Heart Horses


“He’s my Heart Horse,” she says by way of introduction. A hush falls over the room. Or maybe that’s just her expectation; that all within earshot will understand that this particular horse is different, a cut above the standard elite perfection of a horse, and hearing a horse introduced as such, that we will share that owner’s same reverence.

I’m not sure when the term Heart Horse came into our vernacular, but I understand the intention. It’s the designation we give to a special horse in our lives. No, even more special than other horses, even with the understanding that, sure, all horses are special. But no, really, this horse is especially special among the special. He is special-est.

To be clear, everyone tells me that their horse is special. He’s incredibly smart. He has a way of connecting that is so different. He is so sensitive. No, they assure me, so very much deeper, sweeter, smarter… We mention Heat Horse as if it’s a breed. There is a bliss in playing favorites with horses. It’s reverence, maybe to the point of obsession. In our world, that’s a common feeling.

And a good part of the time, the Heart Horse mentioned is already dead. There, I said it. Once they’ve passed, and moved on to legend status, this horse who was spooky when he was younger with a tendency to throw his head and chew wood, acquires a halo. I love that we love them so hard.

Lately, to my perverse delight, I’ve been meeting people who hate the term, Heart Horse, too. They say the term with a sarcastic tone and a tilt of the head.

I understand that side of it. Sometimes if I’m tired and someone is telling me, as if I’m a rock, that their horse is special, I mutter something under my breath. “They all are.” For some of us, loving horses isn’t selective, our passion isn’t individualized.

Some of us believe in soulmates, too, and that’s fine. I’m relieved I don’t because I’d hate to think there’s just one special love in this world of wild change and tragic loss. I have to believe in second chances. Or as many chances as it takes.

Besides, soulmates and Heart Horses are kind of depressing if you aren’t the first one to die. Does some part of us have to die with them, like cultures who bury live wives with their dead husbands? Must we bury our love for horses with our Heart Horse? Must we lessen other horses to maintain their special memory?

Sometimes people refer to a certain horse of mine as my Heart Horse. It’s not a term I use, but it feels strangely intimate to hear his name in another’s mouth. His name wasn’t unusual at all, but it takes my breath for a moment; the common becomes sacred. Did I think I alone owned that name?

And then I flip to the other side and it leaves me unsettled and defensive for my other horses. For all the horses in rescue and the horses I haven’t met yet. Unsettled for a mare I would call my Heart Horse, though I knew her only the last few days of her life. Unsettled for Heart Horses that I trained briefly on their journey. Heart Horses every bit as important to me as horses I owned for thirty years.

Why do I care about this silly term? Because to many of us give up on horses because the new horse doesn’t live up to the lost legend. Change is ridiculously hard. A new horse partnership doesn’t start off where the last one ended, so we’re confronted with all that we lost each ride. Even changing lesson horses can be an overwhelming challenge for a beginning rider.

Why does our memory of another horse matter to a new horse so much? For the exact reason your Heart Horse was special. That thing you think is magical about your Heart Horse is wonderful, but to horses, awareness is pretty ordinary. They use their senses so much better than we do; they are keen in the moment, and that prey animal awareness is so foreign to us, that it seem feel they can read our minds.

Truth. A new horse can read the messages we don’t mean to send just as loudly as what we claim we love. A new horse reads his own “wrongness” in our mourning. The reason to get over our loss is that it’s a burden a new horse has no way to bear. Your anxiety impacts him. They mirror us in a perfect way, our good bits and the bad. He can’t carry both you and your loss without taking it a little hard.

No, it isn’t your intention, but it must be a little like dating a man who’s always searching the room for someone prettier, younger, better. Looking elsewhere for a perfection he doesn’t find in you.

I honor your loss. I know what it means to say goodbye to perfection.

And sometimes I think the next one we have after our Heart Horse might be the horse who has most to offer us because of how hard it is for us to forgive a Heart Horse for dying. Or a new horse for being alive.

Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Speaker, Equine Pro
Currently planning upcoming Concept Clinics. 2018 is filling quickly; please contact me here if you would like to host a clinic or attend one. Check out our entire clinic schedule here. 

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Anna Blake

83 thoughts on “Heart Horses”

  1. “They mirror us in a perfect way, our good bits and the bad. He can’t carry both you and your loss without taking it a little hard.” I am so relieved someone said this out-loud.

  2. I get this, I really do… I don’t know if it’s just the way I am wired, but all my horses seem to be okay with how I love so deeply and my Buddhist self knowing that some of them have found me again! We are all connected. We are all each others’ soulmates if we look at the expanding love we create. I do see volunteers here gravitate toward one particular horse (or mule) and often call them their “heart horse”. The others know that that one needed someone to say this because very likely, no one ever did before. I like what you say here – it takes a developed maturity to not see each other (equine or human) as existing for our own fulfillment. You are SO right how horses carry much more than just our physical bodies.

    • Beautiful comment. I also smiled when I read that you know some of your beloved horses have found you again in another. They are all special, but just like finding a mate, once in a while the attraction is so great that one suspects something else is at work. Love is mysterious and irrational and it applies to all creatures, human and not human.

  3. The timing of this blog was perfect for me to read today. A couple of days ago I started crying about my “heart horse” who passed 7 years ago. She was only 10 when she died, so I was in shock and devastated because we had just started having that perfect connection of timing, trust, fun…all those things that go into the magical relationship of a “heart horse.” But what I realized is that what I was crying about was the future dreams I had for us that were lost, swept away in one horrible moment. However, I have learned that all of my horses fill my heart in their own individual way and just like any relationship, it takes time to develop new dreams, new futures with each one. So I quickly brushed away my tears, looked at my 2 amazing horses I have now, and was able to get excited and be super grateful that they too can be my “heart horses” because my heart is big enough for all of them.

  4. You get ’em perfect, then they go and die on you.
    Some are born perfect, others only become perfect years after they have died (…or however long it takes to forget the imperfections).
    Not just horses, dogs too.

  5. I have thoughts about this (and how it pertains to me and my herd)…they’re kinda rolling around my head right now.
    It may take me a bit to articulate them, and it may get long.
    Okay it *will* get long, so I think it’ll become a blog post for me in the next day or two…
    But in the mean time, thank you for the thought provoking post. <3

  6. In Luke’s gospel account, he records the story of the angel visiting Mary to tell her she would give birth to Jesus. The angle greets Mary with the salutation, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”

    I’ve always sort of liked that, “Greetings favored one! The Lord is with you.”

    Mary was favored. Why was she favored? Because the Lord was with her.

    Were there other people favored of the Lord? Sure there were! Mary was not the only one favored of the Lord. But Mary was the only one favored in the unique way in which she was favored. Mary was to give birth to Christ.

    I think “Favored One” has a nice ring to it. It says that person is special…extra special. Why are they special? Because the relationship is special. It doesn’t preclude the possibility that others may also be special. But each Favored One is uniquely special in their own way.

    I’ve not been one to get sentimental over animals. I can enjoy a horse without feeling like I need to have a strong emotional connection with him. The whole “Heart Horse” thing has always seemed a little silly to me.

    Then along came Knockout. This 4-yo AQHA colt needed somebody to spend time with him helping him learn to not be so frightened. I was unqualified…but the trainer I sent him to did more damage than good. So, I started reading and watching videos to learn all I could about training horses and helping a nervous horse relax.

    Now, 2 years later, I consider Knockout to be a pretty solid young horse. He is very responsive. Generally pretty relaxed. We’ve established a relationship based on mutual trust and mutual respect. We’re still growing in that relationship and we are both still learning.

    Knockout is not a finished out riding horse and I am far from an accomplished horseman. But we have both come a long ways together, and we have both learned a lot.

    We own ten horses. Each is special in their own way. I wouldn’t dare call one a favorite.

    But I sometimes greet Knockout with the salutation, “Greetings favored one!” 🙂

  7. The whole “heart horse” thing reminds me of The Velveteen Rabbit. It really is the relationship (and the energy we put into it) that makes them so special to us. Thank you for another thought provoking, wise message. So happy I found you!

  8. Is it possible that when someone uses the term ‘heart horse’ it says less about the particular horse and more about the person? When I hear the term, it tells me the person using it has been profoundly transformed by her relationship with a horse. It could have been any horse— they are all special — but for this person, this horse made the difference. It doesn’t take anything away from any other horse, any more than loving a particular person takes anything away from the intrinsic value and worth of other people. And it doesn’t preclude the possibility that other horses will also have their own unique effect on us in their own unique ways. But let’s be honest, we connect in different ways with different beings and every now and again, if we are lucky, a connection happens that touches our hearts in a way that changes us. For those of us who have had this experience with a horse, we cherish the gift, and the memory. It doesn’t mean we can’t love another horse. It just means that one particular, ordinary, imperfect, special-to-no-one-else creature became, through some alchemy of love, our heart horse.

  9. I don’t know if I would call my first horse, “Heart Horse”, but he was the perfect horse for me as a beginning rider. He taught me what I needed to know in order to move forward after the devastation of his premature death. He was a catalyst for me to gather my courage, and open my passion to each and every “perfect” horse who has come to me since. I think of him now after this wonderful read, and feel my passion rising once again as I await the arrival of two new rescues next month. I see the herd as I see my family, I love each member for their “perfect” uniqueness.

  10. All I could think while reading this was Amen, Sister. I needed to read your words and thoughts on this phenomenon a good 6 months ago:
    “Truth. A new horse can read the messages we don’t mean to send just as loudly as what we claim we love. A new horse reads his own “wrongness” in our mourning. The reason to get over our loss is that it’s a burden a new horse has no way to bear. Your anxiety impacts him. They mirror us in a perfect way, our good bits and the bad. He can’t carry both you and your loss without taking it a little hard.”
    My “heart” horse, the one that had replaced my previous “heart” horse isn’t dead, she is just broken and now a beautiful pasture pet. There, in the pasture, standing next to the new horse, reminding me every day of my loss. I mourned hard and replaced too soon. The new horse is amazing in her own right but resented the role I inadvertently assigned, the burden of my expectations. This led to a downward spiral into horse divorce. Luckily for me, the trainer I sent her too, to sell, didn’t push. She got to know my horse and quietly gave me incite. I mourned and thought and learned and grew in self awareness. This lovely mare and I are now in couples counseling and doing well. I am so excited for our future. A different future, a different journey but one that I am sure I will treasure in my heart.
    Thank you for the validation of this journey, luckily I did not hand this horses future into other hands.

  11. My one true heart horse only lasts as long as I catch sight of my other true heart horse and then only until I make eye contact with either # 3 or 4 true heart horse. And this doesn’t count my other heart horses who have passed on so as to make room for the present ones. I’m so fickle I can’t decide?

  12. “Once they’ve passed, and moved on to legend status, this horse who was spooky when he was younger with a tendency to throw his head and chew wood, acquires a halo.” Of course they do. Because while they were alive we struggled, searched, questioned, pondered and grasped at any routine, method, program or sport that might possibly help them blossom into the heart horse (or dog) we thought they COULD be. Having failed at that, designating them our “heart” animal after they’ve passed helps us deal with the grief, frustration, sadness, anger, guilt and feelings of failure that otherwise might overwhelm us long after they’ve gone. So yes, he was a fighting, miserable, rat-bastard of a critter the entire eleven years we had him, but I’ll be damned if he isn’t my heart dog now. As I always like to say, better late than never! 😉

  13. I remember very clearly the truth of your observation! I brought to the new horse, who fit all my criteria but with whom I was too intellectual to fall in love without time equity, the expectations of my time with the beloved horse I retired. I knew it was unfair to grieve in Taye’s midst the confidence from Sami and I knowing our faults. It was reflexive. I could only keep showing up to get acquainted with my new horse who very soon became my newer yet no less precious love.

  14. hard to write this … your message was like a personal note to me this morning … we are facing the moment of letting my dear friend of 37 of his 39 years go. His name is Pal. (Not my heart horse, my first born) Thank you for bringing me to tears, I haven’t been able to shed. And also thanks to all of the folks who have posted comments that are equally comforting.

  15. good thoughts to put into words, Anna…They are all so unique and fill my heart in amazing different ways as do the burros, dogs and cats

  16. Thank you for this. I will probably be putting my old boy down before the next winter arrives. Better for him, harder for me. In my angst over my pending loss of my “son” I have thought, several hundreds of times. Of not getting another horse. The whole. “How will another horse live up to him” thing.

    But then I remember my mares.My Ida, and my Misty. Who came before my Rhett. They too were my “heart horses” They too got me through some tough times. And I lost them as well. Although not in the same way I will be losing him.

    I have been thinking of getting another horse now, before my boy is gone from this life. To give me time to bond with the new horse, before the grieving time I know is coming. I am looking at the pens at Cranbury. And Moores. I am wondering if my friend will let me buy his current racer when he ages out the end of this season. Or if another friend meant it, when she offered me her brood mare when the latest foal is weaned. Or, despite everything I have read recently. I should just “buy” from the “kill pen auction” From the “rescue”

    Should I wait. Should I wait for that feeling that I got years ago when I bought my boy, not even meeting him. Via a phone call to his previous trainer/owner. Take that chance(again) on a horse several states away. It worked out for me this last time. Despite the arthritis catching up with him faster than it did me. We have been partners. Best friends. Am I already setting myself, and my next “maybe” horse up for defeat?

    • If you managed to be partners before, you’re capable again. I always think my horses take me as I am, flawed with good intention, and I give them the same acceptance. Best wishes for this summer.

  17. Anna – I’ve been a fan of your writing since day one, but this post may be the best yet. And I always thought they were called “heart horses” (honestly the phrase does make me feel a bit squidgy) because they helped us to open our hearts. So any horse can qualify! 🙂

  18. You are so right Sara Barnes, my old guy, gone now since ’09 was out of my dad’s horse. The day he was born my dad gave him to me. He was the first foal born in my backyard, the first I raised and trained from day one. He wasn’t perfect but he thought I was, that I could protect him from anything at all. My dad was with me for all his training, he was the only other person ever to ride that horse other than me. In ’04 my dad died so when my old guy coliced badly that day of a blizzard and I had to let him go it was like losing the last tangible connection to my dad. I love and have loved all my horses but that old guy – yeah, he was special.

    • Sherry, sharing horses with parents, I can’t imagine that sweetness. Your dad must be proud of you. Thanks for sharing both of them with us

  19. When I release his halter, I murmer against my Big Red’s goatbeard fringed jaw, “You are the best of all horses, now, then and forever.” As he lopes off to rejoin his posse, I breathe into my silver mare’s big, comma shaped nostril, “You are the best of all horses, now, then, and forever.” She breathes back a moment or two, then returns to her grazing. Two grand horses! What a blessing.

  20. I think I was fortunate to have Rudd teach me about horses when I was young. He insisted that it is us that have to open our hearts to each horse, not them to us. They may well come to love us in their own equine way (the same has proven true with each of my dogs). I have never owned a horse of my own, but there were a couple that “gave” themselves to me for a time. In the corral with Rudd, telling us to stand quietly and let a horse chose us, it was Copper who came up to me and stayed close. He refused to ever let anyone “catch” a horse, they had to decide on their own if they were willing to be around you. Day after day, Copper came to me. Ten years later I worked at a riding stable with the “nags” as the owner called them. Horses for rent to anyone who showed up, able to ride or not, pay their money and get on a horse for an hour ride accompanied by one of us “trail guides”. PeeWee did the same thing Copper did, day after day coming to me while I stood quietly in the corral with the thirty other horses milling around. It bothered most every one else at that stable because no one could “catch” PeeWee. I wanted to buy her, could’ve moneywise, but had no place I could afford to board. Were they “Heart Horses”? I don’t think so. I’ve come to believe that a soulmate is another living being who comes into your life, even briefly, who loves you, or teaches you, or simply interacts with you. I believe that applies to anyone, from those in front of me to those who write blogs or comment on them.

  21. Oh Anna, thank you for writing this. Somehow, AGAIN, this is what I have been “percolating” and your words have helped me see something I need to take action on. 🙂

  22. I am SO VERY glad you brought this up. I prefer the state of ” heart horsing” better than cementing “my heart horse” in my life as some permanent feature of my past or future. And I suppose I would define “heart horsing” as a process of loving the moment
    with our steed as we are in it- like they do with us. This feels more respectful of their very fine natures…every last one of them and every gosh darn horse: )

  23. Thank you for this. Just lost my dear gelding, technically my first horse, and have been a little dismayed at how little I have to give the other horses in my barn right now.

    I trained other people’s horses for a lot of my youth, and finally gave it up because of the chunk of my heart each horse took. It would have been fine if the people in their lives learned as much as the horses. Alas, we humans aren’t that bright.

    I am finally able to get small moments of joy in the barn again so I know time will heal, or at least fill in more scar tissue. Thank goodness the horses are so forgiving and haven’t judged me for my lapse.

  24. Pingback: The Thing About Heart Horses… | Midnight Calico Farm
  25. Tears in my eyes… I believe we can have more than one “Heart Horse” … There was Lady Faye, when I was a teenager… she could have killed me… but didn’t. Then there is Sierra, who worked with me for several years and helped to teach me I really DIDN’T need that death grip on the reins. She gets to be our pasture decoration now and I’m thankful I can still tell her “Thank you”. Then there was Ebony, who stepped up when Sierra had to retire. Ebony challenged me to be a better leader, and how to ask in several different ways until I found the right way to ask. She is the regal one, and I always appreciated her quiet patience. She an Sierra, smile in their horse way when the see me with the halter for Maverick… Maverick is much more forgiving than my mares, but because of his physical challenges, he needs me to be my best and most balanced. You see they all are special and I love them all for different reasons… none more than others, just different. They all have helped me on my path to have a ride that we both enjoy! I keep trying!

  26. To me, a horse becomes a “heart horse” when they choose me as their person. There can be more than one, but it’s on me to earn it. I have to live up to their expectations- not the other way around.

  27. Reading this I reflected on all the animals that have been in my life – no horses – cats and dogs. Not just any kind of cat or dog. They have all touched my heart in such deep, magnificent ways. How can I name one that touched me. They all did. They made me laugh until I cried. They cuddled and snuggled and loved me unconditionally. Animals are such huge gifts to humans – they soften our hearts and teach us how to act and how to love. And for each and everyone of them I am grateful. Thanks for the Love! Thanks for the memories!

  28. Aww! Funny, we were just talking about that 🙂

    It’s so true (for me) that the greatness of my Heart Horse is magnified with each year after her passing. She has now reached a mythical, untouchable, un(re)attainable status.

    My current horse is such a different soul – he suffers for my expectations. He and I had an interesting conversation just today. We’ll see if we can make our way toward one another.

    Thanks for this – Ali the farrier

  29. So well stated, Anna. I am also involved in competitive dog agility and have heard so many references also to “heart dog”. I had often wondered how much your new dog picks up on that reference when a person explains over and over of the loss of their heart dog. I wince each time I hear it or see it. I feel each and every animal, be it dog, horse, or cat, is your heart animal if you just give them a chance. Thank you for all your insight.

    • I agree, Lynn. I think it sounds very different to them than it does to us. Thanks for commenting from the wag world.

  30. Hmmm, I think I’m on my fourth “heart horse” right now because so many of them have touched me in special ways. Bogie, for teaching me to ride again (and taking care of me) after taking so many years off . . . Kroni for the special bond that we had and the adventures we shared . . . Freedom who has graciously accepted me as his human and let me experience the thrill of riding a horse with a huge engine . . . and Zelda, who I didn’t want to keep because I didn’t want a mare or a draft x, because her personality is bigger than her draft x sized body, and she always makes me smile.

  31. Never heard the term “heart horse”. But I have a list of the best I’ve been on, whether I owned them, was given them, worked them, or borrowed one for a day. I’ve been lucky, the horse god looks after his own, and sent me some fine horses and mentors. The sad thing is that we outlive our horses, so must manage with the next ones that come along, and make of them what we know is possible.


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