Excerpt: The Power of the Herd, by Linda Kohanov


power-of-the-herd-kohanovAuthor and horsewoman Linda Kohanov is known for explaining “the way of the horse,” an experiential wisdom known to riders for centuries but little studied or adapted to off-horse use.

In The Power of the Herd, first reviewed by Horsetalk.co.nz in hardcover in 2013 and now available in paperback, Kohanov has taken these equine insights into the workplaces and relationships, exploring the benefits of “nonpredatory power” in developing assertiveness, fostering creativity, dealing with conflict, and heightening mind-body awareness.

This excerpt from The Power of the Herd is reprinted with permission from New World Library.


Throughout history, knights in shining armor often rode spirited, well-trained horses like those featured on the cover of this book. If you’re an experienced equestrian, you know that these luminous creatures aren’t white; they’re gray. And they were, in all likelihood, born black.

Pure white horses are extremely rare. Some experts argue that they don’t even exist. All those movie heroes racing around on snow-colored stallions are riding older mounts whose youthful coal-colored coats lightened dramatically over time — as their focus, self-control, and athletic prowess increased through years of careful training.

Dark horses slowly turning gray, then silver, then white are the perfect metaphor for developing power — innovative, compassionate, and mentally, emotionally, and socially intelligent power. The more faithfully we work to bring our talents out of the shadows, shining a light on those notoriously elusive areas related to creativity, charisma, and mutually supportive relationships, the more quickly we are bound to excel.

If black horses represent unconscious, unbridled spirit, energy, intuition, and instinct, the process of developing this raw “material,” of making it fully conscious, is, truly, the path we must undertake today. We can no longer wait for great leaders to emerge accidentally, as radiant freaks of nature whose inspiring presence nonetheless remains mysterious, untranslatable, unteachable to others. The stakes are much too high.

In my fifty-plus years on this planet, so much has changed. Like millions of other baby boomers, I’ve seen racial segregation and “traditional,” 1950s-style family structures erode and evolve under the influence of civil rights, women’s liberation, the sexual revolution, the fall of the communist empire, financial deregulation, economic strife, and the creation of the Internet, among other social and technological upheavals.

Many of these forces combined in 2008, leading to the election of Barack Obama, our first mixed-race US president, a development my conservative southern grandparents couldn’t have imagined in their wildest dreams. Yet no matter who runs for this coveted office in the future, this presidential race marked a significant turning point in American history — for other reasons as well.

The Republican ticket would have been equally disturbing to my prim and proper grandma: a conventionally respectable war hero with an outspoken woman vice-presidential running mate — whose daughter was pregnant out of wedlock, no less? In the mid-twentieth century, this self-proclaimed “mama grizzly” would have been completely, unquestionably ostracized by members of her own sex for all kinds of behavior unbecoming a matriarch.

Despite her seemingly militant support of traditional values, Sarah Palin’s very presence on that political stage represented a significant innovation for a new kind of family, one in which empowered women might become leaders while also showing compassion and acceptance for the many challenges future generations face upon entering this world. What she was saying in her conservative, at times aggressive, speeches hadn’t yet caught up to the promise of what she was living. Maverick, indeed!

No wonder so many people are reeling from the sensation of a finely woven antique rug being pulled out from under them. Over the past century, rapid social change has led to more freedom for more people, of course, and plenty of fear and conflict to go with it, challenging the descendants of slaves and masters alike to modify not only their self-image and beliefs but their most cherished, deeply entrenched, primarily unconscious behaviors.

It is the latter that we will investigate in this book and, hopefully, transform: the power plays, traumas, and relational habits we must alter to move forward productively as free, empowered people. Here we stretch beyond “liberal” and “conservative” agendas, looking at behavior patterns that wreak havoc beneath the surface of all cultural, religious, business, political, scientific, and philosophical persuasions.

In part 1, “A Brief History of Power,” we’ll learn some surprising things about our ancestors as we take a look at key, time-tested, yet long-ignored features of innovative leadership. In part 2, “The Necessity of Vision,” we will wrestle with issues related to visionaries, including those who became religious figures, in order to understand how we can move beyond crucifying or worshipping creative, inspired thinkers, artists, and social activists — and become innovators and leaders ourselves. Finally, in part 3, “Horse Sense at Work,” we’ll practice new leadership and social-intelligence skills that build on the expanded view of history, science, and religion explored in the first twelve chapters.

To make this potentially treacherous journey more enjoyable, we’ll travel on horseback, riding an animal that has, since the beginning of civilization, helped us negotiate new territory with much more speed and grace than we could possibly manage on our own two legs. But here’s the rub: After leaving the main road, we’re going to drop the reins and let the horses lead us at times, revealing a socially intelligent, nonpredatory approach to leadership, innovation, collaboration, and power. And it is here that some readers will feel another rug slipping out from underneath them.

In recognizing that animals have much to teach us — that they have, as the recent scientific research presented in this book suggests, been tutoring, empowering, healing, and transforming us all along — we will have to let go of the idea that we are the only intelligent species on the planet.

On July 7, 2012, a prominent international group of scientists made this assertion official. Based on decades of physiological and behavioral experiments with multiple species, The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness stated “unequivocally” that “non-human animals have the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological substrates of consciousness states along with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviors. Consequently, the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness.” The document acknowledges that “neural networks aroused during affective states in humans are also critically important for generating emotional behaviors in animals.” This includes “all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses.”

Accepting that other species can think, feel, and make intentional decisions is a game changer for everyone. This does not mean, however, that animals always share our perspectives or priorities. As this book unfolds, you’ll discover reasons to be grateful that they often don’t, especially in the case of highly social, nonpredatory animals like horses, who offer alternative approaches to power, collaboration, and freedom-through-relationship, lessons they’ve occasionally taught exceptional leaders throughout history.

Imagine if all of us could, finally, bring these lessons out of the shadows and employ them consciously, creating a form of shared leadership that taps the talents of the entire herd. What might we accomplish if we finally understood how to be powerful, together?

linda-kohanovFrom The Power of the Herd. © 2015, 2013 by Linda Kohanov. Reprinted with permission from New World Library

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Linda Kohanov speaks and teaches around the world. She founded Epona Equestrian Services to explore the healing potential of working with horses and to offer programs on everything from stress reduction and parenting to consensus building and mindfulness. She lives in Tucson, Arizona.



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