Sangha, Community, Herd

Horses are about as communal as animals get. They are, after all, herd animals. A horse alone is a sad and dysfunctional thing. The nature of the beast is to be social–to be born and live in a group.

This doesn’t mean they have no individuality. Not even slightly. Every one of those apparently indistinguishable black or brown or white or spotted animals has his or her own personality, attitude, and way of fitting into the crowd.

Anyone who has the privilege of interacting with an established horse herd can tell you just how individual (and opinionated) the members of the herd are. And, if the herd is socialized to humans, it will accept the tottery little two-legged critters into that herd.

That’s what we’ve been working with here, as an offshoot of our Horse-Assisted Yoga sessions. These started as one horse with group of humans, but my herd so intrigued the instructor that she started experimenting with actual herd yoga. That means humans in with the horses, doing their stretching and breathing and balancing, and the horses joining in, or not, as they choose.

So, not too long ago, she made it a thing. White Horse Yoga, with handpicked class, set up to explore the possibilities with my eight white horses.  Seven in one area, one (the stallion) in his own domain, but very much a part of the interaction.

Well, eight to start with. The week before the first class, we had a Karmic Event: one of my favorite mares in the world, who had lived here years ago on a breeding lease (in which I paid her bills, oversaw her breedings, and kept the foals, but she remained the property of another farm, which took her back at the end of the lease), had been sold to a breeder in Oregon. The breeder was suffering difficulties, and the mare had to be placed in a new home immediately. Both she and the original owner very much wanted that home to be my farm.

There was no way–but then there was. The shipping fees materialized, thanks to friends within the breed, and the new rescue foundation for the breed. The shipper with the lowest bid (and it was rock-bottom low) could pick her up within days. The veterinarian could do the transport papers right away.

Her ETA: More or less on time for yoga class.

The theme, therefore, was Sangha: Community, and welcoming a returning member. The herd was mellow, but the stallion had been staring off to the northwest, where the highway came around the mountain forty miles away, all morning long. The mares kept an eye in that direction, but weren’t unduly perturbed.

One, whom we call the War Mare because of her ferocious temper and tendency to be one big knot of tension, lay down to sleep on the edge of the circle, and let one of the new members of the class pet her. This, for a horse, is major; a horse lying down is highly vulnerable, and when touched, will usually leap to her feet. But she was quiet and peaceful and totally trusting.

And of course our big mare, the Enlightened Master, was here and there and round about, correcting this person’s form with a touch of the nose, or offering her substantial bulk for balance and the occasional, obligatory hug.

Lipizzan Number Nine arrived as the class was ending, in a truly palatial vehicle–which is no more than her due; we call her the Queen. She was plastered with the finest vintage of Oregon mud, but healthy and sound. She got a wholehearted, but mellow, herd and human welcome. And a personal one, too.

We’re taking our time with the actual integration of the new(ish) member into the herd. Some are her daughters. One is a stallion she remembers very well indeed. We’re introducing her to the group one by one, and carefully, so that no one is hurt in the flurries of social rearrangement.

It will take a few weeks to get them all together and settled into the new configuration. Where she’ll be in the hierarchy, no one knows until it happens.

But we know it will happen. Sometimes when you bring a horse into a herd, the disruption is such that integration never really works. If you’ve had cats, you may know how that works. One or more in one room, the rest in another, and never the two shall meet without bloodshed.

In this case, the excitement died down quickly enough and the newcomer is wise enough in picking her fenceline battles that we’re sure she’ll end up a full member of the community. She’s putting her daughters in their places, not engaging with the senior mares, and only defending herself against direct challenges. It’s a good sign.

The next White Horse Yoga session, in a few weeks, should be interesting. She’ll have plenty to say, I’m sure. And plenty to teach, as well.


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Sangha, Community, Herd — 15 Comments

  1. Waah, Neep! And thanks for elaborating on the Horse Yoga and the arrival of the rescued horse. I can imagine it much better now. I love the whole concept of horse yoga but to hear how much the horses do their share or enjoy the experience is especially gratifying.

  2. I am so looking forward to Horse Yoga at Camp in March–it was a singular experience, actually feeling part of the herd for once, when we had our session in October. Fascinating, how many of the horses got involved, and how quiet they were–suddenly there’s a muzzle, a broad shoulder, or in one case, a rear end that someone feels needs yogic scritching.

  3. Oh, yes, Estara, they totally participate. Sometimes in the circle, doing stretches with us. Sometimes moving around us, or poking inquisitive noses into twisty bendy humans (as Sherwood notes), or helping us if we need to balance or improve our form. It’s a truly communal experience.

    Next one is the Friday before Winter Solstice. THAT should be interesting. 🙂

  4. Major envy here. I’ve been studying yoga for 10 or 11 years, and do my almost-daily practice with one of our cats (Gayatri, go figure) and sometimes dog. Cat always wants to perch on some part of anatomy. Dog gets confused — what is Two-Legs doing on the floor? Perhaps because these are not herd animals, there’s less interaction.

    Okay, Gods of the Universe: provide the wherewithal for Horse Camp! And soon!

  5. Deborah, we would love to have you here!

    Interesting that dogs are supposed to be the most interactive animal as far as elations with humans go, but your dog isn’t interacting. With the horses, it’s all about the interaction. All the time.

    Cats of course have to be in the middle of things No Matter What. ;>

  6. I think I’m going to have to move west… just enough so I can get into this horse yoga…

  7. Artemie: 🙂

    Gabriele, that was me. I was glad Housemate was doing this yoga thing as she seemed to like it, and when she had the instructor over here to work with some issues she was having as a rider, I watched because, you know, curious.

    And I got hooked. Not because of the human element. Because the horses were so into it. When my most difficult horse came up to the instructor and touched her softly with her nose and loved on her, I was (with some considerable bemusement) sold.

    The instructor meanwhile was equally bemused, because this herd wasn’t like anything she’d seen before. They’re driving this even more than she is. It’s been a very interesting process.

  8. Oh, I’ve read all the other horse yoga posts, too and looked at the pictures and everything, but more elaboration and info and neep makes me feel as if I can be a stealth observer to something awesome. So as always, thanks for sharing the amazing stuff.

  9. That reminds me, Judy. How does your returning mare recognize her offspring? It must be by smell, right? Do the fathers of foals recognize their offspring after they are grown?

  10. Brenda, it’s probably smell.

    Or else a supernatural connection through the Equine Overmind and/or the Mother Ship. Because she stared AND STARED at her girls the first couple of days, and they stared back. Visually, mom hasn’t changed much, but the little black girls are now big grey mares–both taller than their mom. Still, she knew them. She didn’t stare like that at any of the others.

    The older one, who had mom around for a year and a half, is much less intrigued than the one who got weaned up north at 4 months and shipped to me a month later. Younger kid keeps looking and looking, and then acting as if she wants to check out the milk bar. You know. Just to see if it’s still there. (It won’t be. She’ll get clocked. She’s five years old. That ship done sailed.)

    The stallion knows his own offspring, too. Smell again? Something. He even recognizes foals born elsewhere and brought in.

    He and she definitely know each other, but horses have been proved to have remarkable longterm memory. Show a horse something and ten years later, even if it’s never repeated again, he’ll remember it. (They were each other’s first real live nookie. You don’t forget that–whether you’re a horse or a human.)

  11. Now in Horse Literature that ability would completely eliminate those favorite plot tricks of Victorian writers, the Long Lost Son Revealed At Deathbed or the OMG She’s My Daughter Stolen By Pirates. You could probably give us a marvelously informative blog post on Horse Family Dynamics. If stallions can really recognize their own foals without ever having met them, that is amazing.

  12. Great suggestion, Brenda. Will definitely do it. (I also have one I want to do on Horse Transport.)

    Horses have a good sense of smell. Maybe a stallion remembers his mares, and when mare shows up with baby…? But that doesn’t explain how, in the wild, a stallion knows to drive away the sons by another stallion but keep the daughters.

    Maybe it’s the Mother Ship.