My Horse Search and Ancient Greek History
What have they in common?
Well, for one, they’re both in the past…but, there’s more to it than just that!
As most of you know, or have inferred by now, I am a Pontian-Cretan Greek that has been on a quest to find my next horse to partner up with in the discipline of Working Equitation. The search has already spanned several months and has been a bit of an odyssey, emotional and peripatetic, at times fun and also stressful.
In the past few months, 100s of hours have been spent researching, cataloguing, and evaluating prospective horses. Several dozen horses have been seriously inquired about, ridden, discussed, analyzed, and, finally passed on. Trips have been made by car, by plane, and in my imagination. Hours upon hours have been spent on the phone with my friends, expert consultants (friends, too), and prospective sellers. New friends have been made in the process, and old friendships strengthened through all the sharing.
I have had people “ride for me” in Texas, Washington State, and Pennsylvania (three corners of our country), I have travelled to ride horses in Wyoming, Pennsylvania, Virginia, New Jersey, and Massachusetts, and I have several times refused to ride the horses once they are in front of me because I could see deep into their emotional and physical complexities and it was not a pretty picture.
I have cried many times upon returning home, touched by the deep connection I felt with every horse I rode. On one horse I had a huge break-
through, too…but that story, I’ll have to save for later…
Along the way there must have been 20 horses that I wanted to try, only to find that they had already been sold within hours of their ads being posted on the internet (that means, no vetting! And they weren’t even priced reasonably—that’s how hot the market has been for sellers!).
And, ten days ago, after another trial ride that didn’t pan out, a potential horse was plopped into my radar thanks to one of my consultants. After quick communication, prolonged agonizing and analysis, and a thorough vetting, I can tell you that I have purchased a horse, thus ending my search!
But, he is not home yet, so there is time to introduce him properly…. To do so, we must travel back in time…waaaay back...to Ancient Greece. (You'll see why...bear with me.)
More than 2600 years ago, Leonidas was a renowned warrior in Sparta, a city-state in what we now would know as Greece.
Leonidas rose to historical glory when he led a combined army of men from various city states to keep an invading Persian army of King Xerxes from completing its invasion and domination of the Greeks. The Persian army numbered in the hundreds of thousands, at least 10 times the number of men led by Leonidas.
(About 14 years ago, Hollywood made a bloody, CGI-enhanced movie “300”, titled for the supposed number of Greek warriors rounded up to fight; but the movie is better known in female circles as “300-pack,” because of the bulging abdominal muscles of the half-naked actors portraying Leonidas and his men.)
The two armies met at Thermopylae, a narrow crossing between large mountains with cliffs onto the sea on one side. This treacherous pass had already seen its fair share of carnage as every invading land-army had used it for centuries to dominate the land mass of what we now call Greece and have access to and control of the Mediterranean.
As the Greeks were greatly outnumbered, the would-be invader Xerxes asked Leonidas to surrender his arms.
Leonidas famously replied (AND THIS IS IMPORTANT):
“Molón lavé!!” “Come and take them!”
Xerxes correctly took this reply to mean “game on”.
The vastly outnumbered Greeks held off the Persians for seven days in one of history's most bloody and famous last stands. But those 7 days gave Athens the time it needed to prepare its naval defense and set a trap for the exhausted Persian army as it trudged on towards that great city. Because of this, the Greeks were victorious.
So, Leonidas’ stand wasn’t significant simply because of his exemplary bravery, selflessness, and leadership. His actions and death led to Greece’s subsequent victory. And Greece’s victory affected the ways of the world we inhabit today.
For, at that moment in time, Ancient Greece was on the verge of a heretofore unheard of upwards spike in intellectual and democratic enlightenment. Persia, on the other hand, continued entrenched in its old ways — a world of magi and god-kings, omnipotent emperors and political subjugation.
The Greeks were just beginning to test a limited concept of political inclusion, to innovate in art and literature and to develop new ways of thinking. And the inroads the Ancient Greeks made into all these areas, thanks to their defeat of the Persian Empire and the rise of Athens (which ushered in a golden age), are felt in almost every aspect of our world today. Democracy, for one, might never have been a viable concept had Persia at that moment not been defeated!
Fitting, then, that the horse that I would decide to make a member of my herd should already be named…
Yes, you heard that right: LEONIDAS!!!
It definitely was one of the reasons I decided to buy him.
Well, that and the way he whispered to my soul across the internet: “Molón lavé--Come and take me.”
Leonidas knows that I am not his enemy.
His words “Molón Lavé” hold no challenge, but a sincere invitation to “take him” HOME.
I have accepted it and promise to rise up to become his Amazonian Queen, his Hippolyta. (All the more fitting because the Amazon women lived on the borders of the Black Sea where my paternal ancestors, the Pontians had been living in a peaceful Greek enclave within the Persian, and later the Ottoman Empire, since 700 BC until the early 1900s.)
In other words, I hope Leonidas’ entry into my life will, like his Spartan predecessor, be a positive catalyst for change in my little (horse)world order.
I charge Leonidas with the challenge of joining up with me to be my noble equine companion with whom to go forth into the world of horsemanship, partnership, and adventure together. And that he may quickly come to honor and respect the seniority and calm leadership of Patxi, my Venerable Equine Statesman, the Horsey-Horse-King of my heart, and President of the Pasture.
And, God-willing, may we all three remain healthy and strong in heart, mind, and body to face any challenges, and (in my case) especially that of the unseen, deadly enemy of our time: COVID.
Leonidas, as pertains to my heart and your place in our herd? Come and get them! Molón Lavé!
(More on our future herd member to come…for now, enjoy this picture taken about 13 years ago of my hubby, our 4 kids--youngest is cropped out!--, my parents, and the giant statue of Spartan warrior Leonidas at Thermopylae, Greece; Leonidas’ famous words are inscribed below his statue.)