Myth Monday: the leader of the herd

Equestrians are told all the time: ‘Be the leader to your horse’. But how does one become a leader? By dominating your horse? Who is the leader in the herd? Is it the stallion or is it the alpha mare? Or is there another leader?

Odile Petit, PhD, of the University of Strasbourg, in Alsace, France says: ‘To really be a true leader, you need followers, and that’s true of horses as well as humans.’ Petit (2015) shows that it is not the most dominant horse that leads the herd, but it is the most sociable horse that initiates movement of the herd.

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This gives us a totally different perspective on the role of ‘herd leader’. It also changes our view of the role a dominant horse has in the herd if it comes to initiating movement and giving direction.

When I heard this the fist time it totally made sense that a herd movement is initiated in a more ‘democratic’ way. How does this new insight change the way we approach ‘leadership’ and ‘dominance’ in training situations?
Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
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