I was watching the horses the other day (just for a change!), it was early evening and they were making their way down the terraces to the shelter, as is their habit, munching on hay as they went. I was looking down on them from the terrace above, which is a fabulous vantage spot as it allows me to see the pattern of their movement, like watching the rise and fall of waves on a beach.
The hay is spread in small piles and the horses flow from one to the other, either pushed or pulled, one by the other. Sometimes the calm is disturbed with a little flurry of movement when one of the top horses comes close to a horse they have to assert themselves over, sometimes the movement is smooth and natural, hard to tell who moved who. Some horses like to eat together, others are possessive of their pile, the top horses like to move all the time to make sure they are getting the best bits. As I watched, enjoying the harmony, I realised that of all the horses, the one I want to be is Jessie.
Jessie can share a hay pile with anybody, even Negev, who pulls horrid faces at any horse who thinks of coming near ‘his’ pile. He has experienced life without enough to eat and will never be convinced those times are over, but he cant say no to Jessie. Even when he tries she takes no notice; she is not impolite, she yields fractionally with body and energy, but rarely moves her feet, barely stops eating. Negev might give her the bad-eye a couple of times, but she does just enough to defuse his push, and carries on regardless till he relaxes with her there, even appears to enjoy it.
And it is not just that she can eat with anyone, she has a unique relationship with each herd member. She plays with GG and Sensei, she has girly gossips with Q, and sometimes I see her standing quietly with Starling, doing nothing very much. She is always working on her relationship with the other horses, flowing with the moods and rhythms that are an intrinsic part of herd life. She is not ashamed to runaway with her rump down on the days when GG is intolerant, though it doesn’t take long for her to come back and invite him to play again, or just graze side by side. If Ellie’s feeling grumpy she leaves her alone, if GG decides to have a go at one of the other boys Jessie intervenes, literally comes between them to defuse the energy.
If I call them up to go on a herd expedition, Jessie’s is the first face I see coming to join me, the other horses all tag along behind her. She is the courageous pathfinder and the others are encouraged by her confidence and clarity. She is courageous and curious but a lot of that comes from the support of the herd moving with her, and she is always listening to them.
It is a common theory in the world of horses that you must ‘show them who is boss’, make yourself their leader, emulate the behaviour of a dominant horse. And I guess that is sound advice if you want to control your horse and have him do exactly as you say at all times. But that’s not what I want. I want to hear what my horses have to say, I want them to make me laugh, to point out when I am being rude or insensitive, let me know if they are in pain, or if they don’t understand me; I want them to want to figure out what it is I am asking, even if it seems a bit odd to them. It’s hard to have a two way conversation if I’m the boss and what I say goes.
So I want to be Jessie.
Anyone can push Jessie around, she’s nobody’s boss, a two year old filly, bottom of the hierarchy (as seen from a human perspective). She can’t push any of the older horses, but she influences their movement and direction in other ways, ways that create willing participation and a feeling of connectedness, and that’ll do for me.