To Herd or Not to Herd

We either make ourselves miserable or we make ourselves strong. The amount of work is the same. ~ Carlos Castaneda

After watching the horses throughout the day, I considered the herd as a whole while they were being brought in for dinner on a cool spring evening. Each horse knew the order they would be brought in to the stalls. They had established this order themselves. If the handler respected this order, the horses were quiet, calm, and patient. If routine was interrupted, they became agitated. Suddenly they would pick on one another, trading spots at the gate in an attempt to reset the order. Today, a new bay horse and a gray horse were introduced to the herd early in the day. I reflected on this and realized herd behavior is apparent in human interaction. In our own unique intelligence, we are still very much like these horses.

Bay was allowed into the herd quickly. He showed no resentment toward the rest and seemed forgiving by nature. He did not challenge at all even when the other horses chased him or flattened their ears at him. He kept himself out of distance of the more assertive horses. It was not long before he had picked another horse to comfortably graze with and was indifferent to the more dominant personalities.

Group of wild horses in field at morning.

Gray seemed to spend all day trying to gain acceptance of the herd. He would pace and run, challenge the leaders, and maintained a heightened sense of anxiety. It was not unusual to see him get chased off, sneered at, and would have to run away just fast enough to avoid a bite or kick. It was not until he stopped trying so hard and dropped his attitude and defensiveness that he was forgiven by the herd and accepted in. This type of horse may try the same game for a few days until the herd has “told” it where it will be and the horse comfortably complies. Until then, he grazed a few yards away from the group, always nervously watching.

When I took notice of this herd behavior I felt as if I was watching a replay of personal past lessons and receiving clues to future life lessons. I sadly watched Gray’s efforts over and over as he waxed into acceptance of his situation and slowly relaxed. How many times have I tried the same actions or beliefs over and over only to realize I get the same unwanted conclusion every time? That is the point I stop trying so hard. By shifting my perspective, I can see the answer was usually right in front of me. I had ignored it because I had my own ideas about how the situation should pan out instead of looking for the obvious options.

I was conflicted about Bay and how he had accepted his place so easily. When I am feeling like I am not valued or I am stretching myself thin, I’m sure I should be fighting to be noticed and supported. His herd strategy brought feelings of resentment and disrespect. Why doesn’t he just tell the lead horse off?  Where is the bravado? Doesn’t this horse respect himself? In my braced perspective, I thought he was soft and weak by allowing himself to be tromped upon by the dominate horses. Changing my own perspective did not cross my mind.

When I am feeling comfortable, confident, and happy, I see this horse as saving his energy, getting along with the group, and enjoying himself right away. And then I think why would you want to expend more energy than needed to relax when you can begin that way? This horse was so soft about his intentions. How interesting that I can perceive him so differently. In this more relaxed perspective, I was able to admire his confidence and ability to be comfortable in his own skin. I wanted to be more like him.

Take time to sit and watch the herd for a while. You can learn much about yourself. It takes a lot of confidence to walk into the unknown and accept new situations.  And, on the other end of the spectrum, it wastes a lot of energy trying to control the results by using the same failing tactics over and over again. New ideas and intentions must be formed as different situations are presented. It is very humbling to let go of old ideas in order to allow new ideas to form. This is a large part of accepting change. With confidence, and respect for yourself, the approval of a herd is no longer needed but ironically easily received.

There is so much to be learned just by watching horses in action. Bay and Gray gave great examples of two perspectives. They responded to the new situation differently but both ended with the same conclusion. Acceptance gives way to a sense of innocent excitement that allows a horse or person to gracefully respond to change. By melding into new situations calmly and enjoyably, there is less stress and worry. I came home a different person that spring day excited to have had the chance to learn from great teachers. And, I’m looking forward to the next lesson that presents itself.

That will do for today Bay and Gray, that will do.



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