Functional Community Part IV – Instinct vs. Learned Behavior

Instinct vs Learned Behavior

Most of what we call “training” with horses is an effort to replace instinctual behavior with learned behavior.  In this photo, even though I meant no harm to my Arabian gelding, Shoki, he was instinctually worried about being separated from the other members of his herd.

So far in this series I have talked a lot about the instinctual behaviors of wild horses/herds. But instinct is only part of what makes a horse “a horse” or a herd “a herd”. By nature, horses are keen observers, effective problem-solvers and highly intuitive judges of character. They are also smart learners. So, while I have presented the basics of wild horse herd structure (which is largely instinctual), if you were to go out and actually observe a variety of wild horse herds (especially those living in different regions, climates and topographies) you would find that each herd has its own unique culture. This culture is a combination of instinct and learned behaviors:

Instinct: A way of behaving, thinking, or feeling that is not learned; a natural desire or tendency that makes you want to act in a particular way.

Learned Behavior: A behavior that has been motivated or conditioned from direct observation or experience.

There has been a lot of debate in scientific communities about which horse behaviors are instinctual and which ones are learned. Rather than get caught up in the intricacies of this debate, let’s consider behaviors that consistently appear and are similar in all horses/herds (wild or domestic) to be instinctual. Examples include:

  1. Prey animal behavior (strong flight response)
  2. Desire to live in herds and to establish a clear rank or “pecking order”
  3. Key leadership roles within the herd (stallion role, lead mare role, etc.)
  4. Social bonding/nurturing and strong friendships
  5. Reproductive rituals (stallions fighting, mares breeding only when in season, pregnant mares going to the outskirts of the herd to give birth in privacy)

Meanwhile, some examples of what learned behavior in wild horse herds might look like are:

  1. Preference for the safest watering holes or a herd modifying behavior based on the safest time of day to eat/drink/travel
  2. Preferred travel routes that are less hard on hooves and legs
  3. Individual or group battle and play strategies
  4. Subtleties of herd language and communication
  5. Social etiquette in a specific herd

There are also examples (even in the wild) where learned behavior actually seems to trump or over-ride largely instinctual behavior. For example, in some wild horse and zebra herds that live on wide-open tundra, it has been documented that the animals will organize themselves into many small family units (usually one stallion and 2-3 mares plus offspring) that all operate within a larger community herd. In these examples, the stallions often share a common physical territory and even work cooperatively to fight off predators. One can only assume that this unique organization is a combination of their natural instincts and learned behaviors working together to increase their chances of long-term survival.

From my personal experience living with and/or observing a wide variety of domestic horse herds, I have come to the conclusion that significant dysfunction sets in whenever horses are prevented from living according to their natural instincts for herd composition/organization OR whenever they are prevented from following their instinct as prey animals to escape from perceived danger.

In captivity, horses are forced to rely very heavily on their ability to develop sophisticated learned behaviors (especially those that please their human caretakers) and, sadly, many of their instinctual behaviors get punished.

When you really think about how far removed most domestic horses are from natural herd life (we often make them live in stalls/barns or small fenced paddocks, separated physically and emotionally from their herd mates, in unnatural groups that suit our needs, with stallions often forced to live in complete isolation except for controlled contact for breeding, and with little natural forage or exercise [wild horses typically roam 30+ miles in a day!] other than that provided by humans on our terms)… you begin to appreciate just how adaptable they are!

But forcing horses to live in opposition to their natural instincts takes its toll on them, both physically and mentally. It also makes it much more difficult for humans to observe natural horse/herd behaviors or learn the powerful lessons I outlined in my previous posts.

I’m about to begin a new series that will provide specific examples from within my own herd that demonstrate some of the ways that artificial/dysfunctional equine communities create dysfunctional individuals. But today’s discussion also begs another question:

What does it say about humans that what we’ve come to value most about horses is their ability to live a life that is often in complete opposition to their natural instincts?

Most of us who love horses were initially drawn to them because of the beauty, power, grace, sociability and intelligence they demonstrate in the wild. But, unfortunately, the only outlets most humans have to actually interact with (or even directly observe) horses today are those dictated by traditional human “purposes” for horses. And for the most part, those purposes do one of two things: feed our egos or feed our pockets.

So, instead of setting ourselves up to learn the powerful lessons horses could teach us about living in functional communities, we do our best to teach them what it feels like to live in dysfunctional ones.

Hmmmm…

 

Functional Community – Part III (Leaders and Followers)

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In natural horse herds, the “lead mare” will typically lead the way to new forage, watering holes and safe ground, while the stallion brings up the rear – protecting from behind.

According to Warren Bennis, “The most dangerous leadership myth is that leaders are born – that there is a genetic factor to leadership. This myth asserts that people simply either have certain charismatic qualities or not. That’s nonsense; in fact, the opposite is true. Leaders are made rather than born.”

But if so, made how?

What I’ve learned from studying herd dynamics in both feral (wild) and domestic (largely unnatural) horse herds is that, regardless of the natural leadership potential or privilege any individual may be born with, effective leaders are made primarily by functional communities.

In a feral (wild) horse herd, there are two primary leadership positions: the reigning stallion and the lead mare.

The right to the position of reigning stallion is initially earned through physical strength/agility, fighting skills and cunning. However, a reigning stallion must also “earn” the right to maintain a family herd and to reproduce with the mares in that herd. To do this, he must not only defend his position against other stallions who challenge him… he must also gain the trust and respect of the mares in his herd. Otherwise, they will eventually leave and join another stallion.

As I mentioned in Part II of this series, the mares in a herd organize themselves in linear rank, or “pecking” order, under the stallion (who is always the highest ranking member of a herd). This subsequent rank order is typically determined by length of time/seniority in the herd.

Fairly often the role of “lead mare” falls to the longest and highest ranking member of the herd, but not always. Like the position of reigning stallion, the position of “lead mare” is earned and goes to the most trusted member of the herd. This is because the lead mare carries out the huge responsibility of “leading” the entire herd (including the stallion) to new grazing areas and water holes and/or to safer ground when danger threatens. The stallion will then bring up the rear, protecting the herd from behind.

The reason the “lead mare” position often goes to the/an elder in the herd is because developing the wide array of leadership skills necessary to earn the trust of others in any/all situations takes time. You cannot become a great leader unless you have spent adequate time as a follower.

The established mares within a wild herd are generally of a variety of different ages and length of time living in the herd. So, while changes in rankings among established members is infrequent, the overall makeup of herds changes fairly regularly. For example, the offspring of higher ranking horses temporarily acquire rankings similar to their mothers, but after 2-3 years these youngsters leave the natal herd and join a stallion of their own choice. The vacant positions left when youngsters leave (or are killed by predators) then become available to be filled by other members of the herd. Older or sick members of a herd may also die. And, the reigning stallion of a herd could get defeated by a challenger causing that existing herd to combine with the other stallion’s herd.

So, while you may not be a high ranking mare in your herd today, some things undoubtedly will be different in the future – whether that’s tomorrow or next week or next year. This means lower ranking horses are not just endlessly/hopelessly submitting to the same “superiors” all their lives, they are most likely carefully observing and learning and mirroring and asking questions and practicing. When you live according to a pecking order in a herd, you are not only following and learning from the horses above you, you are also helping to lead (and practicing your leadership skills on) the horses below you. This is a perfect scenario for effective leadership development!

Natural (wild) horse herds provide incredibly safe environments for learning and leadership development. Younger and less experienced horses are surrounded by older, more experienced and lead horses who they can trust and follow. Unseasoned horses in the wild are rarely thrust (by others, or themselves) into positions of real responsibility before they are ready. Even new mothers get support and mentoring by the herd. Herds that lack effective leadership will naturally merge or be taken over by more established herds. And this is readily accepted because living within a well established herd (and in your rightful spot in the pecking order) provides a “no fear environment” for living and learning. The “functional” herd community gives each horse a sense of security and confidence.

It’s very important to note that the pecking order among horses in a wild herd is not about pride or ego as it often is in our “human” world. In the natural environment of the horse, pecking order is about strength, keenness and experience – and it’s also about developing these qualities in the lower ranking members. Also, when water and forage are scarce, the stallion will only breed with one or two top-ranking mares, thus reducing the size of the herd during scarcity and ensuring that the strongest, fittest and smartest (i.e. most experienced and longest-living) mares are the ones reproducing.

In Part IV of this series I will focus on the differences between feral (wild) horse herds and domestic horse herds. Specifically, I will provide examples of how unnatural herds quickly become dysfunctional communities, and how these dysfunctional communities fail to nurture and prepare (i.e. “make”) effective leaders.

 

 

Functional Community Part II (Individual/Personal Boundaries)

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Horses are geniuses at establishing personal boundaries

If you are interested in observing effective boundaries being set and enforced before your very eyes, go visit the nearest horse herd you can find and just sit and watch the dynamics for 15 or 20 minutes!

Any group of horses can learn to live together in relative harmony. This is because horses are natural geniuses at establishing and respecting effective personal boundaries.

For example, if one horse decides it has a compelling reason to go somewhere or do something, the other horses will sense this strong intention and, most often, will either voluntarily follow or move out of the way. If not, the horse with the strong intention will either choose to pass outside of the personal space of other horses or encourage those other horses to get out of his/her way.

Through this example we can see two very different, but both very effective, approaches to establishing and maintaining personal boundaries. The first is to clearly (and if necessary, firmly) ask another to move out of our personal space (regardless of whether that space is physical or emotional). The other is to intentionally avoid being in close proximity to those who we feel are likely to dis-respect or violate our personal space (again whether that space is physical or emotional).

I’ll be the first to admit that for much of my life I struggled with succeeding at either of these methods of establishing and maintaining effective personal boundaries. In fact, even after many years of marriage counseling (prior to my divorce), I still didn’t really even understand what it meant to have effective personal boundaries – let alone how to actually succeed at implementing them.

It was only when the universe brought a fiery red headed mare named Tempo into my life that I finally learned what it REALLY means (and requires) to have effective personal boundaries. Through Tempo’s example – and specifically her unwillingness to be manipulated or treated with anything less than respect for her personal boundaries by the humans in her life – I was finally able to understand the changes I needed to make in my own life in order to be truly happy and to build healthier relationships.

For example, I had to get back in touch with my authentic (introverted!) self and acknowledge how much “alone” time I need and how it honestly makes me feel to be around certain types/groups of people and certain situations, especially for extended periods. Then I had to learn to feel good about making choices that protect my own emotional needs and how to respectfully communicate those choices.

It’s important to note that another requirement for establishing and maintaining effective personal boundaries is to not over-react, judge, manipulate or use bully tactics when establishing or enforcing personal boundaries. For example, horses typically use only the minimal amount of intention, communication or force necessary to get their point across (which is signified by the other horse avoiding or removing itself from said personal space). In wild herds, once one horse moves out of another horse’s personal “bubble”, the original horse does not continue to micromanage the other horse. Nor does the horse that was asked to move get angry or vengeful about needing to leave. It simply does what it needs to do to regain balance and peace in the relationship. Then both horses continue going about their business, happy as clams and certainly still friends.

In the domestic world, these dynamics between horses (and between horses and humans!) become more complicated, primarily because of the introduction of high-value, limited-supply resources (such as grain, water buckets, hand-fed treats, space, etc.) that create an overly competitive environment which does not exist in the wild. In this competitive environment, some horses learn that overly aggressive behavior gets them what they want. The other type of situation when domestic horses behave aggressively (or defensively) is when their flight response is inhibited. At that point, the fight response can get triggered because horses are hard-wired to protect their personal space boundaries one way or another!

Whenever people tell me they are unsure whether or not they have effective personal boundaries I ask them one simple question: “When was the last time you felt resentment toward another person?” If they say they’ve felt resentment toward anyone any more recently than ‘many years ago’, my response is, “ You probably could do better with establishing and maintaining personal boundaries.”

If you look up the Merriam Webster definition of resentment it says, “a feeling of indignant displeasure or persistent ill will at something regarded as a wrong, insult, or injury.”   Meanwhile, the Free Dictionary defines resentment as, “a feeling of displeasure or indignation at someone or something regarded as the cause of injury or insult.”

Note the use of the word “regarded” in both definitions. To regard is to perceive something in a particular way. In other words, it’s a personal opinion or judgment.

Most of us humans get pretty darn good at convincing ourselves that any resentment we feel toward other people is justified. I mean, they’ve repeatedly treated us badly or disrespectfully, right? But what would you say if I suggested that the only person it makes sense for any of us to feel resentment toward is our self?

Let me explain.

If someone with hostile intentions physically constrains or restrains you in a way that limits your ability to fight back or leave, and there is, literally, nothing you can physically do to stop yourself from being mistreated or disrespected, the emotions you will feel toward that person are probably fear and anger. Afterwards, if you are unable to forgive, you might also eventually begin to feel hatred. But the only way any of these feelings can turn to resentment is if the perpetrator continues to mistreat you repeatedly, or especially if they continue to do it even after they’ve been given the opportunity to choose not to.

The truth is, most of the time, the people we feel resentment toward are individuals we VOLUNTARILY choose to have in our lives, at some level. Quite often, they are the very people we choose to live and interact most closely with on a regular (maybe even daily) basis. So, here’s the kicker: if someone who we voluntarily chose to have in our lives (permanently or even temporarily) is treating us badly or making us feel bad about ourselves, and especially if they are doing it repeatedly, who’s fault is this really? It’s ours. And it means we don’t know how to establish or maintain effective boundaries.

The good news is, if the person we truly ought to feel resentment toward is our self (for allowing someone else to repeatedly disrespect, manipulate or mistreat us), then we also have the power to fix the problem! It may not be easy, but it’s do-able. As Tempo taught me, you shouldn’t give anyone else (and especially not someone who has already demonstrated they aren’t trustworthy in this regard) open access to, or control over, your emotional and physical well being.

Most importantly, in order to have a functional community, every individual must be responsible for looking out for his/her own needs first. This is the only way individuals can live in emotional harmony with one another for extended periods or have the energy and motivation to look out for one another in times of communal stress or danger.

Whenever I watch my three horses interact with one another I am amazed at their ability to establish and maintain effective personal boundaries with one another. And by doing this they actually build deeper trust and rapport with one another. Don’t you prefer being around people who are confident enough to tell you how they honestly feel or what they need/want (assuming they do it respectfully) than those who always try to be pleasant or polite even if they’re faking it?

That’s why I love coming home to my horses who have no trouble saying (when appropriate after I’ve had an especially stressful day), “Welcome home but you need to go get an attitude adjustment before hanging out with us tonight!”

Functional Community – Part I (Communal Boundaries)

Part I Pic Puck & Tempo

When my mare, Puck, had her foal (Tempo) it was inspiring to watch her natural instinct to enforce effective boundaries with her herdmate, Shoki, shine through.

As I begin my series on the pillars of a Functional Community, I must begin with the topic of effective boundaries. After observing various domestic horse herds (including my own) for almost 20 years and also doing extensive research on the behaviors of a wide variety of wild horse herds, I am left with the striking realization that the skill of establishing and maintaining effective boundaries is one we humans consistently fail at – and often miserably.

Horses instinctively understand that, without effective boundaries (communal and individual), their herd communities quickly become dysfunctional. And for horses in the wild, a dysfunctional community is unacceptable because it means one of two things: vulnerability to predators (i.e. death) or vulnerability to full or partial takeover by an outside stallion/herd.

In this installment on Functional Community I will focus on communal boundaries (individual boundaries will be addressed in more detail in Part II).

The best way I know to explain how beautifully horse herds (communities) develop and maintain effective boundaries is by explaining how this works in the wild. Wild horses naturally organize into herds and bands. A herd may involve up to hundreds of horses. Within that herd, there are many smaller groups, called bands. And there are two types of bands: natal bands and bachelor bands. Natal bands typically include only ONE mature stallion (male horse, usually 6 years of age or older). That stallion earns, and more importantly, maintains, his role as the patriarch of his band through a combination of physical strength, social skills and a successful track record of raising babies to maturity. There is no birth right to this leadership position for horses. Nor do stallions have the option of running a political campaign or winning a democratic election. If a stallion (male horse) wants to earn the privilege of having breeding rights to a herd of mares (and thus passing along his D.N.A. to future generations), he has to win the trust and loyalty of those mares.

The reigning stallion of a herd has three primary jobs: to breed with the mares in his herd to produce offspring, to take a leadership role in raising those offspring, and to help protect his entire herd from danger. The job of protecting the herd from external threats is actually shared by all members of the herd. I will discuss this dynamic in more detail in subsequent posts in this series. The point here is that stallion’s three primary jobs keep him extremely busy.

Let’s talk about breeding first. Mares (female horses) will only accept the sexual advances of a stallion when they are “in season” and most likely to conceive. A stallion that attempts to mount a mare that is not in season is fairly likely to get his teeth kicked out (example one of effective boundaries). Also, in wild herds, a band stallion that makes sexual advances toward its own biological daughter (or any other youngster being raised by its band) will not only get rejected by the youngster but the mature mares will actively intervene as well (example two of effective boundaries). There is no judicial system required to determine guilt or innocence when these community “rules” are violated. The community itself holds perpetrators accountable for their bad behavior.

Now let’s talk about the stallion’s job of protecting his herd from potential hostile takeover by another stallion.  The threat of hostile takeover can come only from two places: within the herd or outside of the herd.

The potential for hostile takeover from inside the herd could only come from young male horses (typically the reigning stallion’s offspring). But the “functional” herd community naturally takes care of this threat by forcing male youngsters out of the herd when they are between the ages of 2-3 years if they have not already voluntarily left by then. Neither the reigning stallion nor the mares in a band will permit young males to mate with females in their “natal band”, so these youngsters typically leave voluntarily after one or two unsuccessful mating attempts. If not, the stallion will kick them out (example three of effective boundaries).

When young male horses leave their natal band they typically join what are known as “bachelor bands” – small herds of other young male horses. A young male horse in the wild will typically spend 1-5 years in a bachelor band where he will form very close friendships and will spend much of his time play-fighting to measure his respective strength and strategic abilities against those of the other young males. This way of life prepares him well, physically and mentally, for his potential role as patriarch of his own herd.

On average, a female horse (mare) in the wild will have a foal once a year. She will nurse each foal (baby horse) for somewhere between 7-8 months. At that time, she knows her body needs to focus its full attention on providing nutrition to the new developing fetus and she will begin to reject the current foal’s attempts to nurse (example four of effective communal boundaries).

When a new foal is born, the stallion takes on the role of protector for the first few days, not allowing any other member of the herd to approach the new foal (example five of effective communal boundaries). The stallion knows that the critical bond between mother and baby is essential for the new foal’s survival and it is his job to ensure that nothing (and no one, including himself!) disrupts the natural bonding process. If necessary, the mother will also aggressively ward off any curious advances by outside herd members. The first “stranger” that is allowed to meet the new foal is its older sibling (brother or sister alike), but only after one or two days when the new foal is consistently following its mom like a shadow.

At the age of two weeks, foals begin to make the acquaintance of their other peers in the band, as well as of their father. From one month of age until they leave the herd at 2-3 years of age, the preferred playmates of foals are other foals in the herd. This peer-to-peer play is critical for their healthy development, both physically and mentally. The mature mares and stallion also work together as a “communal family” to teach youngsters how to become productive members of the community (example six of effective communal boundaries).

When young females reach the age of 2-3 years and begin coming into season themselves, they will naturally wander to the outskirts of their band during those weeks and begin to make the acquaintances of young stallions in neighboring bachelor bands as well as mares (or stallions) from other neighboring natal bands. A young female may voluntarily decide to join a neighboring band (and breed with that stallion) or she may choose to breed with a bachelor stallion and then join with him to form a new natal band of their own. Some young females who are tentative to leave their natal band will breed but then wait until later to be “voluntarily stolen” by a bachelor stallion in the days immediately after giving birth. Lone bachelor stallions, or those with only a small band of one or two mares, will often allow a new mare and foal into the band even if the foal is not their own, simply as a step toward establishing their own healthy band. It’s also not uncommon for two bachelor stallions that have formed a close friendship alliance to work together to “steal” a young mare/foal from its natal herd, even if only one of the bachelors will ultimately be chosen by the mare (example seven of effective boundaries as well as communal cooperation).

So, what can we learn from these examples of effective boundaries in wild horse communities? Obviously, their form of community and governance is much different than ours. But, I believe there are some key lessons we can learn from their example:

  1. Functional Communities are made up of members who value the benefits of living in a community and thus voluntarily agree to live by (and help to uphold) the rules/boundaries of that community. In exchange for their loyalty and cooperation as members of the community, horses receive the benefits of safety, comfort, play, shared child-rearing and knowing that the other members of the community “have their backs”.
  1. Functional Communities do not spend their time and effort unnecessarily trying to conquer other communities or ward off hostile threats from within. It’s true that stallions occasionally fight with one another. But, the stallions that have established bands fight only defensively. It’s the young or otherwise bachelored stallions that sometimes behave aggressively, but even then, they will only challenge an established stallion if they feel very confident they can “win” and it is done only in an effort to establish a natal band of their own.   Stallions don’t fight over ideology or to feed their egos or to control the world. It’s all part of natural selection and survival of the fittest – a grand plan that ensures the strongest and smartest stallions are the ones most likely to pass along their D.N.A. Meanwhile, youngsters are encouraged to go out into the world and create their own destinies. In fact, parents and friends together push out those youngsters who are hesitant to leave the nest. And no individual is forced to stay in a herd it doesn’t want to stay in. Even mares in an established herd have been known to sneak to the outskirts and allow themselves to be “stolen” by other herds or bachelor stallions. There is no punishment for this, no breaking of laws, no revenge sought by other members of the herd.
  1. Functional Communities stay focused on their primary mission and purpose. One of the primary differences between human communities and equine communities is that horses are still driven primarily by survival instincts. Perhaps this is because horses still have plenty of natural predators (including humans) to worry about while humans have so few natural predators that we’ve lost touch with our natural survival instincts. The individual behaviors of horses in community are dictated by the deep understanding that community itself (and more precisely, functional community) is absolutely necessary for survival. They remain unwavering in their focus on this reality and it is what motivates everything they do. Perhaps it is because we humans have very few natural “predators” that we too easily turn what remains of our natural protective instincts on one another? This is a slippery slope for us as a species, especially when nature itself may become our next biggest predator. If we remain distracted and focused on in-fighting, we may lose sight completely of the stark reality that having dysfunctional communities leaves all of us incredibly vulnerable to any real threat to human survival.

I’d say this is probably enough food for thought for today.

In Parts II and III in this series, I will talk more about the dynamics within established horse herds including interpersonal relationships, why this is important, and how community decisions are made. The concepts of individual (vs. communal) boundaries, earning trust and effective leadership will be a primary areas of focus in Parts II and III.

Individual in Community

Individuals in Community

Pictured above are the three unique individuals (Shoki, Puck and Tempo) that make up my herd “community”.

Those who have spent time with horses (or any animal for that matter) understand that every individual is unique.  A horse is not a horse is not a horse any more than one human is exactly like another.  Similarly, one Arabian horse or one Quarter Horse you meet is not necessarily like the next Arabian or Quarter Horse you will meet.  This same truth exists among categories of humans (such as when we are categorized by race, gender, nationality, etc.), even though we are all prone to forget this from time to time.

Interacting regularly with my horses helps me to remember this universal truth about individuality.  Unlike people, horses are incapable of pretending to be anything (or anyone) they are not.  Although most horses can be trained (and/or restrained) to exhibit (or not exhibit) certain behaviors that we humans “prefer” when we are riding or handling them, once they are “unbridled” and given the freedom to express themselves without such influences, their true opinions and personalities shine through very clearly.  True horsemen and horsewomen are the ones who can gain the trust, respect and partnership of their horses without the use of excessive training aids designed to control behavior.  They key to this “magic” is understanding that each horse is a unique individual that deserves to be understood, respected and empathized with.  It takes time and effort to build a close and trusting relationship with another human being; why would we think it should take anything less to build the same type of relationship(s) with our horse(s)?

In America especially, we have always placed a high value on the concepts of individuality and uniqueness.  But perhaps the greatest lesson my three unique horses have taught me is that being an individual is only valuable in the context of community.  A single horse alone in the wild – no matter how smart or brave or strong – will soon be a dead horse.  As prey animals, even domesticated horses instinctively know that isolation means danger and vulnerability.  By far, the most common complaint I’ve heard from riders over the years is, “My horse is herd-bound”.  Because our goals as riders usually involve taking a single horse away from its herd community in order to do some activity that meets our individual needs, we humans quickly label this deep instinctual desire in horses to NOT be separated from their herd “community” as a weakness or vice.

The truth is, this core driving instinct is precisely what makes them so wise.  Emotions such as fear have a very valuable purpose.  Fear is a red flag that warns us when we are vulnerable and reminds us that we may need to rethink what we’re doing.  For certain, fear has saved my life more times than I can count.  But fear can also sometimes be irrational, which is why when I am afraid the first thing I do is look to those around me to see if they feel my fear is warranted.  Horses are no different.  So when we take them away from the friends and relatives in their lives that they trust most, we are isolating them from the one thing that can most easily help them overcome or “work through” their fears.

Community brings out the best in all of us because it creates a safe place for us to learn and grow and experiment and contribute.  But community only works as it is designed to when the individual members behave authentically and hold one another accountable. In the coming weeks I will share posts about some of the most profound lessons my horse herd has taught me regarding “functional communities”.   Stay tuned!