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  • Writer's pictureDawn Oakley-Smith

The Empowered Herd

Updated: Dec 12, 2020

A herd is an organism, a living breathing autonomous organism with a heart, senses, intention, movement, beauty, grace, and a soul. Only stand and breath deeply amongst a group of horses. Only open yourself to know this.

"Into a herd of horses is where I go to pray. Here I stand and breath and listen and hear, and am heard."

To pray, you open your whole self ─ to sky, to earth, to sun to moon, to one whole voice that is you. And know there is more that you can’t see, can’t hear, can’t know, except in moments steadily growing, and in languages that aren’t always sound but other circles of motion. Linda Kohanov, the author of The Tao of Equus and founder of The Epona approach to Equine-facilitated Learning says that horses spend a lot of time in rarefied states of being. This I know to be true. Into a herd of horses is where I go to pray, to open myself to the all, to experience at-one-ment, the rarefied state I believe Kohanov refers to. Here I stand and breath and listen and hear, and am heard.

Wherever you are is called here and must be treated as a powerful stranger. The herd is where I go to encounter the powerful stranger. Breathing in the silence of herd space, if you truly open to receive and if you listen, you can hear God breathing. To experience at-one-ment, however briefly, is essential to my existence. It is my prayer, my aim in being alive. It is my gesture to God. Perhaps horses, in their rarefied state of being, are also there. What sacrilege then, to disrupt them. To inflict our needs of convenience upon them and our fears about their and our safety.

Horses are not humans. Their species have been on this planet for some 15 million years. We have been here for 1.5 million. Horses know the earth far more intimately than we can ever hope to. They know her seasons and her tides on levels far beyond those we are not yet capable of, or those that we knew, but have forgotten. By micro-managing our horses in the ways that we do, we disempower them. Trust your horse to know what he needs, and do not suppose that you know better.

The energy of a fully integrated and powered herd of horses is very great and capable of bringing profound healing on all levels. An individual horse called to work with a particular person can do so at peak effectiveness only if he or she feels secure within the herd, without anxieties about position in the social order, where their next feed is coming from, whether they can keep themselves warm, or other issues.

Our growing concerns about health and safety, which we seem to be projecting more and more onto our horses and other animals are disempowering them.

Horses are animals of wide-open spaces. They need to move their feet in order to manage their arousal levels. By stabling them, we take away this function─ we trap them in effect, so that when an emotion arises and their arousal level increases, they cannot move away. What happens to this arousal? To the chemical released into the horse’s system by heart rate and blood pressure? It is internalised and leads to behaviours, such as windsucking, weaving, box walking and door kicking. By stabling our horses we are saying to them that we do not trust them to regulate themselves, either in response to temperature change, or emotionally. Our justification is that we are stabling them to keep them safe from harm.

Stabling horses came about from our desire to for convenience when horses were our main form of transport. We needed to have them close by, like our car parked on the driveway, or in the garage. Today this is no longer the case. We are therefore given the opportunity to tune in more closely to what our horses’ actual physical and emotional needs are.

Our relationship with horse is ancient. In the very beginning of things I am told, horse was a thing of wonder. The dynamic we experienced with them was a partnership of magic as we explored our place in the family of things on this green and blue planet. Horse introduced us to speed: The joy and exhilaration of moving fast through the elements of air against our skin, cool on our bodies and pounding hooves upon the earth. Horse showed us how to travel far distances so that we could move out of our forests. Astride our new friend, we saw mountains for the first time, plains, rivers and oceans. He expanded us, took us out of ourselves into vistas unexplored, inner and outta. Our wills were in sync. We moved in, and for the Tao, the sacred flow.

And then something changed.

Humans have something that horse does not. Something that separates us from the other life forms on our planet. We have ego. I am separate from you. I can desire you, love you, hate you, covert your things. I can feel my separateness, love it, want to defend it, I can bend your will to mine. To deliver myself from my fears, I can dominate you. I can make you give me what I want. I can do it because I am human, and I have a consciousness of self apart from the whole. I do not see the whole, only the hole to be filled. And so it began, the subjugation of horse. Separation, disunion, was born.

The beauty and grace of the be-jewelled never-ending soul was made poultry and narrow. This perception engendered by fear and domination constricted our hearts. Horse became a tool, a device towards an end, something we could use to get what we wanted. We invented things we could use for domination and control; the bit for his mouth, the saddle for his back, the whip and spur to goad him, the rope and tether to make him always available to us. No longer did we walk on the green earth under the expanse of sky to find him, to ask him to come into relationship, to partner with us. We made his world as narrow as ours. We saw him through the tiny lens of our desires. We were wilful in this, full of our own will, blind to his. Partnership was rent.

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