As humans we value our freedom over almost everything else, yet routinely we deny it to the horses that we love so much.
I think, in part we do this from a place of conditioning, fear, and convenience.
Watching the moorland ponies in their ultimate freedom, I realised the joy and beauty in it, but also how it exists within boundaries.
Boundaries are a common topic in horse training. We are often told that horses need strict and immoveable boundaries. Or we are told not to impose any boundaries on them.
I tend to believe the answers lies somewhere in the middle and the wild herds confirmed this for me.
I sat on a cold boulder watching the Hay Tor herd grazing peacefully in the early May sun, as they were munching with such a calming rhythm, keeping a soft focus on their family around them, eating and stepping, eating and stepping.
These horses see humans frequently but from a distance, a true feral herd.
I became aware that the black stallion that treasured this herd was coming closer to me, not too close, but he was interested in understanding who and what I was.
The stallion had been circling the herd and we had the incredible sight of watching him chase off a would-be challenger. This struck me as incredible, it was not at all like we expected. The younger stallion approached and was immediately approached by the larger, strong and more powerful black stallion.
I thought to myself, “Here we go, he is not going to give up his herd without a fight!” But no fight occurred. They touched noses, they initiated the touch knees and play game, then they groomed each other with tenderness.
The defeated challenger left quietly with his head still held high. This made me smile deep into my body, watching their interaction with no violence or fighting, peacefully resolved.
Oh, how the world could learn from these ponies.
Returning to the discussion of boundaries, there existed boundaries within the freedom of each horse in this herd.
As the stallion came closer to me, so too did a filly, she was very curious. I sat still but immediately realised my error when the stallions ears went back, his nose went tight and his neck went low.
But it wasn’t the filly that got told off for wandering towards the stranger dressed in the red jacket, it was me.
He charged straight at me, I stood to my full 5 foot nothing height and flapped my arms.
It worked and he spun away, I respectively walked back and put more distance between us.
That filly and I had been shown the boundary.
This stallion was a master in communication.
Think now to the horse world and how we nag, coerce, demand and punish horses that don’t conform to our idea.
Where is the freedom for the ones standing in their boxes 2 hours day unable to touch another horse?
Don’t they get to move when they want to? Don’t they deserve subtle communication? Disagreements that are over in a few seconds and forgotten forever? No labels stuck on them to carry for the rest of their lives with humans.
Freedom is something we all value so highly, and I will be thinking today how I can offer even more to my own horses within the boundaries of domesticated life and all the trappings it carries.