Rosalyn W. Berne, Ph.D
Author, Scholar, Equine Empath


"Leader Of The Herd" : A Willow Oak Farm Update

When she and I first met, the mare Raven said to me, “I am the horse you’ve been waiting for. Take me home with you and I will help you to deepen your work.”  I’d thought that she was offering to help me with my “Equine Empath” work: the translating I do when I visit people and their horses. It turns out that I was incorrect about that. Raven was referring to inner work, the hard stuff of truly facing one’s self, accepting what one may rather not see or acknowledge, and then changing what needs to be changed.

Recently a woman named Louise, a horse trainer and instructor, spent time with us at Willow Oak Farm. She’d come to teach us some groundwork, and to help us get our horses ready to go under saddle for trail-riding, hopefully by spring. Louise explained that in the horse's world, the horse with the most power (the established leader) is the one who moves the other horse’s hoofs. “I’ve been watching Raven move you all around the paddock,” Louise said to me. “She loves you, but she has no respect for you.” I was stunned, and did not want to hear such things. All this time we'd been together (about 10 months) I’d believed that my mare was being affectionate with me. The sinking realization was that Raven would brush against me whenever she wanted to, because she had established herself as above me in the herd.  And what’s worse, she had no regard whatsoever for my personal space. For Raven, with me there were no boundaries.

In the days following Louise’s visit, when I was out in public, I noticed that people were moving my feet. Was Raven simply reflecting back to me the way that I was interacting with the world? Perhaps so. Though this made me curious, I wasn't particularly concerned until a young man, about 6 feet tall, practically knocked me over.  Had I not jumped out of his way, as he turned in my direction, I would have been lying on the ground. That was enough of that! I determined that would not let my feet be moved by anyone, again. I told myself that I was deserving of the same respect that I give to other people. But I knew that respect would have to come from within myself, for myself. With this awareness, I started paying attention to where and when I moved my feet. And I vowed to protect my personal space from people and horses, too. Remarkably, since then, people have become more polite, often graciously moving out of my way.
Courtesy has always been important to me. There is, however, a difference between under-valuing one’s self- and treating others with civility. I knew that I had truly absorbed Raven’s teaching, and earned her respect, when recently I entered the paddock, intending to catch Raven and bring her into the round-pen for some lunging. I approached, lead-rope in hand, then stopped to stand about 20 feet away from her. Usually I walk all way way up to her side, asking Raven if she’ll come with me. But this time I stayed put, planting my feet, and feeling into my core inner strength. Raven turned and watched, and then she slowly walked in my direction until we were about a foot apart. Accepting the lead readily, we walked out of the paddock side by side, she keeping pace with me without her usual tugging and resistance. How delightful it was to sense the respect I had earned from her. I can only imaging what more I have to learn from Raven.

Danielle Spires