• March 7, 2014

A Storyteller Born With a Love of Horses

Sarah Joseph

In his recent article, “People of the Horse,” writer David Quammen asks Toni Minthorn, a member of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation and lifelong equestrienne, where she got her riding skills.

Her answer?

“I was born with ‘em.”

Not so for me. From the age of 5 when I began taking horseback riding lessons until I was at least 11 or 12 (after I’d had my own pony for a couple of years), I fell off nearly every time I rode. Clearly, I was not a natural horsewoman.

What I was born with, or at least goes back as long as I can remember, is a true love of horses. Not just riding them, but simply being in their presence. It was this love that kept me getting back in the saddle within minutes of each fall, despite the bruises to both my body and my pride, and eventually led me to earn a degree in equine behavior.

Clayson Benally, a member of the Navajo Nation, is photographed with his horse Chico. A horse trainer, native environmental activist, and member of the Navajo band Black Fire, Benally has ridden horses since he was born.
Clayson Benally, a member of the Navajo Nation, is photographed with his horse Chico. A horse trainer, native environmental activist, and member of the Navajo band Black Fire, Benally has ridden horses since he was born.
Photograph by Erika Larsen

When I moved to Washington, D.C., in 2008 with the dream of becoming a natural history filmmaker, I found myself not only living in a city for the first time, but without a horse of my own—something I hadn’t experienced for nearly two decades. My hard-won riding skills, due in large part to all those falls, are only occasionally put to use when I can escape the city for a trail ride. So when I was given the opportunity to work on a story about horses for the magazine, I jumped at the chance.

Of course this is a story about more than just horses; it’s about the unique bond between people and horses—a bond that, in my experience, is different than any other. Photographer Erika Larsen was able to capture beautiful video of many of the scenes she was photographing while on assignment; it was my task to take these moments and craft them into one cohesive piece. Though there is no linear narrative in the footage, we found the perfect “glue” in the voice of Jade Broncho.

Jade effortlessly puts into words what I believe is the essence of our fascination with horses: they are innocent yet wise, strong yet gentle, stubborn yet endlessly patient. It is the duality of horses that sets them apart and draws us in. Though I don’t currently get to spend much time around them, working with Erika’s footage and Jade’s words helped me reconnect with horses and all they taught me on my path to working for National Geographic, where I now have the opportunity to share incredible stories like this one with the world.

See more of Erika Larsen’s photographs from the March 2014 National Geographic magazine story “People of the Horse.”

There are 29 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. Raven Kohn
    March 16, 2016

    SOUL OF A HORSE—The Soul of a Horse and the Soul of a Man are almost identical, they are each made from Stardust, once you are intimate with a horse with one horse , exchanging breath blowing each on the other, you will be connected to all horses. In the eye of a Horse you can see many things, the beginning of the World and the red glow of its ending, and all this the horse knows and more as well, How many of our Warriors felt the anguish of their ponies falling in the sand, its nostrils blood red, staining the Earth, So many died this way, and massacred by white mans greed, Did they die with regret you ask?? No they died with Valor and Nobility of Heart, and with acceptance of what is and was and what will ever be, Today these same ponies walk with the riders, blowing their sacred breath into the cold of a winters day, snorting and prancing, talking in horse talk to their brothers. Telling them stories of where the grass still grows belly deep and how they run still in high chaparral, and drink long and deep from cold rivers., and what it is to be free , running in the wind. Today I send a prayer, to where the Sun goes down, the place of horse and its beginning, Be with us now . and forever,—- Raven

  2. palaminovero
    December 12, 2015

    horses ~ a true friend ~

  3. Carmen Molina
    April 1, 2014

    Thank you for photo is beautiful. The horses are my passion.

  4. Joy Skyles
    March 22, 2014

    All I can say,”WOW”, beautiful combination: PHOTOGRAPHY and AUTHOR. Very touching and lovely photos. Thanks for sharing.

  5. rocky chaudhry
    March 20, 2014

    very nice .I have some great ones .

  6. tikku
    March 18, 2014

    I never owned a horse,but I had opportunities to ride big as well as small horses. They are beautiful and with so innocent and beautiful eyes. The big horses, I rode during my training in Military Academy when one day, before I could mount and was on my belly over horse’s back as instructed by our instructor, suddenly started galloping. It took me around entire route around Academy before it returned to where other cadets were waiting with their horses. After that day, I never dared to ride a big horse and was happy with small pony types.–But I love them but leave them with a pat only.

  7. Dorothy Thompson
    March 17, 2014

    I’ve never had an opportunity to ride a horse, but marvel in their agility and beauty which draws the human spirit. Thanks you for this, and I agree with everyone, it was too short.

  8. John Burtner
    March 17, 2014

    I shared this story on horses with my 11th grade AP English class as a follow-up to the historical story in our text of Chief Joseph. I used it as an example of how we as a nation and the Native Americans as a people are trying to move forward with a different view on World Citizenship. I am also a rider and lover of horses. What prompts my interest in Native Americans is my adopted daughter’s Native American heritage and my own experience as a child growing up in Africa.

  9. Hendrik Cuaca
    March 16, 2014

    You are the best thing !!

  10. Ruth Rogers
    March 16, 2014

    Thank you for the story. Beautiful!

  11. Daniel E. Wrght
    March 16, 2014

    America must have been a very remarkable land, for all the Indian Nations who were here, long before (us) the so called white people, arrived here. And changed, everything. I just wanted some of the Indians, who dislike some white folks, I understand your feelings, and want you to understand, some of us white folks, are ashamed of how our ancestors, treated your ancestors. Also A Great job done on the video! Thank You for Making it,—–Just make the next one longer. Thank You! Dan W.

  12. Carissa
    March 16, 2014

    This was beautiful, I’d love to see more about the Native American culture

  13. David Matyczynski
    March 16, 2014

    It was too short…I would have liked to have seen more. Could you include more of the Indian Culture and lifestyles… it is truly interesting seeing a piece of Americana that this American like many has little knowledge. Thank you I enjoyed it.

  14. Anna
    March 16, 2014

    Horses are among the most beautiful animals ever created and seem to be tame enough to approach and have close contact with. I wish I wasn’t so afraid of them. I don’t know why I am. 🙁

  15. ward
    March 16, 2014

    Thank you for the images and video. I related to this story as a horse owner. And please share more about the Native American culture.

  16. Christine
    March 16, 2014

    Can we have more photos of the Indian tribes and their culture? Loved it…

    March 16, 2014

    Excellent Photography and an interesting story.

  18. tikku
    March 16, 2014

    Amazingly beautiful story

  19. sherif
    March 16, 2014

    lovely photography

    March 16, 2014

    Living with life

  21. HorseRider
    March 14, 2014

    Horses in Air

  22. Ines Riegler
    March 10, 2014

    Thank you for sharing this with us!

  23. maria cristina irurita
    March 8, 2014

    photo, writing about horses, great work…

  24. Donna Melsness
    March 7, 2014

    Two of my Passions. Photography and Horses❤️

  25. Jil Browne
    March 7, 2014

    Without a moments hesitation I can honestly say that the happiest I’ve ever been was always on the back,or in the presence of, a horse. They always filled me beyond the brim with joy.

  26. Babs Baker
    March 7, 2014

    Beautiful photography along with the writing. .. was a great read for us all.

  27. Jenny Trucano
    March 7, 2014

    Sarah, this is beautiful– both the video and the writing.

  28. susan welchman
    March 7, 2014

    I work with Sarah but didn’t know of her love for horses so this post informed a friend as well as strangers – very helpful to know what professional colleagues do in their personal lives which expands their expertise beyond what they were hired for.

  29. Cynthia Nemeth
    March 7, 2014

    Lovely photography Erika Larsen. You have a gift for capturing the human spirit and the landscapes on film.

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