I find it an interesting synchronicity that at this time in my life I find my perspective of leadership turned on its head. In the over 2 years I’ve known my mustang mare she has been the lead mare of her shifting herd of 15-18 mares. She has shouldered the role so gracefully that life in the pasture has been ordered but playfully choatic, friendly with a sound level of ownership. She rarely, if ever, exerts her power over the others and has been willing to let many a discretion slide. My mare is not a micro-manager or one to delegate tasks, she lets each horse fall into their natural role in the herd, and shares her time with each regardless of rank. She has continually demonstrated that leadership is not about brute force, shear power, or outright enchantment, all of which she has in excess, but about sound quiet confidence.
Now, in the last few months I’ve watched another, smaller but quicker, mustang throw the herd into a jumble and bully my mare out of her position. I’ve realized how desperately I’ve clung to Cherokee’s identity as a leader, and I’ve had to go through my own path of transformation to reframe our relationship.
Relationships are tricky, especially those we have with our animals. So frequently I see that an animal’s illness, spiritual, emotional, mental or physical, is strongly tied to the human’s circumstances. We regularly project our own stuff onto our furry friends. We commonly ask them to excuse our faults. We pursue a mirror of our strengths. This is the natural order of things. To be in relationship is to connect and share our energy, love, and life.
The problem arises when the bond we share becomes static. This stunts the growth and transformation that is primary to every living being’s path. When this happens with the humans in our lives we begin to either voice or hear a good deal of grumbling which, when not heeded, turns to outright defiance and the severing of ties. Our furry companions cannot explain to us what the problem is with language, so we start to see other symptoms. Misbehavior and noncompliance are the first signs. Physical illness or violence are the last stage.
In the case of my mare and myself, I saw immediately that the shift in her role and my strong reaction to it required a big adjustment. I could have chosen to wallow in pity and spend my hours wishing for her to regain face. Instead, I saw an opportunity. Here was my chance to direct all her freed time and energy into our work together. Since she didn’t have a herd to watch over all day, I could provide Cherokee with more play sessions to ponder and I could visit at odd times. The weather this winter has been awefully cold, but I bundled up and went out. She met me in the middle by adjusting to the strange environment of the indoor arena. We’ve had some absolutely outstanding days together and now more than ever we look forward to making contact in a new way.
Many times I’ve pursued a position of leadership in my herd of two, but never would I have wanted Cherokee to have to give up her own. I still don’t know for certain that she had to relinquish her role in her herd to accept me as her leader, but something tells me that the opportunity arose for her and she took it. Maybe she’s thinking the same of me?
Feel like evaluating your own relationship with your furry friend… Here are some great questions to get you going:
1. What roles do my animal and myself play in our relationship together?
2. How have these roles shifted over time?
3. What role(s) would I like to work towards in my relationship with my animal?
4. How might our relationship change if I shifted into those roles?
5. How can I honor who my animal is in their life apart from our relationship?