In this edition of the Eponaquest News, Linda Kohanov shares a moving chapter from her upcoming book The Five Roles of a Master Herder. Research for this project took the author into unexpected areas, and what she found turns conventional notions about how humans first formed partnerships with animals inside out and upside down. You’ll never look at nature in the same way again after reading this powerful, mind-altering story. And it’s likely to change the way you look at leadership and community-building as well.
Linda just finished the manuscript for the book, which will be published in June 2016. “I’m so excited to be out in the world again after working on this project intensely for over a year,” she says. “I’ve been in self-imposed isolation for too long, and I’m excited to have a social life again. I’m also looking forward to traveling in support of the book next summer. In the meantime, we have a number of workshops scheduled for the winter and spring here at our temperate and scenic horse facility in Arizona.”
The chapter featured below builds upon insights that Linda shared in a previous newsletter when she presented Chapter One: Evolution of Power from her upcoming book. To read this chapter as well, go to http://eponaquest.com/eponaquest-news-september-2015/
“Both of these chapters are long, but people who read early drafts said that the information was life-changing,” Linda reports. “For many of us, the holidays provide much-needed time to relax, read, and reflect on how our lives and relationships could blossom if we open our hearts and minds to the beauty and gifts this world has to offer. I wish you all much joy, love, health, and success in 2016!”
Unexpected Wisdom from an Ancient Source
Copyright 2015 by Linda Kohanov
From The Five Roles of a Master Herder
All Rights Reserved
In learning how to employ the Five Roles of a Master Herder, it’s helpful to understand why nomadic pastoralists developed proficiency in all of these skills to live with herds of large, unfenced herbivores, a topic we initially explored in Chapters 1 and 2. But it’s also enlightening to look at why some of our ancestors put down the hoe and followed their four-legged companions to begin with. Based on compelling evidence from ethnographic sources and accounts of 21st-century naturalists who lived a modern variation on an ancient theme, this plot travels so far afield from civilization’s deepest held beliefs about human superiority that it is, first of all, humbling in its implications. But it’s also a hopeful story, one that offers modern leaders insight into how they too can gain the trust and cooperation of people who are both free and empowered—not to mention skeptical of anyone who proposes to direct their behavior, let alone capture and corral them.
“Just as there was an age of exploration and an age of reason, the span from 10,000 B.C. through 2500 B.C. can be seen as the golden age of animal bonding.” Meg Daley Olmert observes in Made for Each Other. “It must have been thrilling and dangerous, amazing and amusing, but none of these first tamers could have imagined just how completely these new relationships would change them, their world, and ours, forever.”
In analyzing studies of the Fulani tribes, nomadic pastoralists who live in Africa, Olmert emphasizes that researchers Dale Lott and Benjamin Hart focus “not so much on the Fulani’s amazing abilities to socialize their cattle, but on the socializing effect the cattle have had on the people who tend them. These humans have, according to Lott and Hart, become hybrids whose psyche is ‘part and product of the behavioral properties of the cattle.’”
Something similar happened to naturalist Joe Hutto and his wife Lesley when a wild mule deer stepped courageously into their world, invited them into hers, and soon after introduced the couple to her much more wary herd. Over seven years, the Huttos’ views on life, nature, and animal intelligence expanded significantly as members of two very different species learned to trust, educate, care for, and collaborate with each other.
Hutto, an Emmy Award–winning filmmaker and writer, chronicled these often astonishing events in the book and accompanying PBS Nature documentary Touching the Wild. His goal was to share what he had learned about the secret lives of mule deer as he and Lesley forged ever-stronger relationships with multiple generations of these sensitive, unexpectedly brave and intelligent animals. It’s “hard to remember who I once was, and harder still to understand who or what I may have become,” he admits. “My identity has undeniably been shaped and redefined by this community—this family into which I have in some strange way been assimilated.”
Hutto inadvertently lived the hows and whys ancient settlers may have formed partnerships with the once equally wild herbivores we now consider domesticated. The author didn’t seem to make this connection—and ultimately turned down the deer’s invitation to go deeper and farther afield. Still, his experiences offer an important window into the mind-expanding, behavior-altering, sometimes heart wrenching dynamics that may have led some of our ancestors to embrace the pastoral lifestyle.
As I compared Hutto’s story with research on the human-animal bond and the habits of nomadic interspecies cultures, a compelling sequence of events became apparent. For our purposes here, I am less concerned with whether this pattern could be validated as a scientifically plausible theory on the genesis of nomadic pastoralism. Rather, the eight steps I describe offer a deeper understanding of why certain people attract opportunities for connection with strangers who live by different rules, how social animals in nature employ and often combine the five roles, how master herders would have learned to juggle them all, and why modern leaders must be willing to be transformed by those they propose to lead.
Even if your main interest in reading this book is to become a better manager or teacher of humans rather than a student of interspecies relations, I encourage you to follow this train of thought to its conclusion. You might also reflect on how employing these steps could enhance your effectiveness in the various social settings you move through, including the possibility of collaborating with some of the wilder, more fearful or aggressive people you’re bound to encounter along the way.
Step One: Create an Oasis
Studies of ancient pastoral cultures suggest that herbivores were attracted to fields of grain planted by early agricultural communities and eventually enticed some of our more adventurous ancestors into a lifestyle based on moving with migrating herds. In turn, the nomads’ intimate knowledge of animal behavior, combined with selective breeding practices, later made it possible for sedentary farmers to keep the much gentler descendants of these species close to home.
But we had to start small. Archeological records indicate that sheep and goats were loosely associated with humans around 11,000 years ago, and fully integrated into settlements near Jericho around 8,000 years ago. Not everyone settled down, however. The Jewish culture, and hence the entire Judeo-Christian heritage, is based on tribes that chose to develop an increasingly sophisticated semi-nomadic lifestyle rather than accept the sedentary practices of some of their contemporaries. (For an in-depth discussion of the strong pastoral roots of the Jewish and Christian religions, see Chapter Seven in The Power of the Herd.)
After sheep and goats were domesticated, it took another 1,000 years for people to figure out how to work with the larger, fiercer ancestors of modern cattle, and over 2,000 years beyond that for equines to begin living in close contact with humans. Once again, horses were initially associated only with nomadic cultures. It took a particularly bold and savvy group of people to not only observe, but actually align with equine behavior, and, as a result, create an interspecies culture based on equal parts freedom, power, and mutual aid. Still, it’s important to realize that the increasing diversity of species associated with human settlements, and the increasing skill that early pastoralists developed in working with different animals, were both factors in forming partnerships with powerful herbivores like horses and cattle.
Long before our ancestors were capable of partnering with any of these animals, however, an attraction grew between humans and four-legged neighbors who came and went as they pleased. Moving from observation at a distance to hand feeding and finally touch, the human-animal bond created a powerful feedback loop of increasing curiosity, respect, comfort, trust, and care. As Joe and Lesley Hutto’s experience suggests, plenty of foodgood cheer, and nonpredatory behavior would have surrounded the settlements most amenable to this process of mutual domestication.
Shortly after the Huttos moved to Wyoming’s Slingshot Ranch in May 2006, the area around the house and barn exploded with life. The couple not only set up feeding stations and bird houses, they began naming the wild residents and reaching out to them in ways that few ranchers would bother to do. Joe and Lesley’s interest in multiple species brought the shiest animals out of hiding. Tasty seeds may have been the initial attraction, but soon enough the farm pulsed with feelings of safety and celebration that must have radiated for miles.
As Hutto explains: “We commonly sit on the front porch in the evening watching all the activity in the area with chipmunks scampering across our laps as they fill their cheek pouches and then diligently head to some secure location to deposit their stash—then back they come for another load. Naturally many of our chipmunks have names, and some will let me scratch them on their tiny heads while they shell sunflower seeds on the coffee table.”
Hutto is also an experienced hunter, but he clearly doesn’t over-identify with this role. Near the house, he and his wife seem to be in the habit of creating a small, stress-free, predator-free zone that protects more than their two horses. Even animals that many people would fear or reject as a nuisance are welcomed: “Like chipmunks, many of the bunnies have names and readily take horse cookies from Lesley’s hand down at the barn….Lesley can call a name, and a pack rat will emerge from a hole in a log wall of the barn, walk out onto Lesley’s lap, and casually take a horse cookie.”
Even so, predators are not considered enemies. They’re just barred from a small oasis that gives other animals respite from the sometimes-harsh realities of life. While appreciating the languid flights of large raptors from a distance, Lesley chases eagles and hawks away from rabbits frolicking in the front yard. Still, when the couple found a nearby kestrel nest was being bombarded by an overabundance of egg-loving bull snakes, Joe relocated a number of the ravenous serpents so that these delicate falcons could finally produce their long-awaited fledglings.
The ranch also grows alfalfa and other crops during the warmer months. Deer are invariably attracted to the back acres when they return to the valley from summer migrations through high country. But the couple never expected to get anywhere near these inherently cautious herbivores. For good reason: When hunting season starts in the fall, rifle blasts echo for miles. In rural areas, Hutto reports, people living in trailers or houses on smaller acreage are known to shoot at deer passing through the yard at any time of the year, hoping to fill their freezers with venison from fortuitous, sometimes illegal, kills.
Yet despite this constant threat, the mule deer visiting Slingshot Ranch proved to have keen, discriminating minds and a certain amount of courage. Like all intelligent, highly observant herbivores, they were capable of assessing the intentions of predators at a distance. Though more delicate than horses and cattle, the deer also sometimes succeeded in fighting off coyotes and wolves. A few of the adults were even strong enough to escape, and heal from, serious mountain lion assaults. (Hutto later realized that does, who clearly recognize the voices of their own newborns, will answer the distress call of any fawn in the area, and often put their own lives at risk to thwart a predatory attack on someone else’s child.)
And so it happened that one particularly intelligent and gregarious doe became curious about the daily interspecies parties hosted by the Huttos, and decided to not only stick around, but move closer to the real action down at the ranch house.
Step Two: Observe While Being Observed
For many years, I secretly entertained the notion that wild herbivores may have been the ones to approach some of our ancestors, rather than the other way around.
This seemingly whimsical idea was finally confirmed when I read about Joe Hutto’s experiences with the mule deer clan. He hadn’t set out to study this particular species. He and his wife Lesley instead found that a courageous doe was studying them, probably for quite some time before she gently made her presence known. Because on the day this unusually poised deer crossed the boundary between the ranch house and the surrounding wilderness, she did something more amazing than step onto the property and gingerly sniff around: she stared unflinchingly into their eyes, something that herbivores are reluctant to do with animals they don’t trust.
It happened in September, five months after the couple moved to Slingshot Ranch. Mule deer were just beginning to return from summer migrations, and the couple would watch them with binoculars from the porch as chipmunks skittered about looking for sunflower seeds and rabbits played nearby. One afternoon, Lesley looked out the kitchen window and saw a mule deer doe standing in the front yard. “As we gazed from the darker interior of the house,” Hutto remembers, “the deer finally made eye contact….We stood silent and motionless, certain that she would soon become fearful and the moment would be lost. However, to our amazement, she continued her obvious inquiry, which even included a quick halting step in our direction.” Then she “slowly walked toward the back of the house and out of sight.”
As the doe returned each afternoon, the Huttos began calling her Rayme (short for Doe-Ray-Me). She was so inquisitive that the couple assumed she must have had some previous contact with humans, but none of the other local ranchers and residents had ever heard of a mule deer being raised or fed by anyone in the area. Still with the Huttos’ two horses munching peacefully on high quality feed near the house, any deer’s curiosity might be piqued. She probably wandered among these gentle giants at night when the house was dark and quiet. Eventually, however, the Huttos realized she was doing something else out there too.
During the day, her interest was further piqued as she watched rabbits and squirrels not only playing when the humans were around, these notoriously fragile, nervous animals were also being groomed and hand fed by the oddly compelling two-legged creatures.
As Dale Lott reported in his national park study, people thought highly of fellow visitors who were trusted by wild animals. Other species develop the confidence to approach us for similar reasons. The chipmunks, pack rats and deer orbiting around Slingshot Ranch weren’t just observing human behavior, they were taking cues from the comfort and safety that other animals, including the horses, exhibited in the Huttos’ presence. If Joe had been using food to lure rabbits out of the brush to trap or shoot them, the outcome would have been different.
I’ve noticed that my association with horses in particular has a similar effect, even though they aren’t wild animals. When I’m out riding, herds of mule deer in Arizona continue grazing and even step forward with curiosity as we meander along the trail. They don’t show the same level of comfort when I’m hiking on foot. Back at the ranch, when I sit quietly with the herd, rabbits, squirrels and birds will come within a few feet of my chair, even though I don’t have food with me, and I’m not trying to entice them in any way. This trust is extended to strangers who show a similarly calm, respectful demeanor: When the horses and I are working with small groups of equine-facilitated learning clients, rabbits sometimes approach and even sit under trees to watch us.
It doesn’t take much imagination to see the human parallels. How any new leader handles the initial “observation” period is crucial to building trust and cooperation with employees, colleagues, clients, vendors, and/or constituents. A beefy resume, an intriguing plan of action, and a slick or inspiring speaking style may win someone the opportunity to hold an influential position. But particularly in entrepreneurial, community-based, and diplomatic settings—where stakeholders may be a bit more flighty, and are truly free to stay or leave—every move this person makes communicates.
If, like the Huttos, leaders set up an oasis where diversity is appreciated and predatory behavior is minimized, people will begin to relax. It’s also helpful to occasionally connect with individuals and small groups in an agenda-less, open-minded, open-hearted setting—and, in turn, reward people for stepping out of their hiding places, not with sunflower seeds of course, but with feelings of delight and interest.
And finally, as the Huttos discovered with their wildest of neighbors, it may be beneficial for new executives to sometimes go about their daily business in full view of others, even if it feels a bit like working in a fishbowl. (Studies have shown that workers must also be able to minimize distractions to excel. Finding a balance between transparency and privacy is key to effective leadership.)
These simple (yet often counterintuitive) acts won’t necessarily win everyone over. But they will attract the attention of staff members who truly care about the organization’s well being. These same people often hold unofficial leadership roles, and are, for any number of reasons, respected and trusted by others. Once a new manager gains the confidence of these informal ambassadors, other, more reticent or jaded members of the herd will quite naturally follow.
Step Three: Welcome the Ambassadors
As Rayme casually wandered into the Huttos’ yard each day, her family group began browsing the vicinity. Lesley and Joe started tossing horse cookies out to the doe, who stayed close by when they stepped onto the porch. “Soon Rayme became a familiar resident around the house, and we discovered that all we needed to do was walk outside and say, ‘Rayme!’ and she would mysteriously appear within seconds.”
In a matter of weeks, Rayme’s entire herd felt comfortable entering the yard. Soon enough they were given names too. Several of the otherwise healthy deer showed signs of narrow escapes from predatory attacks. Notcha, “a profoundly beautiful and elegant deer” who showed “a particular affinity for Lesley,” was named for “a distinct notch taken out of her left ear.” Charm, a yearling doe, was named for the “black scars that girdled both her lower front legs, like bracelets, just above the hooves. Her entire body was covered in large, dark patches and lines from obvious scarring. She must have been horribly mauled by coyotes or a mountain lion when she was a fawn, but miraculously survived.”
By late November, several bucks arrived on the scene. They accepted the presence of humans even more quickly, in part because the does were comfortable with Hutto and his wife, but to a larger extent because the males had something else on their minds.
Rutting mule deer bucks, although profoundly wary most of the year, can become almost oblivious to humans when preoccupied with prospective mates. If you are standing twenty feet from twenty does and fawns in the first week of December, the biggest buck may pass close enough to touch you, offering only a nervous glance and a canted ear that dismisses your odd and inconvenient presence.
A particularly large and impressive male the couple named Daddy Buck “immediately identified us as safe neighbors and in a few days became entirely comfortable with our presence.” On occasion, they offered him some “high protein supplemental food” when he appeared especially “starved and exhausted” from his amorous adventures.
Over time, it occurred to Hutto that mule deer who survived beyond their first year were warriors. As he got to know multiple generations, he could see that youthful innocence and optimism were all-too-often replaced by a profound sadness in their eyes. When one of the herd leaders died of an unknown illness, her family camped out near the body for more than a week. Other deer, clearly traumatized by their own close calls with predators, were tenacious survivors and overcame outrageous injuries, no doubt through the opportunity to heal near the house. The naturalist also observed several instances where a mother would guard the remains of a fawn killed by a mountain lion. Though these does couldn’t save the lives of their children, they grieved the loss for days, and some successfully kept coyotes and vultures away from the body.
Not all carnivores, Hutto discovered, exhibited the behavior of predators designed by nature to keep life in balance. Some, like human trophy hunters, were fetishists. As he reported with some disgust, at least one of the large cats in the area had a habit of eating only the liver and whatever flesh it took to get to this tasty treat before wandering off to find the next organ donor. Over their seven-year association with the deer, Hutto could see that the careless and constant two-legged and four-legged assaults on the mule deer were decimating the population, and his heart went out to these gentle, deep feeling creatures. The safety zone created around the ranch house may therefore have been more attractive to Rayme than the promise of food.
It didn’t take long for the Huttos to realize that mule deer do not live by grass alone, not even close. A complex array of social relationships, mutual aid, and the ability of this particular herd to discern that there were a couple of trustworthy humans in the area, were crucial to the tenuous survival of orphaned fawns in particular—and to the larger herd’s ability to enjoy life at times.
Was Rayme a visionary among mule deer? The results of the contact she initiated certainly suggest it. Her innovative association with the Huttos saved the lives of numerous deer over the years by introducing her much more wary herd members to an oasis of rest and renewal.
No less important to the long-term viability of these long misunderstood animals, Rayme came upon a writer and film producer capable of giving her family a voice. Hutto’s stunning words and images may finally bring enough public attention to secure the mule deer a position on the endangered species list at the eleventh hour, or at the very least, discourage hunters who truly care about conservation from shooting does and fawns during still-legal seasons. (Although, when a doe is killed, the vast majority of fawns also die as a result of losing their mothers.)
“For reasons that will always remain a mystery, Rayme found us—Rayme sought us out,” Hutto marvels. And she stayed just long enough to build the foundation of what would become a fruitful interspecies relationship.
After that first magical winter at Slingshot Ranch, Rayme and the rest of the deer migrated to their summer range in May. The Huttos thought that the herd might return to their wary ways and lose the thread of trust established, seemingly miraculously, by an unusually intelligent and gregarious doe. But the following fall, the deer returned. Nervous at first, they were once again comfortable with the couple a few hours later.
After many weeks waiting for Rayme, however, Hutto “sadly concluded” that she had not survived:
Opening doors, making connections, seeing potential in people or animals that the average “herd member” rejects as strange and suspect, these skills come easily to ambassadors like Rayme. It may be a talent or perhaps a perspective developed through a rare confluence of life circumstances—most likely a combination of both. But in analyzing what makes these unique individuals tick, I realized that I didn’t have to add a sixth role to the Master Herder model to include them. Ambassadors actually combine three of the roles—Sentinel, Nurturer/Companion, and Leader—while minimizing dominant and predatory behavior in groups. In their ability to take emotional as well as physical risks to connect with others, they are visionary warriors of the heart, and they seem to be the primary motivators of social evolution.
At their most innovative, ambassadors create the conditions for large populations to reach across cultural and species lines. More commonly, these gifted connectors go about their business in much less monumental settings. Recognizing, aligning with, and most importantly, learning from the ambassadors in any group gives savvy leaders a leg up in gaining cooperation and rallying the untapped talents of all kinds of people, including those who don’t yet have the courage or social skills to communicate well and collaborate with others.
Unfortunately, as a result of overemphasizing dominant and predatory behavior, conquest-oriented cultures and businesses tend to ignore, or even malign, employees and community members who are functioning as ambassadors. (Melanie’s story in Chapter 6 is a classic example.) To make matters worse, these people may not see themselves as leaders because of a marked unwillingness to claw their way to the top or intimidate others into submission. Some avoid promotion; others are repeatedly passed over when they do apply for managerial positions. And the organization as a whole suffers.
Step Four: Name the Individuals
In the 1990s, many of the equestrians I encountered believed that animals were incapable of thought and emotion. “It’s all instinct,” one of my trainers told me whenever I brought up anecdotal evidence to the contrary. Some of the local ranchers insisted that, unlike dogs, horses weren’t smart enough to recognize their own names. Even when a Thoroughbred, Quarter Horse, Appaloosa, or Arabian had a registered name, it was considered a convenient way to link valuable breeding stock to their ancestors on paper. If a cowboy at one of these operations wanted someone to catch a few geldings in the back pasture, he’d distinguish them by color or marking, saying something like, “Hey Jimmy, go get the black, the line-back dun, and that chestnut with the two white socks.”
Over the years, I met a number of unregistered cow horses who had never been given names. I questioned this practice once, simply by mentioning that my mare came when I called her, and two grizzled ranch hands looked at each other, rolled their eyes, shook their heads, and smirked. “You feed her don’t you?” one of them asked. I nodded. “That’s not her name working for you; that’s her stomach,” he replied. When I mentioned that horses are commonly taught vocal commands like “walk,” trot,” and “giddy up,” the other argued that this was “conditioning.” Horses, these men insisted, weren’t conscious enough to have an actual identity, and so naming them was superfluous, something that riders did for their own amusement.
Since that time, the popularity of the natural horsemanship movement has changed more than a few cowboy minds. Well-known, Stetson-clad clinicians travel the country introducing training techniques that take the mental and emotional fitness of both horse and rider into consideration. But the idea that a wild animal might respond to a name is still up for debate in many circles. Even the Huttos, who called pack rats out of hiding for hand-fed treats, weren’t sure that mule deer would be able to distinguish their names, especially after they left the ranch for summer grazing that first year. As the does returned the following September, however, Joe and Lesley were pleased that the deer not only remembered their two-legged friends, new fawns trusted the couple more quickly as a result.
As it became clear that Rayme had probably met with a tragic end, every doe that walked onto the property was cause for celebration. When Notcha arrived, the Huttos were thrilled and relieved. However, she was also traveling with some new companions. As these much more skittish deer caught sight of Joe standing in the yard, they turned in fear and began trotting toward the mountains.
Even now, pastoral tribes are much more likely to name their animals than sedentary farmers. But this unexpected anecdote from the Huttos suggests that naming may have been an important part of the ancient bonding process that allowed herbivores and humans to trust each other, move together, and eventually live together.
Even though animals don’t have the vocal capacity to name us, they appear to appreciate it when we name them: Perhaps because in the act of naming, human beings break through a haze of skepticism, objectification, and anthropocentric self-absorption to recognize the unique qualities and potential of each and every individual.
Back in 1982, when mainstream scientists insisted that animals were unintelligent, purely instinctual beings, philosopher Vicki Hearne went through all kinds of intellectual contortions to challenge this mechanistic perspective. Her book, Adam’s Task: Calling Animals by Name feels a bit dated, especially in the wake of the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness in Nonhuman Animals. But when Bazy Tankersley, owner of the respected Tucson breeding operation Al Marah Arabians introduced me to this book in the mid-1990s, I practically fell to my knees and wept tears of gratitude.
Hearne mixes anthropological, historical, and religious references with her own experiences as a dog and horse trainer. She argues that while we gained technological expertise through the process of civilization, we lost something important in distancing ourselves from other living beings. “Typology,” a word she uses to describe humanity’s tendency to generalize and categorize, “made possible further gaps between us and animals, because we have become able to give them labels, without ever calling them by name.”
Over the centuries, we’ve generalized this practice to other humans as well. “I’ve seen so much depersonalizing of people in organizations, even to the extent where someone is referred to by his job duty versus his name,” Juli Lynch told me when we discussed Notcha’s astonishing ability to remember and respond to her name. “I’ve worked with banks that had only 30 to 40 employees, and the CEO did not know everybody’s name—not because he couldn’t remember that many names, but because it wasn’t important to him. Employees knew it didn’t matter to him. And guess what: The company’s turnover rate was exceptionally high for a small town employer where jobs were not easy to find.”
The case for correcting this dehumanizing behavior becomes all the more poignant when you realize that calling an animal by name is important to forming effective working relationships with our four-legged friends. Unlike the cowboys I mentioned earlier, Hearne insists that “training horses creates a logic that demands not only the use of a call name…but also…the making of the name into a real name rather than a label for a piece of property, which is what most racehorses’ names are.” As the title of her book suggests, she believes that “deep in human beings is the impulse to perform Adam’s task, to name animals and people as well.” And, she emphasizes, we need to take this ancient art form seriously by choosing “names that give the soul room for expansion.”
Hearne contends that naming our animal companions links us back to an earlier form of consciousness that modern humanity lost when we moved from oral tradition to literacy. Linguistic anthropology, she reports, “has found out some things about illiterate peoples that suggest” they used “names that really call, language that is genuinely invocative,” rather than our current culture’s over-emphasis on “names as labels.” The author cites a lecture she attended with an anthropologist who was captivated by the “surprising” perspectives that certain “illiterate languages” reveal:
One of his stories was about an eager linguist in some culturally remote corner trying to elicit from a peasant the nominative form of “cow” in the peasant’s language.
The linguist met with frustration. When he asked, “What do you call the animal?” pointing to the peasant’s cow, he got, instead of the nominative of “cow,” the vocative of “Bossie.” When he tried again, asking, “Well, what do you call your neighbor’s animal that moos and gives milk?” the peasant replied, “Why should I call my neighbor’s animal?
Ultimately, Hearne is “not arguing against advances in culture, only pointing out that it is paradoxically the case that some advances create the need for other advances that will take us back to what we call the primitive.” I would further emphasize that when early conquerors began to objectify, corral, and eventually enslave both animals and people, our literate civilization not only lost sight of the real power of naming, it relinquished the nomad’s sophisticated understanding of leadership through relationship, knowledge that came directly from partnering with animals who maintained active social lives.
This becomes especially clear in studying the Huttos’ example. Joe didn’t scientifically habituate a herd of mule deer with Lesley’s assistance. The couple formed meaningful relationships with receptive individuals who initiated a level of contact they were comfortable with. As a result of the respectful, highly responsive behavior Hutto and his wife exhibited, they progressively gained the interest and trust of a wider mule deer network.
Far too many leaders try to amass power by controlling groups of people, but that only works with disempowered populations (people who relinquish their potential gifts through fear and mindless conformity). Forming alliances with free, intelligent, creative adults requires a different approach: cultivating an expanding network of relationships with individuals who are recognized—and valued—for their unique talents, skills and personalities.
Rayme and Notcha represented the auspicious start of the Huttos’ seven-year journey naming well over two hundred individuals with recognizable faces, markings, and distinct personalities. If the Joe and Lesley had lived a few thousand years earlier, they may very well have left what would have been a primitive grain-producing settlement and followed their adoptive herd mates on summer migrations, swinging back around to the Slingshot Ranch valley just in time for fall harvest. In the process, the human element would have been in better position to protect the many does, fawns, and bucks who died due to accident or predation during those migrations.
In the lives of many 21st century humans, an ancient pattern is once again repeating itself, calling attention back to an earlier curve in the great spiral of evolution, that time when increasing mobility, freedom, and mutual aid grew out of a fertile period of sedentary development. During that first cycle, times of plenty, boosted by prehistoric agricultural and technological innovations, provided food, water, safety, and camaraderie. This in turn encouraged some people to expand their horizons and collaborate with strangers who orbited around these settlements; strangers who were not shy about moving to greener pastures during heat, drought, and other compromising weather conditions.
Strangers like Notcha, who felt the sincerity of a tenuous attraction, and became friends with people who reached out, recognized her uniqueness, and called her by name.
Step Five: Nurture the Herd
In Living with Herd: Human-Animal Coexistence in Mongolia, Natasha Fijn effectively illustrates how deeply pastoral cultures care for their animals. Oxytocin’s social recognition circuits cross species lines, creating, as Fin discovered, a nature-based philosophy of equality.
The Mongolian pastoralists she encountered knew every animal by name. This, however, didn’t affect their ability to make tough decisions. Rather it reinforced “an egalitarian outlook, without favoritism or treating the animal as the equivalent of a pet. Likewise the attitude within Mongolian herding society is to take care of everyone within the herding community, not just singling out individuals for special treatment. Nonetheless, contingencies such as extreme weather conditions, parental survival, and other factors do require that some animals have differential treatment from others,” particularly in the case of orphan foals, calves or lambs who are brought into the tent, bottle fed, then released back into the larger herd when strong.
“Mongolians do not eat animals that are under one year of age,” the author emphasizes. When she told one of the tribe members about the Western practice of consuming lamb and veal, tears welled up in the woman’s eyes as she quietly said, “we love our young animals, so we couldn’t eat them.”
“She must have thought it a strange practice,” Fijn concludes, “as she was being so careful to nurture some weak lambs that were sleeping beside the hearth in front of her. It would be counter-intuitive for a herder to kill them and eat them before they had produced any young of their own, when the animals had not yet lived a full life. If a young lamb dies from weakness or illness, the herder then utilizes the hide but does not eat the meat.” This reluctance to consume what our culture considers a delicacy shows how deeply bonded Mongolian herders become through the oxytocin-boosting activities of nursing and caring for the tribe’s four-legged children.
Meg Daley Olmert emphasizes that oxytocin is “the glue that holds the herd and tribe together.” In pastoral cultures, this is less about feeding the animals than caring for them in ways that involve a great deal of touch. Female cattle, sheep, goats, horses, camels, and even reindeer feed everyone at times, blurring the lines of oxytocin’s supreme bonding power through the daily act of milking and being milked. The hormone’s calm-and-connect effect releases feelings of relaxation and affiliation across species lines, lowering blood pressure and suppressing the flight or fight response. Women tend to handle milking and dairy production, but even male herders spend a good part of each day grooming and massaging their animals (who often initiate these encounters), causing both species to temper their fierceness with sensitivity and affection.
But how did their ancient ancestors gain the ability to touch these sometimes aggressive, potentially dangerous animals to begin with? Once again, the Huttos illustrate how this might have happened. (And their experience suggests it didn’t take as long as you might think!)
During the couple’s first two years at Slingshot Ranch, various pioneering deer took risks that forged progressively stronger bonds between the two species. Rayme made the overture. Notcha blew all of Hutto’s circuits with that startling episode of name recognition. And Charm’s fawn, Little Possum, finally “breeched the divide of physical touch,” whereupon a number of other deer became amenable to being gently rubbed and scratched, leading still other deer innovators to introduce mutual grooming sessions with the humans.
A particularly gregarious wild doe named Cappy initiated contact with Hutto within days of encountering her first human. She loved being groomed so much that she began making increasingly assertive requests for attention by pawing Hutto’s backside if he walked away or ignored her. Joe was concerned this growing familiarity would make the deer more likely to approach humans who might shoot them. But Cappy’s behavior quickly assured him that she remained discerning when it came to any two-legged creature she might encounter: “like the other deer, if a stranger neared the house, she was gone in a flash,” he noted. Over time, he realized:
Her ability to convey meaning to me in the form of some unspoken communication that was decidedly clear and complex suggested to me that I was now dealing with a creature of extraordinary potential—perhaps even the potential to reveal the more obscure and secretive nature of the mule deer, the innermost workings of personality, motivation, intelligence, and behavior. Cappy made it obvious if she thought danger could be near or if she was in need of a grooming session.
In successfully saving an orphan named Peep that same year, the couple began to grasp the truly life-saving power of touch and affection. When the fawn appeared at Slingshot Ranch, she was so weak and emaciated that Hutto didn’t hold much hope for her survival. Though she began to rally with some high quality feed, it seemed that something crucial was missing.
Moments of wonder, inspiration, and connection abounded that winter. But Hutto subsequently found that his profound experiences “touching the wild” guaranteed that he was destined to be touched by the wild as well—and that involved more emotional heroism than he bargained for. Even as he “cheerfully bade” the deer farewell at the onset of that second migration season, he admits that he “was naïve and had not yet learned that knowing—even loving—a wild mule deer was a double-edged sword—a sword that would open a secret world with one edge and pierce your heart with the other.”
The oxytocin bond is the handle of that double-edged sword. It heightens social acuity and enhances name-recognition circuits, while boosting confidence, focus, trust, clarity, and learning capacity. But there’s a highly motivating, sometimes painful side to this endogenous, behavior-altering chemical: concern for the well being of others.
Like Rayme the year before, Cappy did not return the following autumn, and the grief Hutto felt came in waves.
Hutto didn’t count on connecting with the mule deer so easily. He didn’t expect to grieve the loss of some of these relationships so deeply. Even so, the many ways in which the deer reached out to him adds to growing evidence that the tendency to seek connection, and to offer as well as request mutual aid across species lines is a part of nature, that “life” does, in fact, “favor and protect life.” From this perspective, the human-animal bond is not a by-product of civilization or a contrived innovation; it is the heart of evolution in action.
A similarly painful yet transformational emotional connection may have been the deciding factor that motivated some of our ancestors to leave their fields and follow their four-legged friends. In the process, farmers and hunters became nurturers and protectors. Out on the range, people eventually discovered that milking a goat or cow or horse could sustain tribe members when there was nothing in sight but grass. Loose interspecies associations became vital, mutually beneficial partnerships. Along the way, pastoralists would have faced a more rigorous series of challenges as humans became fully integrated into the herd.
The mutual socialization of two and four-legged animals is a much more ambitious proposition that touching and feeding a herd that comes and goes. The simple act of nurturing youngsters, for instance, can have dire consequences as increasingly powerful herbivores reach adolescence. This is why the Huttos, for instance, drew a serious line between their willingness to offer older orphaned fawns hay or grain, and a reluctance to bottle-feed newborns.
I’m inclined to disagree with Hutto slightly on one point. I know very well from experience that even domesticated horses who are bottle fed can become dangerous as they reach adolescence, especially if caretakers try to relate exclusively through the Nurturer/Companion role. Still, the aggression doesn’t seem to result from confusion of the animal’s personal identity so much as a more intimate inclusion of humans as herd members, a line all pastoralists cross. Adolescent herbivores—and males especially—challenge siblings, parents, and other adults. If some of those herd members happen to be much smaller and lacking a couple of legs, well, so be it. Yet even without the more concentrated imprinting that bottle-feeding encourages, most young horses still experiment with ways to intimidate humans—and should not be trusted with children, or inexperienced adults for that matter.
As my stallion Merlin illustrated more dramatically than most, a few thousand years of selective breeding is no substitute for the proper socialization of both species. Domesticated equines can be extremely intolerant of people who lack a balanced understanding of power, people who either coddle and overindulge or aggressively restrain, confine, punish, and otherwise try to intimidate these animals into submission. Behavior that humans get away with among their own kind can be disastrous at the barn. Pastoralists would not have endured without the skills that modern civilization ignores.
To even survive their daily interactions with empowered herbivores, let alone keep the herd and the tribe together, ancient nomads had to move fluidly from the observant guardianship of the Sentinel role and the supportive connection of the Nurturer/Companion role to the much more active Leader and Dominant roles capable of socializing rambunctious adolescents. To up the difficulty level, early pastoralists had to use all four of those roles in their nonpredatory forms or the entire herd would have run off. It is here, once again, that humans expanded their horizons by taking cues from their four-legged elders.
Step Six: Differentiate between Dominants and Leaders
In the book version of Touching the Wild, we witness Hutto discovering the difference between dominance and leadership by watching the animals themselves, just as pastoralists must have done thousands of years ago. Even though the naturalist still uses terminology related to dominance, his descriptions of a doe who shows the classic characteristics of a leader are remarkably similar to what Mark Rashid and I observed in horses who also exemplify this role. (See Chapter Two, page XX.)
As usual, it was easy for Joe and Lesley to recognize dominant bucks. For two years, a male they named Daddy Buck held this post. “We saw him pass by a third year, but he politely surrendered the area to a more dominant and imposing buck we named Moses,” Hutto writes. “When three-hundred pound Moses swaggered into the yard with head lowered and ears canted back, we were reminded of the Red Sea parting, as thirty-five deer respectfully moved far to either side.”
But it was a doe named Raggedy Anne that demonstrated the qualities of a truly accomplished herd leader.
Lott and Hart’s studies of the Fulani culture clarify how master herders use this knowledge for optimal herd management. While they spend most of their day in Nurturer/Companion and Sentinel activities, they consciously choose between dominance and leadership when they must protect or move individuals and groups. Once I understood this concept—and I truly learned this from ethnological research on this particular African tribe—my ability to not just train, but socialize my own horses took a quantum leap in effectiveness. And I began to see the parallels in working with people, which excited me to no end.
However, the initial step of recognizing the difference between the behavior of a herd leader and the antics of a herd dominant marks the turning point in understanding how to deal effectively with groups of mobile, empowered humans, whether they be employees, colleagues, constituents, or family members. Anyone who proposes to lead or parent passionate, opinionated people must refrain from taking the power plays of dominants personally, while teaching them how to adopt the mature, beneficial form of this potentially explosive role. (In this effort, it’s helpful to review the Four Power Principles in Chapter Three: Dominance without Malice.)
Step Seven: Move with the Herd
Hutto’s chronicles of life with the mule deer are invaluable in understanding the most likely sequence of events our pastoral cousins engaged in forming close partnerships with unrestrained, socially intelligent herbivores. Among many surprising insights, the naturalist’s experience confirms why humans pretty much had to progress from loose, mutually-respectful associations at some form of agricultural oasis, to close bonding through touch and caring for the herd’s most vulnerable members, and finally, to increasing synchronization with the herd’s nomadic lifestyle.
As it turns out, the deer never would have let Hutto anywhere near them if he had tried to approach them on the range first. Several years into this interspecies adventure, his ability to join the herd off property came about through close association with the orphaned doe Peep, who he admits was “partially imprinted on me, or at least desperately in need of someone. Without a mother, she knew only that life was not on her side, but she had recently learned that I was the only being who was fully invested in her unlikely and fragile little life.”
One day, as twenty deer were heading out toward the north meadow, Hutto “thoughtlessly stayed at Peep’s side as she browsed along.” Fifteen minutes later, he realized they were a quarter-mile from the house. The other deer were curious, though still a little nervous about this new development, but Hutto respected the breakthrough as one of many small miracles that allowed him greater access to the mule deer’s secret life. For the first few weeks of evening walks with the herd, he was able to move with them only if he followed specific individuals who welcomed his presence.
This, in turn, inspired yet another breakthrough with individuals that had remained suspicious or fearful of Joe and Lesley at the house. As the intrepid naturalist milled around with the herd out in the field, more reticent deer began to relax. At first, they seemed to be ignoring their strange two-legged mascot. But slowly, casually, they made their way closer and closer still, eventually browsing around his feet. These deer, Hutto realized, “were more comfortable with me in their world than when they had been with me, in mine.” But he clearly had to be invited into this world by does and fawns that more nervous deer trusted.
It took even longer for Hutto to successfully join up with the deer in remote locations. To this day, the animals show extreme caution when he approaches, even at a half-mile. They begin to walk away from him at a quarter-mile unless he initiates an “identifying call.” Even after they recognize him
At this point, Hutto realized that he had to raise his Sentinel skills considerably. To safely move among the mule deer, he had to develop a relaxed yet heightened awareness of the environment while simultaneously paying attention to the moods and constantly changing proximity of his fellow herd members, as well as the occasional human, predator, or unfamiliar mule deer buck arriving on the scene.
On more than one occasion, a silhouette has suddenly appeared on the far horizon as a distinctly human form, and I have almost been trampled by the explosive flight that has occurred. This flight response is one of only two scenarios in which I have ever felt in danger of bodily harm from these animals. The other is the rare occasion when two dominant bucks—one nearly always a stranger—engage in mortal combat. Often with no preliminary posturing or gesturing, an enormous deer seems to come out of nowhere. The power and violence unleashed is unimaginable when experienced at closer range, and they are oblivious to anything that stands in their way….
Interestingly, the innate fear that is hardwired into almost all predators regarding a human presence is disturbingly absent when I am in the company of deer. This is a privileged perspective when the goshawk or the bald eagle perches thirty meters away, but disconcerting when the mountain lion appears. There is an old saying in this part of the West: “You don’t have to be faster than the bear—you just have to be faster than the other guy.” Invariably after the deer have scattered, I am left standing face to face with the source of their flight….When in the field with these deer, I may be seen with a rifle slung over my shoulder—for my protection and theirs—and I have not hesitated to use it on more than one occasion.
Still, after all the small steps that led to the huge inroads Hutto made with the mule deer clan, this is where he veered, decisively, from the trajectory of what our pastoralist ancestors further achieved. Partly because he’s a modern man with a wife and a job, partly because he and Lesley had already pushed the boundaries of what is, in the state of Wyoming, considered legal in their interactions with wild animals, Hutto did not fully merge with the herd and follow them on summer migrations. Still, the experience changed him forever.
Joining with any group of free, intelligent beings calls for courage, responsiveness, and not just compassion, but an empathy that becomes especially painful when you realize you may not be able to change the destiny of those you grow to love. It takes a strong heart to stay with them nonetheless and do what you can to protect, support, and value each life, no matter how short someone’s time on this earth may be, no matter how peaceful or tragic the ending. This is what made George Washington such an exceptional figure. Far too many people are more willing to put their lives on the line physically than explore the emotional dimensions of existence. Historically, those with leadership ambitions found it easier to shut down their hearts, objectify the “other,” control the behavior of the masses, and limit everyone’s options, including the capacity of those “in charge” to reach their full potential.
Step Eight: Move the Herd
As Joe Hutto found, caring for each individual as profoundly as you must care to gain the herd’s trust requires an emotional heroism that is inconceivable to the civilized psyche. And yet some of our ancestors took that journey, learning not only how to move with the herd, but how to merge with the herd. Then, and only then, did they have any hope of moving the herd. But they had to pay a price, one that no amount of money can ever buy: They had to leave their egos at the gate while riding a relentless rollercoaster of intense joy, ecstatic discovery, growing power, mind-bending fear, deep pain, and at times, profound helplessness.
To access the knowledge that primeval pastoralists acquired and modern city dwellers neglect, we too must relinquish our most beloved notions of superiority and be transformed by those we wish to influence. In the process, we must learn how to wield power as a socializing force, taking cues from the examples nature provided in freely roaming animals millennia before we learned how to restrain and corral them.
A Master Herder is first and foremost the master of his or her own mind and heart. Courageous enough to simultaneously stand up to and be deeply moved by those he or she leads, such a person is ultimately willing to embrace an improvisatory life that flows from the wisdom, needs, and talents of a fully empowered herd.