Handling Common Herd Dynamics
No matter age, color, breed, size, sex and appearance, place a herd of horses together and you will witness the dynamics unfold before your eyes. Within moments horses become extremely “vocal” discovering their ranking, displayed clearly by who moves who’s feet. From subtleties such as a glance, ear motion or energy shift, through to bold moves that include a charge, bite, kick and squeal!
Horses can be born into leadership positions, groomed by their parents over time to become all they can be, displaying a passive form of leadership, while others fight their way to the top, bringing forth a dominant style of leadership.
One misconception is that alpha mares rule through dominance, and yet all too often they lead by a strong example of simply “being”, observing all and only acting when need be. It’s the second in command, known as the dominant mare, who ensures much of the discipline is enforced and displays her emotions freely.
Within every herd there are very specific roles to secure a safe and harmonious environment, coupled with individual personalities and life’s imprint, herds bring forth colorful observations.
Remove unrealistic expectations and realize that our human behavior is equally reflected in our horses. As we find loners and socialites, we find them in the horse world too. Those seeking adventure balance those seeking a simple life and there are natural born leaders together with followers.
Imagine a classroom of juveniles ruling themselves, or adolescents without parental guidance…where would this lead? The very same place it would take the foals who find themselves orphaned and the yearlings unsupervised frolicking freely; often in a misguided place causing future behavioral challenges or social ineptitude. Elders carry wisdom for those venturing into uncharted territory.
While we see wild horses gather cordially during daily water hole rituals, put isolated un-socialized stallions together, and you may find yourself faced with extreme violence and potential loss of life. These are the extreme horse handling situations experienced over the years.
It would be remiss of us not to consider our horses’ environment, as space is a distinctive concern. Behavior is often accentuated in small enclosures and of utmost importance for health and wellbeing. Movement is a must. And while horses are natural-born grazers, the presence of food influences all horse behavior. Fighting often occurs when there is a lack – remove the lack and a more harmonious feel ensues. Means is a strong motivator and where space is absent, slow-feeders take precedence.
Another behavior consideration is the direct reflection of good or poor training techniques:
* Inappropriate foal over-handling = crowding & unsuitable behavior/habits
* Lack of socializing = social ineptness
* Lack of knowledge and lack of boundaries = special boundaries and aggressive tendencies
* Incorrect hand-feeding = crowding, mugging and biting
* Stall-bound = pent-up energy, vices/habits, physical issues, lack of socializing & often dangerous behavior
* Stressful environment = vices/habits/emotional, mental and physical issues
* Fear-based training = displacement/depression and aggressive tendencies
If you and your horses are happy and healthy, make no change. However, if you feel concerned and your horses have incurred physical injuries, it’s time to make change and review your horse-keeping. Take time to review your habits and patterns to find an all-around better solution.
IF Your Horse(s)
- Has been moved recently…try accommodating for this time of transition and be the support he needs during this adjustment period.
- Is not accepted in the herd…evaluate his personality, role, past and current mental, emotional and physical health…try building him up (through physical & complimentary therapies and nutritional support)
- Are not worriers or performance horses and keep you to a schedule by kicking stall doors or containers…try simply changing the feeding times.
- Are crowding the gate…try training them to take a step back and create the safe entrance space or organize feeders from the outside of the paddocks for your own safety.
- Has a sudden behavior change…try exploring all recent changes to determine the cause and have him checked physically.
- Does not want to be caught…try to discover the true cause of this behavior be it pain related, ill-fitting tack, your relationship, his activities/discipline, simply a lack of motivation and energy or his strong desire to be with his family herd.
- Is classed as herd bound…try building a stronger partnership together through a trust-based connection while discovering his motivation.
A happy horse = happy human = happy trails
Make this year’s recipe all and more you had hoped for.
About the author: Anna Twinney is a Natural Horsemanship Trainer, certified animal communicator and Reiki Master. She is unique in her field, as she solely works in the horses’ own language. Anna became the only person ever to be entrusted with the title of Head Instructor at the Monty Roberts International Learning Center in
California. Exploring the “language of Equus” in its rawest form, Anna gentled mustangs in CA for 2 years before becoming the founder of the Reach Out to Horses® program. Her expertise is sought worldwide as she conducts classes and clinics to educate people & horses on gentle communication techniques while showing them how to have a true trust-based relationship. Anna has been featured on TV nationally & internationally and writes for equine magazines. She is not only one of the world’s leading teachers, but her interest in the “Language of Equus” has led her to focus increasingly on the power of animal communication to strengthen and deepen our relationships with all species. For more information visit: http://www.reachouttohorses.com.
We would like to thank Yvonne Welz, Editor of The Horse’s Hoof, for all she does on behalf of the horses and their people. Truly an advocate of what is Natural and Holistic, Yvonne and her publication are a beacon to innumerable horse people who are looking for a better way! Yvonne, we salute you!