What is a herd? I had not given this much thought till I found myself required to be silent and observe a herd of eight horses for twenty minutes. Before this assignment, I had been given a general introduction to each horse by name by the owners of this herd. By the end of this exercise, I had a clear sense of which horses were friends, for one horse would move to seek out their special companion and then the two would groom each other for several minutes before remaining very close to each other as they grazed. One horse’s unusual friskiness was explained as his over-protection of his one friend, for he did not want any other horse to be near his only friend. And one horse stood away from the herd, by herself. Pegeen had joined the herd only three weeks ago and was not yet feeling to be one of the group. It was sad to see her there on the outskirts of the herd, alone, watching while the others interacted.
At the end of that afternoon, I walked back to my lodgings giving much thought to Pegeen, for she and I had something in common. Usually a loner, I was suddenly one of eight taking this course on horsemanship on a small island off the west coast of Ireland. I was one of this herd, and not yet feeling one of the group, standing alone on the side, watching the others interact. I have always struggled with groups, and finding myself among a group of Americans on this remote island where, to be honest, I came to get away from my country and all her current problems, was posing a problem for me. This was not the herd I would have chosen. But here I was, and I sensed there was something the horses could teach me if I would only pay attention.
The next day we were in the field with the horses and required to choose one we would like to work with for the course. We were then to approach that horse in the manner we had been instructed. We were warned, though, that a horse may choose us. I had the intention of seeking Pegeen, based an this shared sense of loneliness, but I was not in the field for five minutes slowly making my way toward Pegeen, when I was quickly approached by Jazz, a beautiful bay gelding, who stood before me in such a way as I understood I had been chosen. Pegeen, I saw from the corner of my eye, was being approached by the most talkative and loudest member of my herd.
With each day, as we worked with our horses, our herd became more like their herd. There was a natural role for each person to play in our group. We became one. Some pairs sought each other’s company continuously, others had a gentle touch with any one who approached them, while another made me want to trot over and kick her whenever she began to speak. But I did not, because I learned from watching how the horses dealt with similar tensions in their herd. This behavior was expected from this member of their herd, so they patiently witnessed it, and then simply shook it off and moved on.
During our last afternoon with the horses, Pegeen approached one of the herd. And then they groomed each other. This was the first time this had happened for Pegeen, and the owners beamed with delight. As did I. But as powerful as my observation of Pegeen was for me, working with Jazz was equally meaningful. I felt embraced by Jazz whenever I approached him to complete one of our exercises. Maybe he sensed that I needed some one gentle and naturally inquisitive like him. During my last hour with Jazz, we stood very close together in a field, my right hand stroking his neck, my left hand on his flank, and, as I had been instructed, I synchronized my breathing to match his as my left hand was raised and lowered by his steady, relaxed breath. I rested my forehead on him, and amidst the silence of the countryside, there was only the one sound of our two breaths.
Thank you, Jazz.