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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Leadership/Dominance and the Herd.

This is Valentine, named because her birthday is actually on Valentines Day and I must say, it wasn't love at first sight, but it was love when Valentine wanted it! 
She was a donation to In the Company of Horses, but when we got her, she really didn't want anything to do with humans or horses.  We turned her out in Jeanne's 29 acres with her herd and only fed and cared for her for one year.  She eventually found her place in the herd, but she never seemed comfortable or "at home". 
Then one day I was on my way back home from  my horsemanship mentor Aimee Brimhall and I stopped in at Jeanne's.  While I was at Aimee's we had spent several days learning to see and think in mental pictures and then be able to share those mental pictures with others, humans then horses.  So when I got to Jeanne's Valentine was running the fenceline and yelling at me.  Now I have been to Jeanne's countless times over her year with us, with and without horses.  She knew my herd, but my experience with Valentine was limited to the first day I met her and trailer loaded her and brought her to Jeanne's.  So of course I went over to see what she wanted.  I went ahead and offered to put my rope on her and invited her out. I was committed to using no body language, only mental pictures.  That is hard because communication is mostly body language and I have practiced using body language with horses for many years.  So I cleared my head and had a thought and picture that Valentine and I go somewhere together, and before I knew it, she had lept into the air and all I saw was sky around her, I was amazed!   All I did was have a thought! I realized I needed to be clear in my thoughts with her, like lets go over there, not just lets go somewhere.   I said to Jeanne, right there, I have to take this horse home with me!  So, I put her in the trailer, and she was mine! 

Now, when we got home it was interesting, my herd accepted her right away, no hooves flying, no biting, just pure acceptance of this mare right away.  And it was there that I really began to learn about leadership from Valentine.  I had been learning from Aimee about what herd leaders do. How they act, and now I had my own example right in my yard to show me, every day. 
 Aimee is truly a student of the horse.  She was a young home schooled girl in Montana who went to the Parelli University at 15 years of age.  When she got home her parents, wanted to see results from what she learned, so she began starting colts to earn $$ for her next semester the Parelli University.  When I began to study with her, she had 78 colt starts under her belt.  So, like Pat Parelli says, I can't experience, experience for you, but second hand gold is as good as new.  So for me, Aimee's vast experience with horses and her ability to communicate about that, has been a gift for me.  It was just what I had always been looking for since my handsome Sorrel gelding came into my life and managed things so well 15 years earlier!  And, now I had this lovely new horse, beautiful, smart, willing, and athletic who totally picked me! 

Valentine was six when she came to us and according to her papers, she was born in Canada, and lived in six different homes in her six different years, she had been through three professional trainers and given away to her last two homes.  So I think she was always looking for her home and she seemed to know immediately when she got here that this was it, and everyone here knew it.  She changed my whole herd.  She is strong and athletic and clearly is a benevolent leader, my herd loves her. 

Whispering Jessie
The first horse who really welcomed Valentine was Jessie.  She is the same age as Valentine.  Jessie is a dominant mare by nature, very handy with her hind legs and very willing to use them.  She firecely defends her herd and keeps incredible order, but would never lift a hoof to the man Sorrel, and immediately helped Valentine to learn the lay of our paddock paradise (I'll tell you about our paddock paradise some other time).  I have watched Jessie countless times cause, passively in the proper position, the herd or mostly her herd leader follow along.  She is not a leader, but she is the enforcer.  The lead mare Valentine, decides to go and everyone follows.  Valentine does not need to cause, she has a thought and everyone gets it and off they go.  But there is no doubt that Valentine needs the herd and she wants them.  Leaders need someone to lead and the herd needs a leader to care for and follow. 

I have watched Valentine be concerned after I moved the water trough after cleaning just a few inches, such that she could not get close enough to drink out of it, then without a word or a lead rope, she went to get Jessie who boldly walked right up and drank out of the trough, only a sip, backed away, invited Valentine to drink, then they drank together and walked away together. Although I didn't notice her, Jessie was keeping watch, waiting to be of help to Valentine.   Herd leaders know they need their herd. I have watched Jessie want to go to the front lawn and for over 1/2 hour, she watched and waited and caused her herd leader to want to go too.  Then when it came time to go down into the creek and up the bank to the front lawn, Jessie waited for Valentine to go, then the whole herd followed.

When Valentine communicates with the herd, it is clear, animated even, never mean, just, quick and light, she doesn't leave a mark, then it's over, no one is holding onto it.  It's like the communication is recieved with gratitude for it's clarity.  Just like when Sorrel use to boss Patches around when she was a baby, the more he told her what to do, the more she loved him.  Pat Parelli says "every horse is a natural born follower looking for a natural born leader".  Since learning more and more about leadership, I have found this to be true, every lead horse is looking for a leader, every dominant horse and every passive horse, they are all looking for a natural born leader.  But with that leadership there comes responsibility to be mentally and emotionally fit.  "Bitchy" horses are not leaders.  "Dominant" horses are not leaders.  "Passive" horses are not leaders. Leaders are not necessarily the most brave, but they do have courage and they know without a doubt that they are leaders.  Emotionally unfit humans need to gain emotional fitness to become leadership material for our horses.  Not dominant, not passive, but clear, fair, just, athletic, fun, friendly, flexible, willing to follow, willing to change, one who pays attention to everything and lets go of the past quickly!

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