Forming a holistic goal. To be able to make economically, environmentally and socially sound decisions in our lives and for our horses and properties we must have a look at the four key insights, that when taken together, proved to be critical to the development of the Holistic Management model.

 The Four Key Insights

That a holistic perspective is essential in management – was derived from the work of South African statesman-scholar Jan Smuts, who coined the word holism in 1926.

“The world functions in wholes, whose qualities cannot be predicted by studying any aspect in isolation; one has to see the whole first.

We would know very little about water, for instance, by making an exhaustive study of hydrogen or oxygen, even though every molecule of water is composed of both.”

Likewise, we could never manage a piece of land in isolation from the people who work it, or the economy in which both the land and the people are enmeshed. This insight enabled us to see that our decision making lacked an organizing framework.

The next three insights contradicted long-held beliefs about the causes of land deterioration in different parts of the world, and enabled us to complete the new framework.

There are two broad categories of environment we hadn’t recognized before that evolved in different ways and responded differently to the same influences. In brittle environments, rainfall and humidity are distributed erratically throughout the year, and dead vegetation breaks down slowly. In non-brittle environments rainfall and humidity are perennial and dead vegetation breaks down rapidly. Resting land restores it in non-brittle environments but damages it in brittle environments.

In brittle environments, relatively high numbers of large, herding animals, concentrated and moving as they naturally do in the presence of pack hunting predators, are vital to maintaining the health of the lands we thought they destroyed.

Much of the land deterioration that has occurred in the brittle environments of the world which encompass two-thirds of Earth’s land surface was initiated by humans when they severed the vital relationship between herding animals and their pack hunting predators. In any environment, overgrazing and damage from trampling bare little relationship to the number of animals, but rather to the amount of time plants and soil are exposed to the animals.

Armed with this new knowledge, we could more accurately predict how any piece of land might respond to our management. And this in turn influenced the decisions we made in determining which actions to take.


Defining the Whole

Defining the boundaries of the whole that your management encompasses is critical, because in doing so you are identifying who will form the holistic goal, and what they will be responsible for managing. You can do this and still acknowledge that any whole you define includes lesser wholes and also lies within greater wholes, both of which will influence your management.

The minimum a whole must include in order to be manageable is:

 The Decision-Makers Involved

These are the people who will form the holistic goal. They should include anyone making day-to-day decisions in the family, business, corporate division, or whatever entity your whole is based on.

 The Resource Base

This includes the major physical resources from which you will generate revenue or derive support in achieving your holistic goal: the land, the horse facilities, arena, the office building, your home, or whatever is relevant in your case. These resources need not be owned, merely available to you. It also includes all the people you can think of who will/can influence or be influenced by the management decisions you make, but won’t have the power to veto or alter them—clients and customers, suppliers, advisors, neighbours, family, and so on.

 The Money Available

This might include cash on hand, money in a savings account, or available from relatives, shareholders, or a line of credit at the bank. And it would almost always include money that could be generated from the physical resources listed in your resource base. Don’t be sidetracked here by long and involved discussions on the meaning of money and wealth. Just think of money in terms of what you require to live on, or to run the business, or whatever entity you are dealing with. In defining your whole, try to keep your lists and notes brief. Great detail is not needed now, only big-picture clarity.

The result, no matter how rough, should be adequate to enable you to get on with forming your holistic goal.

Wholes Within Wholes

Those that run a large (horse) business and included a large group of people in the first part, may need to define smaller, more manageable, wholes within the greater whole. By doing this, you are giving the people within these smaller wholes the opportunity to form a holistic goal that relates to their specific management needs and the resources available to them. Each of these smaller wholes would have to meet the minimum whole requirement—i.e., include people who are directly responsible for making management decisions at that level, an identifiable resource base, and money available or that can be generated from that resource base.

Forming a Holistic Goal

What is it that you really want?

Having defined the “whole” under management, you are now ready to form a holistic goal. The next step is to develop a statement of purpose (if one is required).

 Statement of purpose

If you run a horse business, organisation or any other business that funds your horse goals or lifestyle, you must define your statement of purpose. The statement should reflect, in very few words, what you were formed to do. The statement of purpose will be reflected in your holistic goal, specifically in the quality of life statement, where you will refer to the outcomes that correspond to your purpose, and in the forms of production, where you will specify what you must produce in order to create those outcomes.

Quality of life

This portion of your holistic goal expresses the reasons you’re doing what you’re doing, what you are about, and what you want to become. It is a reflection of what motivates you. It speaks of needs you want to satisfy now, but also of the mission you seek to accomplish in the long run. It is your collective sense of what is important and why.

Be aware of the common mistakes we can make when defining our quality of life. Three of the most common mistakes people make when describing the quality of life in their holistic goal are:

Not expressing the underlying value or purpose, but describing the “stuff” that reflects the value or purpose. To get the value or purpose that underlies the desire, ask questions about what the desired object will do to enhance the quality of a person’s life. Those answers, in one form or another, are what go into the holistic goal.

Not being specific enough in describing the quality of life desired. Instead of saying, “We want leisure time,” you’d be better off saying, “We want to take time to do other things beside work,” or even “We want to take more time to spend with our horses.” If you want to live in an aesthetic environment, describe what you mean by “aesthetic.”

Not revising this aspect of the holistic goal. Because humans are dynamic and ever changing beings, their values change over time. To allow for that, you should re-evaluate the quality of life aspect of your holistic goal at least every year. When someone new becomes involved in the whole you are managing, you need to re-evaluate again.

 Forms of production

The things you have to produce to create the quality of life you envisage will take many forms, and thus we refer to this second part of the holistic goal as forms of production. Many of these “products” will be derived from the resource base defined in your whole, as well as from the money you have or can generate. Others will be derived solely from the creativity and skills of the decision-makers.

You need to figure out the basic ways in which you will produce your quality of life (and meet your purpose). These statements should address all your quality of life statements. This is where people are tempted to include specific how to’s. Keep these statements as open as possible so you don’t pigeon-hole yourself later.

Future resource base

In describing your future resource base you need to consider how it must be many years from now if it is to sustain what you have to produce to create the quality of life you want. When you later make decisions that deal with some of the immediate needs described in the first two parts of your holistic goal, you will be weighing them also against this longterm vision.

There are several different elements to consider in describing your future resource base. Two elements that should always be addressed are the people you included in the resource base when defining your whole, and the land, even if you did not make reference to it when defining your whole, and even when you operate a business that has no direct connection to the land. Other elements that you should consider, if they aren’t already listed in your resource base, are the community you live or work in and the services available in that community. There are likely to be more elements depending on the circumstances and the whole defined.


We all have our own personal goals, but as horse owners/managers we will have some goals in common. No matter if you just have horses for pleasure or you are running a horse business/stud we all must aim to safeguard the well-being of our horses and aim to create an environment where horses can express their natural behaviour. We are all connected with the land, especially if you own and manage grazing animals. We need to incorporate the management of our animals and pastures in our holistic goal and need to provide a fairly detailed description of what that land must look like far into the future and how the fundamental processes at work in any environment – water and mineral cycles, energy flow and community dynamics – will have to function to provide for ourselves and our horses (this is part of your future base description).

As highlighted in part 1 of the series, every time we choose, or choose not, to do anything, this affects the world around us. If you don’t review the way you are making decisions and managing your land, you may keep ending up with horse-sick paddocks and large expenses on vet bills, horse feeds and mechanical and chemical pasture improvement.

The information provided in the first two of article may sound for many horse people to farfetched as they don’t see their household or horse property establishment as an entity. However, this is not true; we all need to have a good look at where we stand in life and how we can reach our goals without depleting our environment! By using Holistic Management principles you are on your way to being able to create a better world for yourself, your family, your horses and other life forms on this planet.

In the next edition we will describe in more detail the four basic ecosystem processes: the water cycle, the mineral cycle, energy flow, and community dynamics (the relationship between organisms in an ecosystem), and the eight tools for managing these ecosystem processes.

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