"And ay until the day he died, he rode on good shank's mare". Scottish song, circa 1724.
Riding on shank's mare was once a common expression. As shank means shin bone, this useful but forgotten phrase simply refers to using your own two legs to get places. When you ride on shank's mare, you walk.
The health benefits of walking are well documented, with many studies suggesting that it protects against conditions like diabetes, dementia, anxiety, and heart disease. For those who crave the clout of lab science, walking's list of proven virtues gets a little more persuasive each year.
But there is another other aspect of walking that remains more obscure, being quite a bit harder to calculate and measure. This is the thinking that happens while walking. Somehow, when the shanks move, the brain is induced to open a little wider, reaching some of its highest levels of creativity and connectivity. Brains seem to be wired to operate best at leg speed, which is a little slower than a car and a lot faster than a chair.
In writing this article, I talked with some of the great walkers I know. These are people who took their first baby steps and kept right on going. At once unencumbered, they somehow never became disenchanted with this great newfound skill that could take them all around the world at a pace they understood.
For them, ambling is habitual and regular and just part of being alive. As much as possible they continue to go by shank's mare to the fishing hole, the church, the depth of the woods, and even all the way to the mountain top, moving steadily along the roads and crooked trails at their own human speed. When offered more speed or power, they find reasons to politely decline. It is almost impossible to seduce them with throttles and fuel tanks, stubborn as they are and already satisfied with their birthright.
I asked whether walking improves their thinking. Each was enthusiastic -- yes! -- as they confirmed that walking makes their minds work better in certain transcendent ways they can't seem to do without. When they walk, they are more creative. They stumble onto elusive solutions they weren't going to find as long as they were chair-bound and confined indoors. And the trivial clutter in their noggins leaks out a little each time their legs move. Most actually confessed these are the real reasons they will never stop walking, at least until the day they die.
For an old horse, shank's mare turned out to be a lot wiser than we thought she was.