The name “Herd of Joy” was given to my eight horses by a client. Following a transformational horse-led retreat at my property in rural Russia, she commented that she was so complete it was like being filled with a whole herd of joy. The name stuck, and I have been inviting clients to experience the Herd of Joy ever since.
But it was only recently that it really hit me what it means to find your Herd of Joy. And it wasn’t about the horses...
One evening, I was sitting at home feeling a little sad and lonely. My husband had just left for a three-week long photo expedition. Family members who had been coming and going all week had finally taken their leave. My teenage boys are in boarding school on distant continents. My little Russian village has only seven residents, mostly elderly, each of whom sat alone in their homes as I pined away.
Usually, I reveled in times like these, when I could be all by myself, with no expectations from others, no plans, and do whatever I wanted. But today I had this mysterious, aching hole in my heart.
Then I thought – practice what I preach, right? So I decided to face my sadness and see what it brought up. I leaned in, allowing myself to feel into the emotion. The hole in my heart opened wider, and I visualized a waterfall washing over me: grief for all the loved ones who have passed, for the things I hadn’t experienced, for the relationships I couldn’t keep. As the feeling washed over me like waves, rather than cry, as one might have expected, I was moved – literally spurred into action! I threw on a jacket and pulled on my boots and hurried outside.
The sun was just setting, spreading a honey glow over the land. In the distance, I saw the herd, grazing on a slight rise in our forested floodplain. All the gates were open and they had been let out to the four corners of the Earth – their paddocks were still flooded since the river had abandoned its banks a few weeks prior. The horses roam freely around our village, surrounded on three sides by a preserve, and sometimes they follow the forest track out the fourth side to the next village eight kilometers away. Yet I know I will be able to find them if need be, and they usually circle back home to check in once or twice a day.
Tonight, as if on cue – when I needed them most – the horses were just a stone’s throw away. As I walked toward them, skirting the small lake and across the paddock to the rise, the waves within me began to subside. I reached the herd and stood quietly among them. A few of them came up to say hi, nuzzling me and then moved on, but not far. They grazed around me in a wide circle, and even as they ate and moved, they didn’t move on, but held the space around me.
I took in a deep breath and let the wind blow over me and through me. From that vantage point, I could see my home, the lake, the open fields and the forest beyond, the setting sun and the first stars in the sky, and the entire herd. My heart began to warm, filling the dark hole with light. I thought of all the things in my life that support me. The beautiful land around me, the horses, my family, my friends, my tribe of like-minded peers, my rewarding work, my writing, and so much more. And I was filled, filled with joy.
So I had found it, my herd of joy. It wasn’t elusive, it wasn’t out there with the horses, or in the relationships I had. It was within me. I could go there anytime, reach in and feel the support of my herd whenever I needed it.
I truly felt what it meant to offer myself support while being held by my extended herd - even when I was alone. Some of the horses snorted or yawned, and then the herd slowly moved on. I watched them as they moved out of sight, but not out of mind.
The herd stayed within me as I walked home. I could be alone, but not lonely. I could allow myself to feel sad, but choose to be happy. I could fill myself and surround myself with all the things in my life that bring me joy – my own herd of joy.
Join me on an incredible horse-inspired retreat and find your Herd of Joy!