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Do horses really need a herd leader?

Do horses really need a herd leader?

Postby Chevalblanc » Tue Dec 13, 2016 12:41 pm

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Re: Do horses really need a herd leader?

Postby spottygiraffe » Tue Dec 13, 2016 8:16 pm

Page not loading for me :-( But random thoughts from just having read the question.... In the Uk I am pretty sure that there was no herd as such in my last livery yard. It was huge -30 mares and 30 geldings, who were turned out separately in 2 huge paddocks of about 3 ha each. The way it seemed was that everyone just grazed individually and noone seemed to form little groups. There was no 24h turnout so everyone was stabled overnight -maybe that had something to do with it. New horses were just accepted.
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Re: Do horses really need a herd leader?

Postby Chevalblanc » Tue Dec 13, 2016 8:54 pm

French researchers have just published a new study looking at the concept of leadership within the herd. The study found that individual horses did not show any signs of being a 'leader' that initiated group movements or 'recruited' other group members to move more quickly than others. In fact the researchers found that decision making was shared by a number of horses within the group in a partially shared consensus.

To conclude the researchers stated "Despite the widespread use of the leadership concept in the literature, it should be stressed that no study has so far quantitatively demonstrated that certain individuals consistently play the leader role in the group movements of animals."

You can read the full study here: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/articl ... ne.0126344
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Re: Do horses really need a herd leader?

Postby Trudi » Tue Dec 13, 2016 10:09 pm

If you read the original study it seems that (as I think we knew) this isn't news- just a different way of interpreting the data
This suggests that the main discrepancy between the present findings and formerly published results in horses might reside in how the data is interpreted


I think there is also a conflict between the type of data that arises from studying feral herds and our own 'housed' domestic herds.

Still really interesting :thumbup:
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Re: Do horses really need a herd leader?

Postby Chevalblanc » Wed Dec 14, 2016 6:57 am

Trudi wrote:
I think there is also a conflict between the type of data that arises from studying feral herds and our own 'housed' domestic herds.



:agree: There was a very interesting video series on Epona with Lucy Rees, explaining how we create artificial situations for domestic horses, particularly regarding resource guarding. The way most domestic horses are kept (the amount of space they have in particular) means their behaviour bears little resemblance to feral horse behaviour. The biggest difference being aggression levels......
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Re: Do horses really need a herd leader?

Postby nicxf » Wed Feb 01, 2017 8:43 pm

Interesting reading.

Somebody once told me, when I was telling them about my pony (who used to be very difficult to keep with other horses as he would bully them mercilessly until they were separated), that some horses are a natural 'second in command' and get extremely worried without a quiet, reassuring leader type around who will stand up to them and go "oi, pack it in" calmly. With that, they will slot nicely into herd life but without it they can be a nightmare for other horses as their worrying leads them to be over-controlling.

No idea how true it is as a theory but it's certainly an interesting idea and seemed to describe my pony's behaviour to a tee.
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Re: Do horses really need a herd leader?

Postby littlewhitehorse » Fri Feb 03, 2017 9:29 pm

nicxf wrote:some horses are a natural 'second in command' and get extremely worried without a quiet, reassuring leader type around who will stand up to them and go "oi, pack it in" calmly. With that, they will slot nicely into herd life but without it they can be a nightmare for other horses as their worrying leads them to be over-controlling.


This is Seraphina - not over-controlling, but gets very stressed, in certain situations I have observed; she is not a "leader" herself, although that might change later with age... So I would say that she does need a herd leader, or whatever it takes to make her feel safe and confident.

Bit tired tonight so speed-read the article. Seems to me there may be confusion in the use of the term leadership or leader, both in the study criteria for what makes a leader, and what they were looking for and expecting a supposed leader, or lack of one, to behave in a herd; also, in the concept and use of "leadership" in training. It's going to be semantics again folks... :wink:

I'm going to quibble about this from the blog:
Some trainers base their methods on the idea that every horse needs a 'leader' as they believe horses would have an 'alpha' or a 'leader' naturally within the herd...
Sadly however, the idea has stuck and as a result many horses have been bullied and forced to follow or 'respect' their human leader.


It is a blog and she can say what she likes, as I do on mine, and her credentials look good so she should know what she is talking about, but that is a controversial introduction, I talk about the importance of leadership, but anyone bullying or forcing their horses will never be seen by their horse as a leader; respect cannot be forced it has to be gained.
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Re: Do horses really need a herd leader?

Postby Trudi » Sat Feb 04, 2017 1:13 pm

It so often comes down to our management and although it might appear that a horse prefers to be (or not to be) 'in charge' that is a more human way of describing it. This subject is so complex and in each situation what's known as resource holding potential will be different. In domesticated horses it's not always obvious due to us humans getting involved and fencing/stabling them and providing food/water! So one horse might have a higher holding potential for hay but not care about getting first scratch in the mutual grooming sessions. If their ability to pair bond is compromised (not enough horses or not compatible horses) then again the behaviour we observe and label can become skewed.

In short a large herd of horses won't have one leader- it will change depending on the resource involved (grass, hay, water, shelter, scratching post, mating) so when we make our small unnatural herds (I have one too) they find it hard to behave as they naturally would and it can place undue stress on one of them.
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