Monday, February 28, 2011

Are the Best Leaders Horse People?

(George Washington, Prayer at Valley Forge, although, the horse he rode most during the Revolution was his sorrel horse, Nelson.)

I was going through the checkout the other day and saw the 100th Anniversary Commemorative magazine for Ronald Reagan. While I was waiting, I thumbed through it, and what I was amazed at were all the wonderful pictures of him with horses.

It made me ask the question--are the best leaders horse people? I'm not talking about the ones who hop on a horse for a photo-op or buy a ranch to be more Reaganesque. I'm talking about real, true, dyed-in-the-wool horse lovers who have learned life's lessons through horsemanship. And I'm not talking about policies, which we may or may not agree with--I'm thinking about leadership qualities: the ability to inspire and change people.

And then, I thought of the leaders who weren't or aren't horse people, and how they could have benefited from a life with horses. Richard Nixon? Maybe he'd have been more honest. Gerald Ford? Maybe he'd be more real and approachable. Jimmy Carter? Maybe he'd be tougher. President Obama? Rather than being just a good orator--good with words--maybe he'd be able to speak deeper, stronger and more true. Sarah Palin? Maybe she'd talk less and listen more.

There was a time when everyone needed horses and every leader was depicted on horseback--almost mythically. But then, there were those politicians who loved horses just for the horse's sake: Ronald Reagan, Winston Churchill, George Washington, Andrew Jackson, Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt and others.

Here are some pictures of great leaders and their horses. If you know of others, please let us know in the comments. And, I'm not positive the politicians above are not horse people in some way, but from what I've seen, they don't appear to be. If I'm wrong, correct me.

In my searches, Ronald Reagan and Theodore Roosevelt were the easiest ones to find pictures with horses. In fact, there were so many pictures of them, I only included a very small sample. These were, truly, humans who would rather be horseback. We do know, however, many others of our first founders were also avid horsemen, but with the lack of photography, we are left to the few paintings.

George Washington: Washington's favorite horse during the Revolution was his sorrel horse, Nelson.

"Washington had been passionately fond of horses from early boyhood, and owned his first horse at 17. His mother, Mary Ball Washington, was a skilled horsewoman who taught young George how to train horses using only the gentlest of methods, and to never resort to any cruelty. Washington learned that harsh training methods were counter-productive, because horses treated with respect are eager to please their riders." from James Hodges, click here to read more about the horsemanship of George Washington--I'm pretty sure you horse lovers will be fascinated with what it says there.

Abraham Lincoln: "I care not for a man’s religion, whose dog and cat are not better for it."

Lincoln owned several horses: Tom, Belle, Old Buck, and a reddish-brown horse named Robin (who was called "Old Bob"). Lincoln rode Old Bob when on the circuit as a lawyer.

"Don't Change horses in midstream"--from his quote: "An old Dutch farmer, who remarked to a companion once that it was not best to swap horses when crossing streams."

Theodore Roosevelt--leader of the Rough Riders. When, during his time in the White House, they asked him to switch to automobiles, he refused saying, "The Roosevelts are horse people."

You may enjoy this walk through the White House Horse History.

A letter to Theodore Roosevelt from RB Cunninghame Graham in 1917: "God forbid that I should go to any Heaven in which there are no horses." I've often thought the same thing.

A book I want to read:

Winston Churchill: "No hour of life is lost that is spent in the saddle."

Franklin Pierce--14th President of US: "If all the beasts were gone, men would die from a great loneliness of spirit, for whatever happens to the beasts also happens to the man. All things are connected. Whatever befalls the Earth befalls the sons of the Earth". Chief Seattle of the Suquamish Tribe, letter to President Franklin Pierce. What his actual relationship was with horses and animals in general, I don't know. This photograph is more of the mythological type--where the horse is depicted as almost surreal, fantastical--and lends to the appearance of Pierce being more of a war hero.

Ronald Reagan: "I've often said there's nothing better for the inside of a man than the outside of a horse."

Every conservative wants to be Ronald Reagan. Guess what? They're not. He was one-of-a-kind and there will never be another.


  1. Well, though she was not really a leader (unless you believe that behind every good man is a good woman, haha) - but I thought of Jacqueline Kennedy. She was truly a horsewoman - my mom has this book, The Private Passion of Jacqueline Kennedy, and I love looking at it when I'm at her house.

  2. That's a great example!!! I can't believe I forgot her.

  3. What a fantastic post! Thank you. I am also a Washington, Lincoln, T.Roosevelt fan. When I think of famous leader/horse pairs, I also think about Lee and Traveler.

  4. ...oh and the Reagan pictures are beautiful!

  5. Jackie Kennedy was a great horsewoman and I admired her. I liked this post very much. Past presidents who cared for their horses seemed to be caring people in general.

    I'll try not to be snarky here but if Sarah Palin ever saw a horse herd she'd probably hunt and shoot them from a helicopter. Obama, he's doing absolutely nothing to protect the mustangs from extinction and by sheer ignorance and absence of action has condoned the actions of the BLM in their illegal roundups and slaughter. Surprisingly enough, even though Nixon wasn't a horse person and I can't say I voted for or liked him at all, he was the one who passed the law protecting the mustangs. Lot of good it's doing now though. As I said I hope this wasn't too snarky but I'm afraid it might sound like it.

  6. Thank you, Allison. The Gallup poll of favorite presidents taken on President's day this year had Reagan at #1, Lincoln at #2, and Washington at #5.

    I've been thinking about it, and personally, I don't think all horse people make good leaders, but of the "leaders" out there, the ones who have that overall confidence, drive and vision, I think their love for horses may round that out and make them more approachable and likeable. Just my opinion.

  7. GHM--Very funny. It's hard to talk about politicians and not be just a little bit snarky. ;)

  8. I mentioned the Gallup Poll, but forgot to list 3 and 4--Clinton and Kennedy. So, if we can assume Jackie was a major influence on the likability and electability of JFK--we have four of five of the top five likeable presidents as horse people.

  9. You may be on to something here, Linda. Lives are all the richer for having a deep understanding and love of a horse, or any number of animals, in it. It shows when you stand these leaders alongside those without the horse connection in their lives.

  10. I hadn't thought of this, but I'm inclined to agree. A true horseman/woman tends to rise to the top as a leader, now that I think of people just in my own life.

  11. Joanne--I was surprised at how these great politicians of the past admitted to their respect and love of animals.

    GunDiva--I think we're drawn to great horse people--the movie, Buck, which won the audience choice is kind of a testament to that, I think.

    BTW, I need to post about it, but apparently, Buck is going to available to any theater that wants it in May--but we need to write our local theaters and tell them we want it so they'll bring it in.

  12. Though Lincoln may have been a horse person, when his wife was asked if he had any hobbies, she replied, "Cats."

    I think all animals make us better people.

  13. Loved this post. What people learn from horsemanship is so valuable. It makes them better people. I occasionally have to take some flack from others for owning horses. A lot of people think that if you own horses, you are rich and spoiled. I had one guy ask me how I can own horses while my brother suffers on welfare. My brother chose the life he has and I'm not going to bail him out of it. I'd rather spend my money on an activity that is loaded with life lessons than to give it to someone who will just buy himself more poison to make his life worse.

  14. Judi--you're right about the cats--those were his favorite animals, from what I've read. His quote about a man's religion is in reference to dogs and cats, too.

    NuzMuz--I know what you mean. I haven't had anyone actually say that to us, but there have been implications. Other people can have cars, boats, motorcycles, and those types of hobbies, and no one says anything, but for some reason horses have a whole 'nother implication. We skimp on cars--we don't drive any of the big names--we buy used ones and keep them--our life centers around horses and our other animals.

    I do think, too, there is an extra element we get from working with horses because they're so different from us in their "prey" mentality and so powerful...what that quality is, I'm not entirely sure, but that's what I'm thinking about a lot and where this line of thought came from.

  15. Great post. It makes sense to me that leadership skills would be necessary to be a good horseman, as well as qualities like compassion and understanding. I think all of those qualities and more are attributes of the horse people mention in this post.

    Speaking of Jackie Kennedy, I clearly remember seeing pictures of JFK riding with her. I remember he looked quite comfortable on horseback ane of course very handsome in his beige jods and white shirt. He was not some politician posing for a picture, he was clearly at home on that horse.

  16. Mikael--Interesting. I looked for information about JFK and horses, but didn't find any....I was wondering if he was. Thanks for that little tidbit!

  17. Reagan and TR, my 2 favorite presidents! Must be something to it... and that photo of Reagan and the Queen is one of my absolute all time favorites. The Queen is quite a horsewoman in her own right too.

  18. President Taft. He was a great rider and had a mare he most loved who was called Surette. He was a big man but Surette was a powerfully-built horse to match.


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