Old Jodee loved foals. As her years advanced and her brood mare years ended, she took on the role of nanny, teacher, and comforter of the foals. When Dolly, the chestnut Percheron, had her baby, she proved to be an indifferent mother. She was young, and not ready to give up her days of being fancy free. Like a lot of first-time mothers, she did not have a firm grasp of the responsibilities of motherhood. She was available to Jewel, her filly, for meals, but she looked forward to her own play times. Jodee stepped in. The aging Quarter Horse nuzzled and encouraged the big filly. She remained by Jewel, comforting her, guiding her, disciplining her, making sure the youngster understood the nuances of growing up as a horse. She taught Jewel the rudiments of horse culture. Jodee had a role to fulfill, and like most of us her emotional well being depended on being needed. As I watched I, too, was learning along with Jewel. At the time I did not realize I was seeing one of the facets of horse culture, but the sight of the old Quarter Horse helping the young filly to grow and develop became one of the many scenes I tucked in my memory to become part of a larger picture.
Horses have culture. That culture is sophisticated and intricate, demonstrating a range of positive qualities that make it worth studying and considering. Humans have a great deal to learn from the equine species. As a species, we members of Homo sapiens tend to think of ourselves as being at the pinnacle of cultural development of all the big brain creatures on earth. Our many cultures are complicated and convoluted, with rules within rules that vary with cultures within cultures, including a multitude of sub-cultures. Horses have a more permanent culture. That is probably because, unlike human culture, their culture works for individuals in all geographic locations. We have to ask ourselves why we constantly struggle to find peace within our culture, whereas horses tend to be examples of contentment.
Although horses may provide humans with emotional therapy, it is the rare horse who requires similar help. Certainly it does happen, but almost always as a result of human intervention and blatant interference in the equine world. We do not understand this alien culture, and we can damage or destroy what keeps horses healthy. Within their own cultural structure, equines provide each other with enviable social support.
Culture has a variety of different components. Certainly within a culture attitudes and behaviors are similar. Communication is important. Values must be passed on from one generation to another, and part of those shared values is a notion of time. There must be a sense of roles, and even a concept of possessions. Arts and science must be part of a culture. Spirituality is important.
Horse culture contains each of the elements that make up the various parts of a culture. Jodee demonstrated many of the values of her culture. She is not alone.