the beautiful herd

The Beautiful Herd

If you know what you are observing, the experience of watching a herd of horses interact can be a beautiful and profound experience. There are both simple and complex dynamics at play that, with some understanding, can impact how we conduct our lives and interact with those around us.

While much of our society is geared more toward a “pack mentality”, meaning a focus on pecking order and status purely for status’ sake, it would benefit us to consider and apply the ways in which a herd functions optimally for the safety and well-being of every single member of its group. The herd is structured by a hierarchy, the dynamics of which vary in wild versus domestic herds. Herd leadership, however, is dictated less by dominance in the fashion that our culture dictates, and more by the ability to ensure safety, trust, and success for the entire group.

The order and hierarchy of the herd is dictated by individual strengths, weaknesses, and temperaments. While there is some “jockeying” that occurs amongst middle-ranked horses, in an established herd there is generally a clarity and acceptance of the roles within the hierarchy. Aggressive and bullying behaviors are either disciplined or are shunned by the group, and these horses that are considered “dominant” are not typically leaders of the herd as it’s not desirable to follow them. The herd does not follow the alpha horse’s lead simply because he or she is dominant in the sense of inducing fear, or displaying strength, or toughness, but rather it’s the lead horse’s role to promote the safety and care of the entire group through sensitivity, awareness, presence, and experience.

Because horses are prey animals by nature, they are profoundly adept at honesty and congruence as a matter of survival. Assessing their surroundings and the intentions of other beings is an inherent part of their nature. They are masters of being present in the moment in an “as is” state, in complete acceptance of their role in the herd and of themselves. Through an array of communication that happens primarily non-verbally, they maintain peace, stability, and safety.

Another dynamic to consider as it applies to us humans is that horses thrive in the herd, they need one another to experience a sense of well-being and joy. When isolated, they become distressed and depressed. In a society that tends to promote a sense of “every man for himself”, operating within our own silos particularly when under strain, we forget that in our interconnectedness we can flourish and thrive.

In understanding and accepting ourselves and our relationships to others we can experience our own sense of peace, congruence, and connection. This doesn’t necessarily mean denying our drive to be and do better, however experiencing clarity about our motives behind this drive and how to honor it while also being attuned to the needs of our own “herd” is a place of balance that we can all hope to achieve.


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