Memoirs of a Horse Owner
Horsemanship ....... it is an art, a science, a tradition and a lifelong journey!
The articles written for www.Horseownertoday.com are a collection of my personal memoirs as a horse owner. They are about my experiences and about my understanding of horsemanship. They do not necessarily reflect the opinion of www.Horseownertodaycom.com and in some cases, they do not reflect the opinion of the majority of horse owners today. They are about my journey toward understanding a horse.
I enjoy watching the horses interact with one another in the pasture. An interesting thing occurred the other day and it got me thinking about how leadership works in an established herd.
It was a beautiful spring day. Most of the horses were standing along the fence line, lazing in the warm sun. The rest of the horses, including the yearlings, were nibbling on the newly sprouted grass near the pond.
As I stood watching, my thoughts were interrupted by a ruckus near the pond. One of the geldings had started chasing the yearlings around. He was relentless and it caused me to wonder about the safety of the yearlings. It was about then that the big bay took notice. She motioned with her head toward the dun that was resting beside her.
The dun left his resting spot along the fence line and slowly trotted toward the troublemaker. With a rather matter-of-fact attitude, he separated the troublemaker from the yearlings and herded him around the pond. After one circle around the pond, the dun returned to his resting spot beside the bay.
Within minutes the troublemaker was back at it. And again the dun slowly trotted out. He separated him from the yearlings and once again he sent him off around the pond.
On the troublemaker's third offense, the dun trotted out with a bit more determination. He separated him from the yearlings and herded him toward the group of horses that were resting along the fence line. As the troublemaker trotted by, the bay bit him on the backside. That ended the ruckus in the pasture.
I couldn't help wondering about what I had seen. As horse owners, we tend to read things into situations and come up with entirely wrong conclusions, sort of like when we believed our teddy bear could talk. "Personification" is the proper term for it. Yet it seemed to me that I had not read anything into this situation.
As it turns out, a herd of horses has a set of values and laws that benefit the entire herd. It is the responsibility of the lead horse to maintain the herd's values and laws. This is done for the wellbeing of the entire herd. The herd looks to the leader for support and direction. The herd relies on her wisdom.
Conflict is usually between consenting scrappers who are attempting to increase their position within the herd hierarchy. Often the lead horse will let them figure it out on their own. Occasionally the lead horse will delegate leadership to another horse. The lead horse steps in if the horse that is lower in the hierarchy is not able to resolve the issue. And within the herd, strong friendships are formed and submissive horses are protected.
It seems that people often mistakenly assume that leadership is based on dominance. Rarely is that the case. Dominant horses tend to be too reactive to be good leaders. They are too emotional, too exuberant, too flighty and too extreme in their behavior.
The herd leader is the horse that is best able to protect the herd. The herd leader is often the most intelligent horse and the one who has the most experience and wisdom. The leader is trusted and respected for her wisdom and her ability to keep the herd safe and secure.
Horses communicate with one another in a meaningful way. Leadership is maintained in a logical and honest manner. It is consistent and "in the moment". At times it is very subtle. It is not based on dominance or emotion. I suppose it could be said that the lead horse is the horse with the most "savvy".
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