While training horses I often reward them with one of their favorite past times, grazing. Recently I was working with a 14 year old mare that thoughtfully walked past a situation that was challenging for her; so I led her into a cluster of trees where some tasty grass could be found.
It is late winter in the northeast, the fields are primarily brown; any green growth has been bitten down low. The horses long for tender morsels of new grass, for its nutritional and detoxifying effects. This mare reached her nose towards the earth, she enthusiastically and audibly snipped the top off a four inch circle of rich grass. We stood together in this small, open space among the evergreen trees; the NJ Pine Barren’s earth beneath us was disturbed and worn. The exposed ground was primarily sand, grayed with ash and punctuated with intermittent chunks of grass: brown with bright green growth in the center – a horse’s delight!
The mare greedily leveled all the tuffs within her immediate range. I enjoyed watching her eat and anticipated that she would now move a few yards away to reach another area of untouched tufts of green, just as I had observed two foals and a gelding I had led there on other occasions do. This mare made a different choice and it became clear to me why she is the alpha mare in this herd, the lead mare whose natural role is to find the best food and lead the herd its source.
This mare did not walk on in search of more visible stands of grasses, as the other three horses had. Instead, she simply placed one hoof forward and extended her neck beyond the open area. She delicately rooted her nose into a dense covering of fine, brown stalks; into a foot deep ocean of dried grasses that had broken, blown and had collected in the windbreak to become a thick mass amongst the trees. She burrowed through the fibrous stalks, the bound web of brown, down to where her muzzle’s circular motion revealed vibrant, virgin green grass that I had not, until now, been aware was there.
This mare had exhibited the behavior of a master survivalist: she obtained more nutrition with less expenditure of energy than the three other horses that I had brought to the exact same location had. This alpha mare reminded me that in order to be an effective leader we need to stand our ground; to look inside versus outside ourselves for our next step. What we seek is often right in front of our nose, just waiting to be uncovered and discovered. Like her we need to be open and willing to feel where a greater source is guiding us to, and explore what is beneath the surface of the limited framework of our logical mind.