Songs that lend a voice to the equestrian world in a way only music can.
On this throwback Thursday, with the holidays approaching, my mind is drifting to thoughts of gratitude, great food, home, and this fine playlist from last year. Sugar, You Are Where I Belong touches on all these points while weaving a tale about a lifetime of horseback riding. Enjoy it again at the perfect time of year!
If there is one criticism of horseback riding as a sport that I know to be true, it is this: You can’t always take it with you when you go. Horses are not like running shoes that can be packed in a bag and moved from adventure to adventure at a moments notice. Nor is the whole world our riding arena as it may be another’s running track. So whenever a rider is faced with a great life decision there is always the concern of what effect it will have on his or her riding career. Should you leave your horse behind for college in the city? Do you take the position overseas that will advance your skill set but leave you no time to ride? And so on. The choice is gut-wrenching, and for many of us the riding habit of your youth is lost, at least temporarily, as we pursue other endeavors. But, thankfully, most of us find our way back to the sport when the time is right again. “Sugar, You Are Where I Belong” chronicles this journey in song.
Get the full playlist on Spotify here: Sugar, You Are Where I Belong
1. ESCAPE by Olin And The Moon from the Album Footsteps
This opening track from Olin And The Moon grapples with the question of whether one should stay at home or escape a small town situation, and one individual in particular. This is not an uncommon equestrian problem. Horses crave the quiet open spaces that come with rural living, but humans, even us horse lovers, often desire the hustle and bustle of the big city. Do you say yes to one and leave the other behind? As an Angeleno, I can tell you first hand it is an incredible, though worthwhile, challenge to find a place in between.
When I listen to this track, I imagine the party on the receiving end to be a horse. So much of the lyrics make sense in this context, most notably “If I made this great escape would you know what it’s for?” How do you explain to a horse why you have to leave? I have yet to find a way. Perhaps Olin And The Moon are able to nail this emotion because they know a bit about it. Three of the founding members made their own great escape from rural Idaho to Los Angeles before becoming the successful five-piece ensemble they are today.
2. WE COME RUNNING by Youngblood Hawke from the album Wake Up
Youngblood Hawke is all about the imagery of finding your way in the world. The band’s name is taken from a book by Herman Wouk about the trials and tribulations of Kentucky mountain boy who moves to New York to make his way as an artist. “We Come Running” similarly deals with someone “headed for the open door.” This song comes second to accentuate the fact that sometimes leaving everyone and everything behind, horse included, can be invigorating and absolutely necessary. You can feel the enthusiasm for the journey as the chorus swells, “Soon you’re gonna hear the sound, the sound, the sound when we come running!” We equestrians must sometimes allow ourselves these adventures into the great unknown even if they are bittersweet.
Fun fact about this band: Last spring they played during Big ‘Cap Day, featuring the $750,000 Santa Anita Handicap, at Santa Anita Race Track. I can just imagine this song blasting through the speakers as horses tear up the track. It is so fitting!
3. WHERE YOU COME IN by Shout Out Louds from the album Optica
While the last track captures the excitement of leaving, “Where You Come In” is a hard dose of reality. Swedish indie pop band, Shout Out Louds, often deal with the motif of traveling to destinations new and old in their music. Here, the protagonist is leaving, but the mood is heavy. “I make plans to leave for the city – to stay up all night, for the sun to greet me. But that’s where you come in, where the feeling sets in…Sometimes you give, sometimes you take a little too much. Sometimes not enough.” And so it is with horses. No matter how great promise of the journey ahead, or the weight of the responsibility of a horse is, it is always difficult for an equestrian to leave riding behind. So we push and pull, and through the struggle move ahead. That is the reality.
4. COME ON HOME by honeyhoney from the album First Rodeo
“Come On Home” is from the album First Rodeo – a title that is significant to this playlist in and of itself. Thoughts of adventure are naturally paired with thoughts of firsts, and what better first to reference for an equestrian playlist than a rodeo! So this song is already on the right track. It wins the fourth slot on this playlist because it is also a reminder that when we leave, we inevitably leave things behind. Whether it be a lover or the love of a horse, we are missed, and it is impossible to ignore the tugging on the heart strings to come home.
5. DOWN IN THE VALLEY by The Head And The Heart from the album The Head And The Heart
This self-titled album from The Head And The Heart could really be dropped into this playlist as a whole at this point, and I cannot urge you enough to give it a full listen. The overarching theme of the work is, in the bands’ own words “leaving home, finding home, and through that process of deconstruction, finding yourself. These are songs about crossing rivers and roads to get to the one you love, about family far away, and the desire to chase Technicolor dreams down foreign horizons.” Even the band’s name plays into this refrain: “So many decisions in life and in the music we love can come down to a critical tug between the logic in our heads and the hot red blood beating through our hearts.” The track “Down In The Valley” from the album fits perfectly here as a response to honeyhoney’s “Come On Home.” It at once beautifully begs forgiveness for having to go and promises a return – everything you always want to say to a loved one that misses you.
6. SIMPLE AS THIS by Jake Bugg from the album Jake Bugg
As with the opening track, I can imagine the words of this song addressing a horse directly. In fact, if horses could understand perfect English, than I think this song may answer the question “How do you explain to a horse why you have to leave – or at least why you left?” As Jake Bugg sings, “I’ve been in search of stones, making up the pavement of less-travelled roads. Mining for treasure deep in my bones that I never find…Oh and the answer well how could I miss something as simple as this.” And what is the simple answer? “I’ve been falling, crashing, breaking. All the while you stood here waiting for me girl.” In other words, perhaps it is that, as this playlist is titled, Sugar (or Misty, or Jack, or Silver…), you are where I belong.
It would be amiss of me not to also mention that this song was written by a lad from Nottingham, who is just now nineteen years old. What incredible insight from someone still so young.
7. BACK DOWN SOUTH by Kings Of Leon from the album Come Around Sundown
Now, if you aren’t too choked up, let’s get homeward (or horse-ward) bound and raise a little hell about it with this track from Kings Of Leon. When these boys, hailing from Nashville, Tennessee, declare that they are “going back down south now,” it’s clearly a cry about returning to their roots. But when interviewed about this track, percussionist Nathan Followill explained that the song was not only about going back to their geographical roots but also the roots of their musical style. So for me this song is essentially about asking yourself “ All I wanna know is how far you wanna go fighting for survival,” and deciding to go back to where you truly belong – in this case on the back of horse of course!
8. GOSPEL by The Chevin from the album Borderland
So we’ve all now rioted and cheered that were going back to the horses – fantastic! But how are you going to do that? “Gospel” from the English band, The Chevin, is all about options for finding that way back to where you belong. They wax poetic of “mountains on the sun where the ancient horses run all trying to find where they went wrong so they can see how far they’ve come.” Perhaps you could do that too – OR take some of their more practical advice from the chorus. Go home to your horse if you can and want to. Better yet just get back to a world where you belong wherever you may find it.
9. SUGAR by Paper Route from the album The Peace Of Wild Things
And so we arrive at the playlist title track, and I hope you get the point of this song by now. My challenge to you is to listen to this song, imagine you are singing it to your beloved creature upon your return and not get choked up. Impossible. Even the album title plays into the significance of this one. It is taken from a Wendall Berry poem of the same name (read it here), in which the poet writes of finding peace from the fear and doubt of every day life by communing with more natural species. Ask any rider, and they will surely tell that horseback riding is the best therapy around so get back to it all ready!
10. SOON, MY FRIEND by M83 from the album Hurry Up We’re Dreaming
This final track is a soaring soundscape from French electronic music band M83, which repeats the simple lyric “I’ll be yours someday.” To all the beloved horses out there, we humbly hope so.