Few have experienced a herd of wild horses in the wild; however most have seen these magnificent animals running free on television. The stallion herding his harem of mares to only he knows where. His presence is strong and evident as he holds his tail high and his ear attentive to every sound a true master of his domain. Wrong, the herd dynamics is much more subtle than the obvious male leading a group of females. It is important that every new horse owner understand these subtleties.
In the midst of the herd is one mare she is the leader, the alpha or lead mare. She decides when to move on, which pastures to graze and what stallion she will allow to mate with her. She disciplines the unruly and leads the herd in protection from predators. The stallion is in the herd to protect them from other stallions and alert the herd of danger..
This behavior is innate in all horses though the domestic equine has left much of the wild behavior in the past the memory remains. For this reason seasoned horse veterans know to put a new member of the herd in a separate paddock close to the other horses for several days. Once acquainted the new horse can be incorporated into the herd.
Horses communicate subtly, a flick of the ear, a swish of the tail, a nicker or a whinny all have meaning in the herd as does the pawing of a hoof or a snort. They will also smell each others breath. Horses are almost constantly talking to each other and most of the time humans cannot understand this communication. It is learned by observing the herd to understand this subtle interaction.
It is important to observe the herd dynamics as a horse owner. Horses that get along will stay close and groom each other. Horses that do not get along with pin their ears, squeal at each other and sometimes dominate the hay. A change in herd behavior is the signal for the owner to redistribute the herd.
It is important for the new horse owner to be the alpha mare and stay the alpha mare. This demands the respect from the herd and gives the human control. Some clues to maintaining this position is to walk relaxed, erect and deliberate while in the herd. Always be aware of the surroundings. Take control at all times and keep the control. The horse and owner are a herd of two and in that herd the owner must be alpha.
There are many professional horse handlers and experienced horse owners at facilities near the Milwaukee metropolitan area that can advise new horse owners regarding herd dynamics and how they must behave as part of the herd.