When I was a kid, I read A LOT. I constantly had a book on me and I was usually reading two or three books at once. At least one book was a horse book. Sometimes it was a fiction story like Black Beauty or Misty of Chincoteague and sometimes it was autobiographies like Monty Roberts’ The Man Who Listens to Horses. I loved reading about horses and then I would take some of the things I read and try it with my horse. This meant that I spent a lot of time observing my horse and it was the best thing I ever did as a kid.
Why was it the best thing I did? Because I learned so much about myself just by watching my horse. My horse was the herd boss so he was in charge of the other horses and he took his job seriously. He broke up disagreements with the herd just by walking between horses. He tested out new members of the herd and put them in their place by making them run away from him. He made sure that each member of the herd was safe in their stalls at night before he would eat his dinner. He calmed the herd through his quiet demeanor and easy-going approach to fear factors like thunderstorms or a cat leaping out of the woods.
I observed the way my horse interacted with the herd and tried to bring that into my own life. When my horse was tested by a new horse or a herd member who wanted to test dominance, he did not react with anger, he held true to himself. My horse rarely bit or kicked another horse. He was confident in his position as herd leader and he used that confidence to physically push other horses out of his way and remain dominant. Now, I didn’t go around pushing people, but I did take his self-confidence as a reminder to be confident in myself. If someone tried to bully me or make me feel less than, I remembered my horse.
Okay, so why am I taking you on this emotional trip down memory lane? Because this is something that your clients can learn through herd observation too! Herd observation is one of my favorite activities because it teaches our clients so much about horse behavior, herd dynamics, relationships, self-confidence, and working in a group to name a few. It is a ground activity that takes little preparation and has a powerful impact. It’s usually one of the first ground lessons I do and it sticks with clients through their entire session.
Typically, a herd observation means releasing several horses into a pasture or open space and quietly watching from the side. Allow clients to simply stand and watch the horses in their natural environment. After about 5-10 minutes, start discussing herd dynamics, how horses interact in the wild, how a leader is established, and how the herd takes care of one another. Allow clients to interject their own observations and ask questions along the way. Ask clients which horse they feel most drawn to or which horse they feel is most similar to them. This gives the instructor a lot of insight into each client without being an invasive question.
I hope this helps you understand a bit about why herd observation is great for a ground activity and gives you some ideas for your next lesson!