Like Horses, We Falter When We Lose Our Way

The morning after the veterinarian injected the little white mare with a sedative, and then a lethal dose of barbiturates, the herd did not want to go out to the pasture. They stayed near the gate where the sweet elderly Arabian had taken her last breath.  “The timing is good,” the veterinarian had said. “Not too soon, and not too late.” She had taken care of Echo for many years. None of us wanted the thin mare to endure another hard winter, even with the herd beside her, even with abundant hay.

The slender white mare had roamed these high mountain pastures for nearly thirty years. As other horses came and went, Echo’s presence remained as constant as the glow of moonlight over the meadows. She wasn’t a leader. She wasn’t an enforcer. She wasn’t even a follower. But like her name suggested, she was the mirror that reflected back to the other horses their sense of order, their sense that all was right in the world. 

Like the vista of a deep canyon inspires us to shout across the water and wait eagerly for the return of our own voice ... Hello?... Hello?… the little mare reminded the other horses that they were a community, and she was at its center. You are not alone. You are part of something grander. 

Remembering the herd clustered near the gate where Echo had died, I thought of all the horses that might be waiting for her in the great beyond, her herd in the sky. San Martine. Casteel. The weather horses Windy, Cloudy, and Sunny. The Peruvian Pasos de la Montana and Abril. My gentleman Arab Farside. Sweet Lena. Handsome Wendy. Dominica, the big warmblood. And so many more.

With each new member, and with each loss, the herd has had to restructure itself. Each horse must learn, or re-learn, its place within the herd. Each new horse must learn to respect the leaders, will suffer discipline and loneliness if they do not. Winter or summer, the horses do all of this while moving like a flock of birds in the sky—floating on the wind—always touching but not touching. 

Our human herd at the barn mirrors whatever is going on with the herd, but we don’t always recognize that we are doing this. Change disrupts our sense of order. We are rarely as graceful as the horses in reestablishing our equilibrium. We look for leadership. And like now, we falter when there is none. 

Echo's herd looks to the elders of the herd for leadership, now more than ever - big gentle black Milagro, the undisputed aging king, and Di, the wise queen mare. She stands quietly behind him here, patient in her reign, though it will eventually slip away from both of them. We do not know who will step up to take their places. 

I worry for our human herd—the one outside these pristine pastures. I fear that humans lack the wisdom of these horses. I fear that we no longer understand that our survival and serenity depend on our ability to form and hold community. Echo knew this when she welcomed my Arab gelding Farside to the herd, following him as he explored his new home. 

Let us look to our animal friends for guidance. Let us study the network of kinship that exists beneath the boughs of the trees. Let us learn from the tufted bunch grasses of the West that thrive from a common root system. Let us listen to the earth and to each other. Let us remember that we are part of something grander. Let us do this while the time is right. Before it is too late. 

NOTE: How do we start? Here's a suggestion...

In her groundbreaking EQUUS training program, Flying Lead Change, Kelly Wendorf teaches a way of leadership "modeled on a 56 million-year-old system of the horse herd––a path that has allowed humans and horses alike to survive the kinds of global and societal threats we now face, such as climate change and mass extinction." The book was released this month and is available now. 
Page Lambert's upcoming retreat "Santa Fe & Taos Autumn Sojourn" (September 2021), includes a private morning session with Kelly and the horses of EQUUS. Contact Page if you'd like more information about this 7-day retreat. 


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