“The White Horse”

“The White Horse”
A youth walks up to the white horse, to put its halter on
and the horse looks at him in silence.
They are so silent, they are in another world.
The mystical power of the horse cannot be easily put into words, although many
have tried. Like D.H. Lawrence attempts with his poem, “The White Horse”, others have
tried to understand and communicate the unspeakable within the horse - its ability to
connect the earthly to the divine - yet with similarly metaphysical results. Greek
mythology tells stories of the Centaur, a liminal creature, part-man and part-horse, often
depicted as a teacher of man for its unique ability to see both the earthly and the divine.
The Koran speaks of the horse as a gateway towards a discovery of divine, whose “saddle
shall be the seat of prayers” and that “shalt fly without wings and conquer without any
sword”. The Old Testament bestows upon the horse a similarly divine quality associated
with stories of royalty and often used as a messenger for the word of God, yet unlike its
Eastern counterpart, also represents the horse as a war-like creature capable of causing
famine and misfortune. Many of the Native American nations too saw the horse as a
utility of war, but found within it an agrarian quality necessary to survival and passage
into the spiritual realm as well. The horse has thus become a valued archetype for
understanding the world, the self and the divine, and as Lawrence suggests in his poem it
has also been used a vehicle with which one might discover a shared past rooted within
the primordial instincts of nature. The image of the horse has thus become part of the
grand meta-narrative, and for many a way to connect one’s self to the world, to position
one’s morals, and to frame experience.
However, like Lawrence’s poem, or the Koran, or the Old Testament, language
alone, at least without the use of a meta-narrative or other literary devices, cannot
adequately communicate just any philosophical claim of’ being’ or “proposition” of
nature as the image of the horse suggests; “language”, as Eisner argues, “in any of its
forms is not the same as the experience those forms are intended to represent” (51). If it
could, then these stories wouldn’t have survived, or have needed to. Experience would
simply be known, and there would be no need for metaphor, archetype, poetry, and story.
Lawrence himself had lamented that possibility during the time in which he wrote,
showing great concern for the dehumanizing effects of modernism, choosing poetry in
particular as the form with which nature and its wildness could be communicated, the
divine reached, and humanity revived. Poetry, more than any other form, might capture
this, and like the stories of the past can use metaphor, archetype, and allegory in a way
that transcends the limits of propositional language, “evokes what cannot be articulated”,
and “say[s] what words can never say”. Yet, the challenge of the writer, poet, or artist is
doing so in a manner familiar and accessible enough to the reader to likewise draw an
experience from it (Eisner 1997). No wonder, then, when speaking of the horse and of
its mystical power Lawrence chose the form of poetry – it was as close as he could get to
re-creating the inner life of the horse and its power for us.
Therefore, in order to complete the "transactive" process demanded of a thoughtful
‘critic’, this paper will likewise use the art of poetry and some of its more familiar
metaphorical conventions and genres to address the difficult task of meaningfully
communicating the spiritual dimensions of the horse, its healing powers based on the
notion of ‘care’, and its divine nature as observed and experienced within the very real
setting of the Colorado Horse Park in Parker, CO (Eisner 1998). Furthermore, in
addition to these thematic intentions, the conceptual framework used will address the
pedagogical promise of this ‘place’, the Colorado Horse Park, as the horse itself is the
essence of experience there and thus the essence of the place itself. In particular, the
poems will employ a different genre of poetry so that each effectively demonstrates
within both their form and content David Gruenewald’s five “dimensions of place” in
place-based, or as he more aptly calls it “place-conscious”, education: 1.) the perceptual,
2.) the sociological, 3.) the ideological, 4.) the political, and 5.) the ecological.
Similar to Lawrence’s use of his writing to combat the dehumanizing effects of
modernism, Gruenewald analyzes the possibilities of using these five dimensions of place
within schooling to curb the stifling efforts of institutionalized accountability, standards,
and high-stakes testing that have mechanized the ideal of education. He argues that
“place” can, within schooling in particular, “enlist teachers and students in the firsthand
experiences of local life” and help one to create of “political understanding and shaping
[of] what happens there” (620). As he suggests, it can also inspire a level of
consciousness – of ‘being’ - and like poetry and narrative has done for those willing to
listen, reveal “grand complexities that plague the world” (620). This is not unlike the
mythical power of the horse, or the pedagogical and spiritual promise of a place like the
Colorado Horse Park…together they can teach, that is if you allow yourself the
youthfulness, the silence, and the poetic utility to hear it.
The Perceptual Dimension– Practice in Connoisseurship and the Connoisseurship of
Finding his stall I greet the beast with care,
My eyes meet his unsure of my intent.
A breath into his nose and stroke of the hair,
Any doubt in me he will soon repent.
The halter fits snug on his long white nose,
A guide, a groom, my purpose again shown.
Brush with the grain, a clear rhythm and flow,
Head to tail I brush, a routine much known.
The hooves must be picked to clear the dirt,
Rocks lodged in his feet would surely hurt.
Begin with the front left and go around,
Again our routine, done without a sound.
His tail and mane I then must now maintain,
Again, front to back staying with the grain.
The saddle is next, yet this thing for me,
With it I might feel his intensity.
The people who keep their horses, work at, and ride at one of the many barns that
make up the Colorado Horse Park engross themselves with routine, yet nothing about it
can be thought of as mundane or monotonous. Maintaining a horse – a wild beast –
requires time, energy, and knowledge of these animals. One must learn about the horse’s
anatomy, its individual temperament, its idiosyncrasies and nuances, to adequately care
for the many physical demands of this animal. In the environment of a “show barn” like
the Colorado Horse Park, these animals are treated as elite athletes, requiring an
individualized diet, receiving advanced medical attention, and even requiring the services
of a full-time masseuse so that they may perform at their best. Their schedule is carefully
kept by full-time, live-in ranch hands, and the many “trainers” there must know when
each animal might be in the best “mood” so that their clients – the riders and owners of
the horses – will be both safe and successful when practicing their many crafts. Everyone
here must be a “connoisseur” of the horse, an expert in the field with which they enjoy a
special niche (Eisner 1998). They can “hear and see more” in these animals, intuitively
connecting themselves to these animals, yet like anything else artful that requires a keen
sense of one’s surroundings, one that must ultimately transcend simple categorization of
these animals as ‘things’ and move into the realm of the perceptive.
As the above poem seeks to show within both its form and its content, the
maintenance and physical caring of the horse requires both – that is if one wishes to truly
experience, to know, and to become a connoisseur in the art of horsemanship, he or she
must also be willing to ‘get dirty’, to endure routine and become a caretaker in its
simplest form. The traditional iambic pentameter seeks to show the value in the
conventional even in reaching a metaphysical end; it’s tradition and history as a
recognizable poetic form, as well as its rhythmic series of stressed and unstressed
syllables, portrays the routine, yet also rhythmic, nature of a horse’s physical
maintenance. However, the images, the diction, and the allegorical elements of the poem
likewise lend to a spiritually rich connection that might be discovered through such
routine. The complexity of this relationship – between the “the body and the natural
world” and thus between “human identity” and the “cultural formation” of the barn
environment – embodies what the perceptual dimension of place could provide
(Gruenewald, 623).
Rather than a passive response, the maintenance of a horse requires conscious
intent, “active interplay”, and a “participatory relationship with other phenomena through
the multisensory perception of direct experience” (624). The above poem also seeks to
show this through the imagery in particular; that to understand, that is to experience, the
“phenomena” known as the horse then one must physically touch and care for it, and
reciprocally as the last stanza implies. Especially within the setting of the Colorado
Horse Park, the interplay between the person and the animal, and thus the “body and
forms”, exemplifies the theory of place that is ecologically reflexive. In essence, one
must care for the horse in order to care for this place, and if one wishes to understand the
power of both, then he or she “must learn to listen” to the needs of the horse and create
meaning out of the otherwise routine nature of the place (624). However, so that one
might achieve this transcendence of experience through this place (in which I will now
affectionately refer to as “the barn”), one must also abandon the anthropocentrically
masculine interpretations of experience rooted within the meta-narrative of patriarchy,
and embrace the more complex feminine ideal based on emotion and the senses.
The Sociological Dimension – A Feminist Approach to Understanding the Barn
A horse is a horse of course - if a male,
The Mares not so as they somehow know.
When a storm is coming their actions show.
Listen to them, their wits will lead the way,
Intuition, Superstition will say,
What you need, how to succeed, if you may.
As the proverb goes, “You tell a Gelding”,
A “Stallion will discuss”, an easy breed,
Yet a Mare, do not dare, but ask this steed
Although the above poem uses iambic pentameter in the form of a traditional
triplet, the multisyllabic rhyme scheme uniquely distinguishes it from the first. Unlike
the heroic couplet usually identified by its masculine rhyme scheme, (a one syllable
rhyme primarily at the end of each line), this approach embraces a more feminine ideal;
unlike its simplistic counterpart, the feminine rhyme scheme often indicates a more
complex, if not talented poet. Even today, rappers and hip-hop artists who can rhyme in
such a way are considered to be the most talented in the industry. Essentially, the logic is
that the more the rhyme, the more difficult the art, and thus the deeper the meaning on
both an aesthetic and a thematic level. At the Barn, this complexity in reciprocity
between the horseman (or in most cases, horsewoman) and the horse itself epitomizes the
feminine ideal needed to truly understand, appreciate, and become a connoisseur of the
horse. It requires deep reflection and as Roman and Apple indicate, “an understanding of
the dual nature of the very roots of a feminist materialist concept of subjectivity
embodied in the idea of the subject itself” (Eisner and Peshkin, 65). In the environment
of the Barn, the horse is not at all “subject” to any kind of “ruler”, human or otherwise;
their animalistic intuition is too strongly attached to the place itself. Likewise, then,
when someone from the outside enters it, then they in effect become a “subject” of this,
and thus the horse. However, this does not happen within a setting based upon
“inequality” or “differential power relations”, but rather one that encourages “caring,
connectedness, and intimacy”, in which the Barn certainly evokes through its feminine
ideal (65).
Within the setting of the barn, the feminine rules, yet again not so much out of
domination and exploitation, but rather with the notion of ‘care’. In her work, Nel
Noddings also recognizes the value in such, also establishing her amongst the more
postmodern Feminists within the Second-Wave movement. The female horse, or mare, it
is believed by the connoisseurs of the Barn (the trainers, riders, and ranch hands alike),
also intuitively exhibits similar strength through care. Like the poem indicates, the myth
and archetype of the horse extends itself into a discussion of gender; the male geldings
are known for being predominately passive, usually showing little emotion and, as one
trainer put it, they “don’t really care that much…that is after they’re castrated”. The
stallion, although male, has not been castrated, and as a result is known for their
fierceness, and thus must be bargained with. The mare, on the other hand, requires even
more attention than the stallion, and certainly more than a gelding given their feminine
complexity. They are often described as “bitchy”, yet are also known to be stubbornly
loyal and loving, that is once a person has truly “connected” with one. They have a keen
awareness and an intuition that can “sense” a storm coming long before it arrives. They
can easily sense emotion in a rider, and will often react reciprocally, bringing some truth
to the old Spanish saying, “Fear runs down the reins”. In fact, in the growing popularity
of equine-assisted psychotherapy, the mare often plays the role of ‘therapist’, sensing the
unconscious behavior of its ‘clients’. Practitioners in the field argue that the horse
“offers something which is uniquely healing to the human condition”, and are used to
teach people skills in non-verbal communication, assertiveness, creative thinking,
problem-solving, and leadership (Pointon, 3). However, in order for it to work, the
human must be willing to accept the ambiguous, to “operate pedagogically beneath a
conscious level”, and understand that their experience is “inseparable” from the places,
and especially the “unique” ones, like the Barn, where relationships of power are redefined by its inhabitants and the space they occupy.
The Ideological and Political Dimensions – How One Finds Appreciation in Space
Ode to the Barn
O, do my eyes burn,
Manure, hay, and a sprinkling of alfalfa.
On everything I own.
Yet this is what I miss,
When I return home.
I don’t shower for days
My senses in a haze
My allergies ablaze.
And then there’s the mud,
Or should I say crud?
Again, on everything I own.
Yet, like the rest and despite the distress,
I lament and love its presence,
Unless I have it head to toe,
After having been thrown.
This place, this space,
Kept free by our community,
Allows me to love and to hate,
To grieve and to reprieve
It’s features and fallacies alike.
In his dimensions of schooling, Eisner recognizes the structural organization and
use of time and space as integral to the understanding of a learning environment. They
can, on an operational level, bring a renewed understanding and criticism to the
intentions of people and the environment they are sociologically responsible for creating.
Likewise, place-conscious education values the arrangement of a space, yet with a
particular emphasis on the geographical or physical nature of the space as it pertains to
the political aims of those who create it. For Gruenewald, for example, “spatial
relationships shape culture, identity, and social relationships”, and can be considered as
“expressive of [prevailing] ideologies and relationships of power” (628). At the Barn,
the ideology of the place relies on the notion of ‘care’. Likewise, it is the action of
connoisseurship on the part of the human within that relationship that allows him or her
to appreciate (for good or bad) the horse, and thus this place.
In its more classical form, the form and purpose of the ode embodies Greek
dualism, providing three parts – a strophe, anti-strophe, and the epode – with which a
dialectical transformation of some sort might take place. In more modern forms of the
ode, a similar exchange happens, often exposing the reciprocal relationship between the
good and the bad. This, the aesthetic purpose of the “Ode to the Barn”, is to provide a
more postmodern appreciation for this place, using more of a Hegelian rather than
Marxist conceptualization of the space within it. Although many place-based/placeconscious educators and critical geographers would focus on the more hegemonic
functions of the Barn in an effort to expose political relationships of power in a Marxist
fashion, the ecological nature of the barn reflects within it not an internal and poltical
hegemony but rather a spiritual homogeny. However, in order to extend value to Marx’s
historical materialist ideology, the geographical relationship of this place in comparison
to the wider community outside of it should be further considered, and with which a
deeper appreciation for it might be discovered.
The Ecological Dimension – How this Space was Saved.
Years ago the plains ruled here.
Except for the barn.
Spending every summer day there.
As I grew older,
It all changed so I left it.
To find other things.
The winter came and went past.
So did twenty years.
In spring I will return there.
Now, Cookie-Cutter houses.
Today there is no view.
The plains have been lost.
The Barn, though, has survived it.
Once called High Prairie,
Now Colorado Horse Park.
Non-profit, 501-2,
Charitable foundation.
Belongs to us now.
This poetry, in the form of Japanese Haiku, both laments and celebrates the
history of the Barn, yet does so within an ecological – if not ecofeminist - framework.
Given the tradition of Haiku and its elemental focus on nature, the seasons, and a cyclical
notion of life, it provides an appropriate form with which the historical circumstances of
the Barn might be recognized yet its spiritual dimension further emphasized.
Twenty-years ago, the 425 acres that is today known as the Colorado Horse
Park, used to stretch far beyond the limits of space into the plains of eastern Colorado.
With the exception of the show rings and grazing grounds where the animals could be
cared for, the surrounding open space was limitless in its use for cross-country or carriage
events. It likely had the feel of a truly natural space, with wide plains uniquely framed by
Pikes Peak towering on the horizon. Today, however, residential development has
enveloped the county of Parker, and therefore the country setting, threatening to
completely devastate the natural space that had once defined it. The ‘space’ that the Barn
had occupied for years had now been identified as a ‘commodity’ and a ‘natural resource’
that the Colorado economy could benefit from. However, when it seemed that this space,
and thus this place and all of the animals that occupied it, would become victim to the
ecological degradation that ‘progress’ had demanded, the community of the Barn took
action. They had to thus temporarily leave the comfort of the Barn and pursue an
external and political agenda, yet it was precisely their spiritual connection to this place
and the animals that embody it that had provided for them the political awareness and
spiritual incentive to save it. Over years and with the help of multitudes of caring people,
the ownership of the High Prairie Farms had been transferred to the local community,
“pav[ing] the way for further development of history and heritage of the horse in the
West” (Equiworld Horse Magazine Online, 2004). The care that they had exhibited, and
their “bioregional understanding of place”, shows the Barn’s commitment to the feminist
ideal based on empathy, commitment, and an intuitive sense of place. Therefore, it
wasn’t politics or an internal power struggle that defined this community’s action and
that now defines this space, but rather an attention to a more “spatialized” version of
critical theory with which the “relationships of oppression” had been re-imagined and reshaped” by this community (Gruenewald, 631).
Conclusion – How might the values of the Barn – of the Horse – be taught?
The pedagogical value of place has become a vibrant part of current educational
discourse, especially given a transformation of values in a Post-9/11 world where the
injustices of it are now visible for all to see. While advances in technology have allowed
us to live longer, to cure disease, and to instantly access a wealth of information and
knowledge, it has also caused a dehumanization and degradation of spirituality, intuition,
and the natural instincts that help us to survive, and moreover to enjoy life’s
uncertainties. D.H. Lawrence recognized this almost a century ago, and had tried to
educate others through his writing to pursue a revitalization of the inner spirit. Images of
animals, and the archetype of the horse in particular, became his metaphorical voice and
what he believed might literally lead to spiritual salvation.
So, like Gruenewald and other place-conscious educators would argue, and with
which this paper agrees, one should look for those special places where nature thrives to
experience first-hand the sociological, ideological, and political realties of the world, and
with which an ecological future might be re-discovered. Like the horse has done for
ages, the answer to both these political and spiritual dilemmas resides in the wild,
untamable, intuitive self, and it is the challenge for educators to recognize and
reconceptualize it so that the grand meta-narrative might live on.
Works Cited
Eisner, Elliot. The Enlightened Eye: Qualitative Inquiry and the Enhancement of
Educational Practice. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1998.
Eisner, Elliot. “The Promise and Perils of Alternative Forms of Data Representation”.
Educational Researcher, 1997. 26:6 (4-10).
Eisner, Elliot and Peshkin, Allan, ed. Qualitative Inquiry in Education: The Continuing
Debate. New York: Teachers College, Columbia University, 1990.
Equiworld Horse Magazine Online. “High Prairie Farms Equestrian Center Transferred
to the Colorado Horse Park” July 2004. 24 April 2007.
Gruenewald, David A. “Foundations of Place: A Multidisciplinary Framework for
Place-Conscious Education”. American Research Journal, 2003. 40:3 (619-654).
Pointon, Clare. “Horses for Courses”. Therapy Today, 2005. 16:7 (4-6).
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