Connection, draw, and drive.

Extreme matching steps.

This picture is of my friend Apache and I a few years ago.

Looking at it with what I know today, I’ve realised this was only possible, or safe, if I had the three elements of safe herd life in place.

  1. Cohesion
  2. Synchrony
  3. Collision avoidance.
    (Lucy Rees 2017)

In a discussion yesterday somewhere (maybe enjoy the journey? Or here..I lose track) had me thinking this through.

If any one of these elements were not in place, I would have either been nowhere near her, had no connection, or been in severe danger of being hurt if she jumped into me by mistake.
(She also needed to know the answer before the question- she had jumped a few single barrels without me right next to her before this.)

Cohesion, or the need to bunch up into a group, is pretty much installed at birth. It seems intrinsic to horses.

Synchrony AND collision avoidance though, in nature, are both learned behaviours modelled and taught by the herd when the foal is age appropriate.

We humans also instinctively crowd into each other when scared, and we tend to crowd into our horses too when they are scared as well. We instinctively cohere as well. It is very traditional to see an anxious horse with a human dangling off the bit right under him, thinking that they can control all that energy through sheer hanging on. Things go wrong, we instinctively tighten up, shorten the rein, or shorten the lead rope, until we learn a better way.

Those better ways are kind of rooted in synchrony and collision avoidance; a learned behaviour even for a natural horse, and something most of us humans never practice. It is not natural or intrinsic to us either, AND we don’t have either explicitly taught especially in situations where emotions are up.

We do not automatically synchronise. We have to be trained to march in step in the military, and to be able to synchronise under pressure especially, it doesn’t just happen, like bunching up happens when we are scared. The military school their troops, not only for parade, but so the individuals develop a positive reflex to synchronise under pressure in warfare as well. To act as a group.

We also are very dumb about collision avoidance. Anyone who has been at a rock concert knows that the crowd is a beast in itself, and that it doesn’t need to be scared to crush you, it can be excited, or exuberant, or anything emotional that causes us to move.

I recently researched deaths by human stampede, it’s pretty darn scary. We usually asphyxiate before we get trampled. Thousands die from it, still. We haven’t resolved it like horses have, because we are pretty much apex predators; we are the scary thing that causes the stampede most of the time. When caught in a human stampede, we lose the plot. I can avoid walking into you down a city street, but the moment we panic, we totally disregard each other.

So today we have so many horses not raised by a herd, not weaned naturally, not socialised and therefore not taught the importance of synchrony or collision avoidance by a herd. They muddle through with what herd life we can provide in domestication, in varying degrees of success.

Synchrony is the easiest. When we are calm, we all seek it. When we are calm, it is, as Tania Kindersley dubs it, ‘the place of peace’. It feels good to do stuff together.

Collision avoidance, though it is vital to a herd animal, is much harder because it has to be learned under a certain amount of duress. For horses it starts when baby is old enough to start wandering, and goes to investigate another horse. The herd teach them, play with them, nurture them, but foremost, they discipline them. There is one message every baby horse learns from the herd; and that is when someone says get out of my space, you have to move NOW. Once you are out of that space, it’s fine. Everyone relaxes. As Elsa Sinclair so brilliantly puts it, they learn to yeild, instead of to flee.

And I see that as the difference between being seen as ‘team horse’ and being an actual threat. You can say ‘give me my space’ without offending anyone or scaring them so much that they lose synchrony or cohesion. They just yeild out the way, nothing more need said.

See my hand? That’s my request for collision avoidance. I’m not touching her, I’m saying ‘please don’t be any closer’.

And yet we could not have been any closer, in intention, understanding, and in trust.

So no wonder so many of us struggle with collision avoidance, and to a lesser degree with matching steps. We need to learn it’s ok to yield instead of flee, but we also need to learn that it’s ok to teach the horse that too.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: