The Power of Being Deeply Together
In all my 30+ years working with domestic horses I had no idea that a herd and a group of horses were not the same thing. It never ceases to amaze me the way our cultural ways of seeing blind us.
For the first 12 years of Echo’s life, like the vast majority of domestic horses, she didn’t know a herd. Her first year was spent on what’s called a PMU farm – not really a farm at all, much like a factory farm isn’t much of a farm either. PMU (which stands for Pregnant Mares Urine) are farms that keep female horses pregnant and immobile, hooked up a device to harvest their urine for use in pharmaceutical products that supposedly help women with hormone issues. For a horse, and I suspect those working there, they are one of the worst versions of hell. When mares deliver, the babies are considered ‘trash’. Echo was lucky ... a woman aiming for a cheap way to develop show horses rescued 7 babies and transported them on a long trip to Ontario.
We met Echo at the stables she was brought to when she was 2 years old, already been ridden (and jumped!), but understandably not cooperating well.
For the next 9 years after joining our family she was resident in a few different show barns. Oh she had lots of good food, attention, a chiropractor, masseur, a big stall and other horses she could play with in organized paddocks – sort of like if you lived your life in a fancy hotel with a lot of time in your own room and people constantly coming and going.
Some of you might think, that’s not so bad … I wouldn’t mind being waited on and living in luxury. When the words connection, intimacy, belonging, together, shared meaning, love are conjured, I doubt an image of your private suite at the Hilton, or a boarding house with roving guests shows up.
When we arrived at Flying Moon Farm in 2015 there were 5 horses and a donkey. I had asked each one individually if they wanted to come, and to the best of my abilities, heard a ‘yes’. But I had no sense of the larger we that would come.
I think Echo did though. Somehow, someway, her memory of HERD, was alive in her. I remember hearing Linda Kohanov, author of Riding Between the Worlds and The Power of the Herd, speak about this once. In her view, most domestic horses have forgotten what HERD means … some remember.
Whether this is true or not is pretty hard to know. However, what I saw over time was a group of horses brought together, work to form another ‘being’ which I have come to call HERD.
I remember one winter night during our first winter together. It was snowy and cold and dark. I had just put out hay in small piles all over the field and the horses were enjoying the replenishment. It was a beautiful clear night and the stars were amazing. I plunked myself down in a bank of snow among the herd and sat quietly savouring the moment. As they ate, I became aware that they were moving a lot … two would eat together for a bit here and then one would walk and join another there, and then they would be joined by another, and so on and so on.
At one point Orion walked past me and I asked him, “What’s going on while you’re eating? Why are you moving so much?”
What came to me was, “We’re talking and connecting and creating our togetherness.”
Have you ever had a time when you’ve found a great question, what I call a Soup Question (check out the movie Finding Forrester with Sean Connery to know where that name comes from) and a response comes to you that is so good you then think, no way I could have made that up, I’m not that creative?!!!
That was the exact moment that the idea of herd first popped into my mind. Not the word, I’d heard it before (haha). The idea of what it might be.
You might have a sense of this experience of herd … think of your Mother for instance. Imagine her energy, how it feels and smells to be with her. Imagine her touch. Now take a deep breath and let that go. Imagine your family, all of them, your parents, any siblings, any aunts, uncles, cousins. Imagine the ones alive and dead all together. How does that feel? What’s the smell and touch of that group? No doubt there is a resonance that is different from the individuals. That’s your collective. You share memories and experiences, rituals and traditions, stories and lifetimes of forging something together.
That’s what I literally felt Echo leading the horses in weaving. It took time and of course it morphs and changes and grows – just as all families, close bonds and communities do.
In business we call this Culture. The unseen values, beliefs and ways of being that hold and build and nurture a company and its people. And we all know when we’re in a thriving, open, growing, loving culture. In my experience it’s natural for people to want to create a great culture. When it doesn’t happen, the conditions are holding them back, keeping them down.
There are a few things I’ve learned that help the horses form a strong herd or culture … choice (mutual among us all), purposefully creating conditions for Power With vs. Power Over (ie. lots of choices about where to eat, no force competition for nourishment), respect for healthy boundaries, and little daily love rituals (for me this includes picking up the manure – given the size of their field, this keeps it clean and respectful).
The incredible thing I’ve learned is the way the herd holds the horses during good times and challenging times. It’s like a source or well of rooted sustenance and intelligence that they both nourish and are nourished by.
And the part that’s really cool to me, is that the felt tone of the herd is palpable! I can’t tell you how often people come here who hang with horses in other places and comment on how peaceful and connected The Courage Herd is. That’s not to say they are unique and special in an absolute sense. Its more a commentary on how rare the experience of a strong herd is in our current culture.
So here’s the thing .. you can take these principles – choice, power with, healthy boundaries and loving rituals or daily habits – and use them consciously, in even more powerful and remarkable ways to co-create your Herd. At work, or at home or in a special community.
I’d love to hear what you do and how it goes! Drop me a line or post a comment. Let your voice be part of co-creating a better way for all.