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New Forest ponies and Game of Thrones

On the same side, all breathing

Jon Snow: We're all on the same side

Gendry: How can we be?

Jon Snow: We're all breathing - Game of Thrones

This August a good friend kindly let me house and cat sit for him in his beautiful house situated right in the centre of the magical New Forest. This is a part of the world I haven’t really spent any time in before. I didn’t really know it and I find myself entranced. It’s a truly wonderful part of the country and I’d like to share with you some of why I’m coming to love it so much and how this relates to what I believe we collectively are also being called into.

Despite being called the ‘New Forest’ this is ancient land. It’s neither ‘new’ nor completely ‘a forest’! The name was given to this 500 plus square kilometre area of ancient woodland and scrubby heathland by William the Conqueror in 1079 when he designated it his royal hunting ground close to his capital city of Winchester. At that time a ‘forest’ meant the monarch’s hunting ground. He wanted a ready supply of venison for the royal kitchens and this was the area he chose.

So for almost 1000 years this land has been unfarmed and it therefore remains the largest tract of ancient deciduous woodland in the UK. This in and of itself is wonderful and is something to celebrate and to be grateful to ancient kings for! But it’s the related commoners’ laws that are still active today and that have lasted from before William the Conqueror’s time that really make the New Forest something special.

Walking or cycling in the New Forest there are ponies, cattle and donkeys roaming freely everywhere. The house I am currently sitting in and the majority of them around me in this small village all have cattle grids and gates at their entrance to prevent the grazers from munching gardens and vegetable patches. I’ve always been a bit afraid of cattle and somewhat nervous around horses as they are both large creatures perfectly able to inflict damage on a smaller being like me. I’ve also frequently come across annoyed bullocks on country walks that have cemented my nervousness around them.

However here in the New Forest on my daily walks out into the woods and heathland the bulls, cows, horses and donkeys are close by with no fences between me and them. Just the other day I was walking on a favourite track and a large highland cattle bull came down the track towards me. I felt a twinge of nervousness – there was no one else around and his horns were fearsomely pointed – but the bull wasn’t bothered by me. Although there was nothing between us – no fence, no barbed wire, no electric penning in of him or me – he wasn’t stressed by me at all and gently sauntered into the bushes munching his next delicious morsel. Similarly the ponies and donkeys do the same. Sometimes they are close by on the path, wandering the village main street here. Stopping traffic. Grazing hedgerows. They step across pathways right in front of us – at their own pace and not threatening in any way. Simply there. Holding their own.

broken image

Sometimes they’re so close you could reach out and stroke them but I don’t bother them in that way and they don’t bother me either. It’s incredible. All these grazing animals are peaceful. Left to their own devices with 500 square kilometres to roam in. Yes there are some cars and humans around but they are at choice. In their own space and realm – they can roam far from us if they wish. And no doubt they do. But there’s something amazing for us to witness such large creatures roaming freely – wildly – doing their own thing. Grazing whatever and wherever they feel that means we can walk among them. Neither bothering each other. There’s a mutual respect that is natural here. Initially there’s surprise that the ponies and foals are so free range but then there’s a learning from how they are. They are content and not concerned by us at all – knowing we are there but not afraid. Holding their own as beings with their own autonomy in their own right – just as we walking humbly among them do the same. I haven’t witnessed anyone bothering them at all. There’s something about them holding their own with such dignity and self-containment that brings on awe and a natural sense of wonder and respect at their ‘being-ness’ on their own terms. Relating to them as beings in their own right rather than as beings we possess or control.

It makes me think how important a lack of walls and fences is to mutual respect and understanding. Cows that we normally meet in fields are not intrinsically wanting to attack us – it’s rather that we’re ‘invading’ their rather limited space. Horses we often meet in fields are not necessarily wanting to be friends – it’s just they’re bored and confined. In a short documentary about the New Forest I watched the other day one of the commoners who has the ancient right to let his cattle roam freely in the forest commented that it’s good for the cattle to be free – to decide for themselves what to do each day and what to eat. It increases their intelligence he said and it also increases their well-being. But this is not just true for the cows and ponies. My experience here in the New Forest is that this also increases our deeper knowing ‘intelligence’ and well-being. There’s something about walking with these large animals roaming freely that stirs an ancient part of our soul I believe. It’s like being on safari – with many large creatures out there some of them potentially dangerous to us – that brings us more alive. This is a more natural way of being – living alongside and with other creatures including those much larger than us that in the main really mean us no harm. Able to walk among them and have them walk among us – even down our roads and among our shops and cars!

broken image

The New Forest ponies embody for me a freer way of living. Wild and True. Wild in the embodiment of freedom they have. True in that this is peaceful co-existence. No conflict required. These animals are loosely ‘owned’ in that the ponies are herded together once a year for health checks and the sale of some of them particularly the new-born colts. But the wily could no doubt avoid the herding up. They are mainly wild. Only once a year is something ‘imposed’ on them by the commoners exerting their ancient rights.

Walking and living here in the New Forest really brings home to me the reality of being one creature among many. How our birth right is to be connected with the many other non-human beings around us in a peaceful mutually respectful equal co-existence. One being among many other beings. With no fences here in the New Forest we’re all on the same side – and we can peacefully co-exist with a few small tweaks such as reflective collars for some ponies to increase their visibility at night and cattle grids to protect lawns and vegetables. In sharing my wonder at these experiences in the New Forest with another friend recently she commented how this reminded her of a recent Game of Thrones episode – I have to confess I haven’t seen it myself. The quote she shared is as follows:

Jon Snow: We're all on the same side

Gendry: How can we be?

Jon Snow: We're all breathing - Game of Thrones

Here in the New Forest we can experience the true reality of this in this magical place. All on the same side. All breathing.

And I’d like to invite you to join me in the magical New Forest for the UK launch of my Inner Leadership – Outer Change work in mid-September. Come and join me for a wonderful rejuvenating weekend exploring Living Wild and True!

***Early Bird prices until Thu 31st August!***

Living Wild and True weekend retreat

When: Fri 15 – Sun 17 September 2017

Where: Minstead Study Centre, New Forest SO43 7GJ

More info and to book: