Cowboy — a horse is playing with a bone — weird?
What is your first impression when you watch this video?
I was walking in the woods the other day, mulling over some thoughts about the predators and prey. Coming of the woods I found a big bone at the head of the trail; I picked it up. Weird place for a bone. Cowboy walked up to me, took it from my hand and started to play with it. As soon as I said, “Cowboy, you look like a freak”, he dropped it, licked and chewed. In horse language, licking and chewing means you got the message.
Are we predators or prey?
The saying goes, “Eyes in the front made to hunt, eyes on the side made to hide.” When we ride horses we jump on their back, just like a predator. They have to override 60 million years of instinct, of how NOT to get eaten to let us ride them; however, the instinct to connect is also solidly imbedded in their ancient genetics.
The way horses see it, the more connected and diverse we are, the better chance of survival we all have. Since humans have only 6 million years on earth, I guess we can learn a thing or two about survival from this species that is 10 times older than we are!
Power is not a dirty word when used fairly and as intended. As described by Linda Kohanov in her book: ‘The Five Roles of a Master Herder’ these are the characteristics of predatory and non-predatory power:
- Supports individual and group needs simultaneously
- Values relationship over territory
- Values process over goal
- Stops fighting when aggressor backs off
- Mutual aid/safety in numbers orientation
- “Live and let live”
- Shields the weak
- Vulnerable individuals can rely on others
- Conserves energy for true emergencies
- Cooperation emphasized
- Nourishes self at others expense
- Values territory over relationship
- Values goal over process (the end justifies the means)
- Fight to the death impulse is strong
- Survival of the fittest orientation
- Culls the weak
- Must hide vulnerability at all cost
- Purposefully escalates fear
- Competition emphasized
Scene 2: Cowboy and Steve
What is your first impression?
In this video, Cowboy is teaching Steve about the Sentinel (watcher) role. At least one individual watches for predators so the others can calmly eat and sleep. Cowboy is discerning (not judging); is Steve a predator? Eventually, he discerns that Steve is not a predator and asks him to watch out so he can lay down. There can be cross species collaboration. Only two species hunt for fun: humans and domestic cats.
Understanding intention is the key to survival for any species.
As explained by Temple Grandin, in her book: ‘Animals in Translation’, animals have finely tuned senses to first discern intent, this intent generates an emotion. The animal gets the message behind the emotion and takes action; therefore, emotion is a predictor of the future.
For example, a zebra sees a lion; senses his intent and notices how he feels. No fear = safe. Fear = run. If he runs every time he sees a lion, he would use up his energy unnecessarily, and have to find more food. If the zebra feels fear and does not run, he may die. Fear is a predictor of death.
In nature the predator role, when used appropriately, is essential for the survival of a species and is used by both predator and prey. However, it can be misused.
Benefits of Predators:
- Culls (eliminates) — Removes what is does not benefit the whole: Individuals that continue to be disruptive or are not in line with the group values. Imbalanced individuals. Weak or sick individuals that may attract natural predators (when necessary). Group members that do not contribute to the ‘success’ of the group/species. ‘Inferior’ individuals that weaken the species’ genetics.
- Monitors Resources — Is sensitive to energy and resource drains and notifies leaders
- Decides — Makes the tough decisions during lean times for the good of the whole
- Balances — Keep the eco-system (outside and inside of the species) in balance
- Fierce Protection — Offers protection from threats that do not back down
- Genetic Resilience — The strongest, smartest, well balanced individuals contribute the best traits to the gene species gene pool to benefit the survival of the species.
Has our misuse of predatory power made us freaks of nature?
In the human society today, the predator role and predatory power are over used and misused. In order to survive we hide our emotions so we don’t appear weak or inferior. We can not reveal a vulnerability. Individuals with vulnerabilities are an easy target for predators. Unbalanced predators seek ways to uncover others vulnerabilities. Inside we are fearful, but to our detriment and for self preservation, we only show others that we are fine. Living like this is incongruent and not sustainable. A society based on incongruencies is confusing, especially for children and it is not viable.
In incongruent environments we constantly feel the need to be on guard. We are waiting for the next shoe to drop, keeping us in fight or flight mode. We are; after all, first wired to survive.
All species, whether a predator or prey, need to connect in a place that is safe to be vulnerable. The hormone, oxytocin is released when we are hugged and touched in loving ways. Oxytocin is the glue that keeps a species connected, ensuring its survival, as a whole. The physiological connection of this essential hormone is so strong, one member will give his life for another.
Oxytocin has important physiological benefits:
- Reduces blood pressure/stress hormones
- Buffers flight/fight response in favor of a “calm and connect” response
- Encourages “tend and befriend” behavior
- Elevates pain thresholds and promotes faster healing
- Creates heightened learning capacity
- Positively affects the group, not just the individual
The pandemic has forced us to live separated. Maybe the catalyst for the chaos in our country is the result of inadequate oxytocin production.
By playing with the bone, Cowboy showed me how freaky it looks when we are not living the way we were intended.
Anxiety increases when we stay in situations that that don’t feel right. Our insides (feelings) are telling us one thing, while on the outside we try to convince ourselves it’s ok. We are disconnected from ourselves, from our truth. When we reconnect with our truth, we can authentically connect to others.