Songs that lend a voice to the equestrian world in a way only music can.
I begin with an admission. I’ve never been an outsider to the horse world. Weekly trips to the barn began for me at age five, by middle school I was a horse owner and I never looked back. But occasionally a song, a film or a news story places my community into the spotlight, and I get a glimpse of how outsiders see us. Sometimes the commentary is positive, but more often I find myself on the defensive. Last year the stereotyping got a little out of hand – from “Gangnam Style” to Rafalca, the hits just kept on coming. And the funny thing is, in all my years of riding I’ve never met two horseback riders exactly alike in personality, political perspectives or economic status. But if the horse community really must be lumped in one big pot, then I propose that the following ten songs shed light on some distinctions we all can live with.
Get the full playlist on Spotify here: Living In A New Age, Kicking Up The Dust
1. BURNING UP THE SKY by The Parson Red Head from the album Yearling (Deluxe Version)
I was inspired to put this song first on this mix for its declaratory opening lines: “We are living – living in a new age, kicking up the dust.” I like that an idiom like kicking up the dust, which so clearly relates to a time gone by, can be used to champion living in a new age. That’s the way I think about horseback riders. We may come from classic principles, but there is nothing to say that we can’t appreciate something funny or innovative. We may surprise you – like the wonderful folks who took the ribbing of Stephen Colbert in stride last summer by donning giant red foaming fingers and cracking open a bottle of Budweiser at the Olympic Dressage Finals. Now ‘that’s “classic!’ I just got lucky that “Burning Up The Sky” also happens to be the first track from an album entitled “Yearling,” lending support to my analogy!
2. DUST BOWL DANCE by Mumford & Sons from the album Sigh No More
It seems obvious to me that Mumford & Sons lead singer Marcus Mumford wishes he was a horseback rider. From the cover of the Deluxe Edition of “Sign No More” to the image of galloping horses that opens their shows, this band is steeped in equestrian imagery. So it was no surprise to yours truly when it turns out I was right. In his Book Club Blog, Mr. Mumford expresses a love for the Cormac McCarthy’s classic “All The Pretty Horses,” and admits that the day after finishing the novel he rushed to the bookstore to buy the Eyewitness Guide to Horseback Riding. (I just hope the poor guy can afford a real riding lesson by now. I hear the sport can be pricey!)
“Dust Bowl Dance,” in particular follows in the footsteps of Mumford & Sons’ literary idols like McCarthy and John Steinbeck, setting out a uniquely western storyline. I personally love this song because it reminds us that for many horseback riding is more than a privileged activity, it’s a way of life. It’s rough and tumble world (literally) filled with characters that are a bit weathered. Ask any rider and they’ll quickly remind you of the times they’ve been kicked around (literally) and had their face shoved in the dirt (literally). So “collect your courage and collect your horse and pray…” you no longer have to feel remorseful when you tell people you ride horses thanks to Marcus Mumford.
3. RIGHT SIDE OF THE ROAD by The Lonely Wild from the EP Dead End
Famed film composer Ennio Marricone will forever have the edge on anyone trying to make music about outlaws in the old west. Just a few notes of the main title to Sergio Leone’s “The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly,” and it’s impossible to imagine yourself anywhere else. But the sound of The Lonely Wild picks up right where Marricone left off – with a promising addition. Like Mumford & Sons, The Lonely Wild present the western way of life as something more complicated then the Ten Cowboy Commandments from “Gene Autry’s Melody Ranch.” Look them up!
In “Right Side Of The Road,” Andrew Carroll and Jennifer Talesfore sing: “You’re just an animal trying to steal our home. Can you help me? I’m just an animal trying to rest my bones. It’s all a game when you’re born on the right side of the road!” And I’m okay with this. If equestrians are ever to get out from under the multiple stereotypes then we better to be the first to set them straight! Thank you to “Right Side Of The Road” for casting off the conventions of the all American Cowboy.
4. MOUNTAIN SOUND by Of Monsters And Men from the album My Head Is An Animal
You’ve probably heard this song before but did you ever think about what Mountain Sound says about horseback riders? I gravitate to the second verse for meaning: “Some had scars and some had scratches. It made me wonder about their past. And as I looked around, I began to notice that we were nothing like the rest.” I take the “we” to be universal and directly applicable to equestrians. We – the scarred, the scratched, those that hold our horses to until we can run into woods at night toward the mountain sound – are nothing like the rest. We are certainly not predictable or stereotypical. Embrace it!
5. EQUESTRIAN by U.S. Royalty from the album Mirrors
Who could resist putting a song titled “Equestrian” on the inaugural playlist about equestrians? But if you dig a little deeper into this track you discover that there’s a lot more than just the title that makes this tune a contender to be a great horseback rider song. U.S. Royalty vaguely describes this song as a Washington Irving-inspired tune, and I’m desperate to find reference to the Headless Horseman in there! What’s more is that this band survived on a steady diet of McCarthy and spaghetti westerns when writing the album – Is anyone else sensing a trend here?
What U.S. Royalty does differently from many of the earlier tracks is alter the image of the equestrian from the cowboy to the free-spirit. Imagine ditching your dusty saddled Quarter Horse for a bareback mustang and a moonlit ride in the mountains. Now you are getting the vibe of “Equestrian” – and a hopefully a whole new outlook on the horseback rider!
6. PALOMINO by Mates of State from the album Mountaintops
For me, “Palomino” is essentially the same song as “Equestrian,” but now your rider is no longer a rugged mountain man but rather a 15-year-old girl finding freedom on the back of her horse. And that’s great too! When done correctly, riding is the greatest sport for young women. As my mom used to say, “It sure beats hanging out at the mall and going on dates with boys!” As it happens Jason Hammel and Kori Garden, who write and perform as Mates of State, are also a happily married couple and the proud parents of two fair-haired daughters. This song seems to be sending a message to those girls about gaining a bit of perspective on life. “You know you’re not in hell, Palomino!” Funny thing – I find a real Palomino can do that for a girl too!
7. ANIMAL by Miike Snow from the album Miike Snow
Miike Snow is not a man but an elusive indie pop trio symbolized by the image of a jackalope. There is certainly no evidence that these gentlemen think of themselves as ambassadors of the horseback riding world in any way. But their hit track “Animal” strikes a chord with this equestrian. The message is simple but appropriate. “Am I free or am I tied up? I change shapes just to hide in this place, but I’m still an animal.” The facade of the horse world is filled with stereotypes that at times we all feel obliged to go along with. Whether it’s at a rodeo or an A show, there’s an expected attire and corresponding point of view. In those circumstances you are tied up. Maybe you change shapes to blend in – but really you’re still an animal!
I know I for one would love to have the freedom to be like more my horse at these events. I once attempted to take my Thoroughbred team penning as a break from the regular work schedule. I think this is a perfectly fine past time, but MacKenzie did NOT agree. Did he attempt to hide his feelings, make himself amenable to the social norms of the day? Oh hell no! He took one look at those calves exploding out of the pen and took off for home with me along for the ride. Now that is the kind of flare that is missing when we homogenize – and really, a unique set of earrings or a bold saddle pad just isn’t going to cut it anymore!
8. TOUCH THE CLOUDS (TASTE THE GROUND) by Good Old War from the album Come Back As Rain
One of the things I love the most about the horse community is the way we love to share “I’ve been there stories.” You know them. Sometimes they are encouraging: “It took me six months to get my four-year-old to pick up the left lead, but now it’s easy. You’ll get there with your horse too!” Sometimes its pure commiseration: “Yeah, I broke my arm in three places when my horse launched me into the wall. It was terrible, but as soon as they were able to put on the hard cast I was back on top! You’ll be riding again sooner than you think.” Listening to this Good Old War’s song makes me think of those conversations, and feel fortunate to be part of a community that isn’t afraid to share what it’s like to be “so high, I touched the clouds” or “so low, I could taste the ground.” Of course, for purposes of this playlist, it’s also apropos that in the horse world both of these expressions are pretty much literal!
9. DIRECTION OF THE WIND by Ryan Bingham & The Dead Horses from the album Junky Star
Now that we are nearing the end of this list, it’s time for a second admission. I love, Love, LOVE Ryan Bingham! From tip of his cowboy hat to the toes of his Converse, Bingham is a shoo-in for any counter culture equestrian playlist. In fact, he and his paint horse Pancho could be the poster child for the movement. Raised as a rancher and rodeo rider, he has been labeled by many in the media as a real life character from a Steinbeck or McCarthy novel. His music treads the line between Johnny Cash’s rebel country and Bob Dylan’s progressive folk music – two genres often thought of as different as cowboy hats and Converse, but he makes it work. And, thanks to his incredibly good looks, he has been coined (by my friend) to be the hipster’s Justin Bieber!
But this track in particular makes the cut by virtue of more than just the force that is Ryan Bingham. This song is a cry for change. “People all around are startin’ to begin to understand that here and now is what we’re livin’ in. Yesterday is gone so that a new day can begin!” We sure hope so. And, really, if a man wearing a cowboy hat can sing about alternative energy, then what equestrian stereotypes can’t be overcome!
10. THIS IS THE WAY WE MOVE by Langhorne Slim & The Law from the album The Way We Move
“All my friends got crooked tales, that’s the way I like it. That’s the company I keep,” croons self-described punk-folk singer Langhorne Slim in this final track, and the lyric sums things up for me. As equestrians, we have our fair share of eccentricities or “crooked tales,” but that is the way we like it. We don’t particularly like being confined to preconceived notions of who and what we should or are expected to be. We are ready for a new day to begin. “You didn’t know it – now you do – this happens to be the way we move!”
What songs uniquely define being equestrian life for you? Let us know in the comments below this post or start your own topic on our Facebook.