Last month, I camped with horses on Bureau of Land Management land. I wanted to experiment with something Mark Rashid mentioned at his recent clinic. To paraphrase, he said that wild horse herd leaders are true leaders, defending the herd and leading it to food sources and away from danger. Domestic leaders are more paradoxical. They tend to be insecure, food-focused bullies – just the opposite of true leaders.
How would this play out in my camping scenario?
On Day One, I brought three horses. I kept two in a small enclosure and let Pep, who is lower in herd order than the other two, graze outside the enclosure.
Result: Pep wandered far and seemed far less interested in her whinny-ing penned companions than they were in her.
On Day Two, I brought four horses. I kept two in the small enclosure and let the two leaders, Brooke and Jodi, graze outside the enclosure.
Result: Sure enough, Brooke and Jodi were not interested in straying. They seemed insecure about their surroundings and chose to stay close to the enclosure.
Was this leadership (protecting herd members) or insecurity?
Rashid says that domestic herd leaders lack a certain sense of self. Their identity is all about who they are in the herd. That’s why they tend to be more ‘barn sour’ than other horses down the herd ladder.
Based on what I’ve seen and experienced with my own horses, I tend to agree.
Another side effect? It’s no surprise, too, that the lower ranking horses are much more enjoyable to ride. They enjoy getting out far more than their “leaders.”