Lead Mare/ Musical Chair

WMWhisper Down

I’m lucky to have a herd of horses under my care. Some people call it horse poor, but I feel rich. I’m lucky to be able to keep them as a family/herd, three of them literally related, in a large pen where they can interact freely. My herd is all ages and sexes, with a wide and extreme range of personalities, and they share a resistance to change. The cherry on top is Edgar Rice Burro.

Herd dynamics is the reality show worth watching. It’s at least as spellbinding as a history of the English Monarchy on Masterpiece Theater, especially if you add in the llamas and the goats.

There are galloping games of Wild Horse on the Prairie and mutual grooming sessions for those hard to reach places and sometimes unrequited love affairs between different species. There is the sweetness of old age and the exuberance of youth. Long hours are spent in comfort and peace. My lead mare is not bossy or aggressive. She earns the respect of the herd with her quiet confidence; she can calm a sibling rivalry with the flick of an ear. When the games are over, there is a glow of safety and deep loyalty in the herd. You can see it when they nap.

Two months ago, we lost Windy, our lead mare. It wasn’t tragic, it happened with her consent and in the right time. She was a quiet, elder mare, usually in the background; she led the herd with a quiet confidence that almost appeared passive at first glance.

Windy’s passing hit us like a sonic boom, after she was gone. Only then did I realize all that she did for us. Like Joni says, “Don’t it always go to show, you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone…”

My young mare, Clara, took the passing of her mother the hardest. She was wild and worried, maybe nothing looks the same to her now. Her insecurity made her a bit  aggressive, she lost her balance for a while. The Grandfather horse mourned deeply, he and Windy had been standing cheek to hip for years. No one ate much. Each member of the herd reacted individually, even Edgar Rice Burro’s bray was blue.

Two months later, emotions have finally leveled out and the herd shares late morning naps again. No one has stepped up to take Windy’s job. Clara doesn’t have the maturity and Grace is too much of a worrier. The Grandfather horse inspires the same deference that he did before, but his heart isn’t in it. The geldings… well, they’re geldings.

I have known some alpha mares that rule with aggression and intimidation, building themselves up by dominating others. It’s a leadership model based in fear and insecurity, and certainly not limited to horse herds.

Windy thinks good leader doesn’t show fear or aggression. It is an art to be inspiring and not over-powering.

Windy came here from a desperate herd dispersal as a mid-life, un-rideable broodmare.  But she was family, the dam of my young gelding. Windy paid me back by nurturing my herd with the tough-love sweetness of a broodmare. Under her watchful eye, the herd was calm, affectionate and peaceful. Windy inspired mutual respect, we all felt better about ourselves having her around.

When I am schooling my training techniques and preparing for my work with horses and and riders, I like to read the masters that I try to emulate, like Klimke and Olivera, and I remember The Wild Texas Wind (our Windy). I am part of her legacy as well.

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.

8 thoughts on “Lead Mare/ Musical Chair

  1. Have you ever read any of Mark Rashid’s books?? He has this great theory about “passive leadership” that matches Windy pretty perfectly. It changes the way one looks at being the human herd leader…

  2. I’m so sorry for your loss. To lose a beloved horse who is also the positive ‘glue’ of the herd is beyond devastating. What a beautiful legacy she left, and how deeply thoughtful you are to embrace the quiet subtleties of her teaching. My heart goes out to you.

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