Prey/Predator – can we be WE, you and I?
I have been meaning to write an article about strength of bond for a while. Last year, when Kalley Krickeberg took over as Head of horse development at the ranch, I asked her a question about my two horses and the pair bonding that unites them. She gave me some ideas to think about, a concept really, and I set out to build a program to increase my horses’ self-confidence in order to start building their confidence in being apart. She mentioned what I had seen Pat do several times during his events with his dogs and horses – give them a job, stand over there and wait, as a means to build responsibility, which would eventually translate into confidence.
Within a couple of weeks, I had made great headway with my program. Easter (RBI) understood her responsibility – ‘Stand over there and wait’ (in this case on the pedestal), and Menina (LBE) understood she could be ridden quite a distance away and not worry since Easter was holding her spot. She would even let me know if Easter thought about leaving so we could run over there and put her back. This led to another interesting challenge, but more on that later!
As I kept thinking about how to write about this, I just could not find the right angle to put all of this into words, so I left it to stew in my brain. Meanwhile, change has been sweeping Parelli and turning it on its ear, as part of Pat and Linda’s vision. Big changes, uncomfortable changes, changes that challenged us instructors to be even more flexible, to start thinking as a team, to welcome a large number of newcomers and to accept that their journey and ours were going to be different, but not necessarily better or worse. All of us that have been through the old pathway certainly have had to think hard about what this meant and where this was going, and how to get comfortable with it. When Chris Corbidge published a very thoughtful blog about Sharing Parelli, it kick started my thought process about the program once again.
Just about the same time, I had to move my horses to a new barn where they were to be turned them out with a herd of ten horses. What a great opportunity! My two mares have been living alone together for 2 years, and prior to that, with my third mare – they were all very bonded. When Jolie passed away in 2009, Easter and Menina’s pair bonding increased, and separating them had become extremely stressful, just like trying to abruptly wean a foal from its mother. I’ve been spending time at the barn watching my two interact with the rest of the herd – first treated as outcasts and driven away, and then gradually building new bonds and getting accepted. My two mares are still a herd of two, but they are also now part of the larger herd and want to be with the other horses.
This morning, we integrated a new horse into the group, a horse that has lived in the barn for months but was never allowed out with the others by respect for the owner’s wishes. She wanted so badly to be with them, and when the owner let her go, she galloped into the herd to be promptly driven away and chased off, and at some point, she ran through the wire in a panic while she was being pursued by one of the geldings. This mare had never lived in a group, so this is quite an adjustment for her. Yet, she followed the horses right back inside, and will always choose to be with the herd, even if they bite and kick her, rather than having to stand alone in the barn. Strength of bond, it’s natural to horses.
This is where I started putting two and two together for this article. Horses are herd animals, and survival of the herd is what they live for. They play and interact to choose their leaders, to earn the right to reproduce, and to survive. Horses think in terms of WE. WE is a unit – they think, feel and act as a unit FIRST. Within that unit, there are individuals, but anyone who has studied wild horses will tell you that the herd will leave the weak or sick individual behind for the sake of saving the herd. We have all seen Cloud – the stallion may kill a weak baby that would endanger the whole group.
We are predators, we think in terms of YOU and I. WE in Humansville is the idea of collecting YOU and I to try to accomplish something together. It is against our very nature to act a unit; it takes effort, desire and thought to be able to achieve this successfully. Business leaders spend inordinate amounts of money trying to learn how to build and motivate teams within their organizations. As humans, we have to consciously set aside our own desires, egos and emotions to buy into the needs of the team and act as one. I am a great example of this, I am very much an I. I have lived on my own for years, I have no children, I travel alone and I run my own business. The only time I get to practice WE is with my horses, or during my stays at the Parelli ranch, and it is NOT natural, it takes a lot of effort on my part. And this WE is still an assembly of YOU and ME, the moments where WE feel as a unit are the exception rather than the rule. Those moments a very special and satisfying, but they are rarely the norm in daily human life.
Now for horses, that is a natural way of being, it is programmed in their genes and they don’t have to think about it. In fact, it’s much harder for them to be individuals, which is why they can exhibit so much stress when left alone or lacking leadership that makes them feel safe and comfortable. Horses naturally want to interact as a unit with the herd.
Watching my herd of two in the bigger herd, they acted as a UNIT for the first few weeks, in perfect synchronization and never leaving one another. They are only now just starting to act as individuals, building bonds with other members of the herd, and showing interest in being apart from each other, for longer and longer periods of time. That is one strong bond to be breaking on a repeated basis!
Here is the lesson my horses are teaching me and the message they are helping drive down to my feet. Pat and Linda’s vision and mission is not about YOU and I. It’s about WE. Parelli principles underlie everything they do, so this should not come as a surprise. Yet, it is still really hard to truly understand, even if our brains can understand the words. If WE become a bigger herd, build more presence, show the way, WE have a much better chance of surviving – outrunning the competition, whether that is mentalities that won’t change, traditional ways that resort to violence or force to dominate horses, the lack of knowledge, the abuse inflicted every day to horses, or the rampant numbers of phoney horse trainers. If Pat’s vision and program are to survive Pat, WE must become stronger and bigger, and synchronize. All these changes that sometimes challenge and frustrate YOU and I are about the herd, not about the individuals. Some of us will not survive; some of us may be left behind. Not to say that Parelli does not care about you and I, but the higher purpose is about building a strong team that will act as a unit to change the world. So if we want to continue to be a part of it, we may want to start heading to the middle of the pack, or even better, walk ahead of it to take some leadership and show the way.
And that might just be the pathway to becoming better leaders for our horses and our peers, and getting closer to achieving true unity.