The herd and horse communication

The herd... wind... nature... silence...

The first words that come to mind when I observe my herd with a lead mare and a mentoring stallion. It looks as if information is passed between them by the wind, the signals they give each other are so subtle! It’s almost impossible to see that there’s constant interaction. It looks like they’re just grazing. Because I’ve had the privilege to share my life’s journey with them, I am in contact with them almost 24/7. I can hear them through the walls of my yurt, where I’ve been living for several years, so I understand whether they are looking for one another, greeting each other, or if they’re warning, alerting each other, defining boundaries...

In nature, a horse is able to “talk” to its entire herd only by moving its ear or tail. The more stable the herd, with clearly defined roles, the more subtle the cues to the human eye. And above all, horses communicate in pictures! My lead mare, Hatori, stands peacefully by a bale of hay, yet all the other members can detect the exact millisecond when they’re allowed to approach and eat with her without her having to bat an eyelash. Her “dominant” position has nothing to do with grand gestures, aggression, pressure or force. Her leadership is in power of her gentleness.

At first glance, an independent observer may not even notice that there’s a stallion present in the herd. Just like in nature. To the layman, he can even seem like the least important member of the herd, because he usually stands on the sidelines, looking like the odd one out. But he’s only fulfilling his natural role – educating and guarding. He makes sure that order is maintained and rules are followed. If the mare decides to move the herd, he will make sure everyone keeps pace and doesn’t talk back, because as a group they are safe. Even newborn colts naturally gravitate towards him. He’s like a “dad” to them, displaying masculine authority. My stallion doesn’t live in a separate field but together with his family unit, which makes for a wonderful dance as they playfully compete for space. 

Most of the horses live in herds we’ve created for them. They are forced to form friendships, often surviving in pairs and tolerating each other because they don’t have a choice. They are forced to be in uncomfortable spaces, dysfunctional groups, and most importantly, they are misunderstood by their own biped, who searches in vain for a way to communicate with them. Some people work with pressure, others with treats, or other methods that take as many forms as there are users – horsemanship, natural communication, positive reinforcement, take your pick... That’s why we often see horses with eyes that’ve gone silent because no one’s listening. Horses that have shut down. Just like some people. Passive, resigned.

Let’s only observe the horses. Perceive them. Feel them. Breathe with them. Share their silence. Offer rather than force. Step into the image they’ve created and continue expanding it with them. Discover their channel of communication based on gentle signs. And once we discover the gentleness within ourselves, we’ll discover the way. The way of life. Which horses will embrace, happy to be lead naturally by such guidance.