In the wild, horses will band together in a herd and conform to a leader’s dominance. This tendency seems to emerge from their nature of being a grazing animal, meaning during the times they are standing still and eating, they are vulnerable to attack. The horse herd, led by the dominant stallion, moves constantly through the hours of the day, seven days a week. The dominant mare leads the others to the best grazing fields in good weather and to sheltered spots in the winter. The majestic stallion moves to the back of the herd to ensure the slower horses keep up with the herd’s pace and guards them and the offspring from attack. At a certain age, the offspring are pushed out of the herd to find their own new herd, and in this way, the horses prevent inbreeding. Sometimes the young don’t want to leave, but their mothers push them out when it is time for them to make their own way.
All herds have a mixture of followers and leaders and most conform to the leadership of the herd. When they don’t play by the rules, they are roundly rejected by all the others and cast out, making them highly susceptible to the attacks of predators.
While wild horses tend to be more genetically diverse than their domestic cousins, and are thus better able to adapt to changing environments, all horses seek relationships. For the domestic horse, bringing in a new horse to their territory can be a tenuous challenge, since if they take an instant dislike to each other or perceive a threat, they will fight viciously, kicking and biting and causing each other serious injury. But even with domestic horses, all of them will ultimately trust a good leader and adapt to their own herd mentality.
As humans we need to find our “herds” as well, but our choices and reasoning can be more complex. How do you go about finding the right herd for you? A good start is to first confront a couple of misconceptions. The two biggest myths about being in a herd is that it weakens you as an individual, and it can replace your sense of independent action, pushing you to blend in and do what everyone else does.
If you study the horse herd, you will see that it does neither. Herding for horses is totally for the benefit of the survival of each individual horse. It gives them a strength to survive longer in this supportive environment. The closer the horse is to the center of the herd, the better positioned they are to survive, since predators will attack those on the outside first. One human individual, trying to move forward with an idea or attempting to grow a company, can benefit tremendously by surrounding themselves with a resourceful herd. It gives them strength and just as with the horse herd, promotes access to more information.
Secondly, when we herd as humans, it is also for our individual strengthening. We are stronger, more resourceful and more knowledgeable as a group. We can still think independently. We may watch the behaviors of those around us, and in some circumstances that may help us to survive. By observing the interactions of those around us as well, we can make better sense of our own thoughts and feelings.
We don’t have to be like everyone with whom we interact. No one horse has to assume the exact characteristics and personality of the other horses in the herd.
Sometimes, just like horses, we fight a newcomer entering our herd. When that action takes place, it can be divisive for the herd. There is the potential for injury.
Our behavior in our herd does not mean that is necessarily our behavior when we move out of our herd to have some safe alone time. When we observe horses, we see that a horse can be gentle and vulnerable with a person, but be more aggressive and stronger in the herd.
Finally, we have work herds, social herds and family herds, and in many ways, all of these blend into one full life. Individuals who have herds have been studied and found to be healthier mentally, physically, and emotionally. They are better able to accomplish their goals in life.
Such is the complexity of the horse and human personality.
HorseDream Canada, founded by Susan Wilson, provides high impact, quality leadership and team development experiences for individuals, teams, leaders and companies. It is part of an internationally renowned Horse Assisted Education Program proving transformative learning experiences around the world. HorseDream Canada is a division of I DO BUSINESS. Inc., a social purpose business. For more information, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Watch for our new book, Leadership 93/7 coming soon