

However, when they shake their heads with a rare bout of impatience, and I hear their feathered ankles rustle the straw like restless birds, I know that it’s time to move away. But I always wait, hoping for another visit.

Because they are old souls, evocative of a loving history. And it would be an honor to speak with them again.

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6 responses to “The Old Souls

  1. Lovely post. I grew up caring for horses, and the Drafts to me were the stuff of dreams. Not in this realm. While horses are famous for their grace, the “oversized” draft horses were like friendly monsters.

  2. Such magnificent creatures! There is a farm just down the road which raises Frisians. I have to watch myself when I drive by not to drive into the ditch whilst trying to watch these amazing animals.

  3. Mmmm, gorgeous animals – and a lovely post!

  4. I love seeing draft horses pulling carriages, though there have been a number of community efforts to ban them from city streets on the argument the horses are used cruelly, particularly in New York. I’m always of mixed feelings when I see the carriages in Central Park: part of me would love to take a ride even as my kids reprimand me for wanting to support an “inhumane business.”

    Show horses however seem like professional athletes, massaged and groomed for the field. They look like they’re having fun even as they take their work seriously.

  5. Such a beautiful post, and I love your description of them as “old souls”… Wonderful! I adore these guys. I’ve actually ridden one or two in shows – jumping! – and they were some of the most elegant, graceful guys I’ve ever had the honor of knowing.

  6. I live in a very rural place where I can see draft horses from my window. And can I say, after checking gratuitously, you nailed every last syllable perfectly! Keep up the good work.

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