How Humans Can Learn from Equine Herd Behaviors

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Herd Behavior

It’s always fun to watch equine herd dynamics in action. There is always a lot of subtle—and not so subtle!—communication going on, including noises, body language, and facial expressions. Once you learn to understand what the different signs mean, watching all this unfold can be quite entertaining. And who knows—maybe you can learn a thing or two from your animals!

1. Horse arguments don’t last long

Even horses who are best buddies sometimes have a minor disagreement or two. It might be about who has the best pile of hay, or about whose turn it is to stand next to the gate. But here’s the interesting part: horse buddies have a quiet way of quickly “discussing” a problem, and then dropping it. There might be a mean face with ears briefly pinned back, or some pushy body language, but then it’s generally over. They don’t talk about it for hours or days; they don’t hold grudges or stay mad at each other. We can take a lesson from this: if there is a disagreement or argument between friends, why not just quickly let it go, and not dwell on the details? In a few minutes our horses have forgotten about the incident and moved on to more important things—like whose turn it is to roll in the best spot. (Note: I’m talking about horses who are buddies—not every combination of horses works out and some horses that consistently don’t get along have to be separated.)

2. Leaders are a good thing—in moderation

Many times in a horse herd, a natural leader emerges. This is the horse who declares that “Today we’re going to the back of the pasture to graze,” and the one who says, “We’re not going to run around right now, we’re going to stand in the sunshine and relax.” The rest of the herd tends to recognize this leader and listen to them—to a point. The other horses use their leader as a guide, but they never forget to be individuals. If one member of the herd really doesn’t want to graze in the back, they’re free to stay in the front. And if someone is feeling spunky and wants to run around, they can—the herd boss won’t (usually) care too much. Again, you can likely make some useful observations from this: people who are natural leaders can still guide while avoiding being pushy, and followers can use their own judgement in addition to the leader’s guidance.

3. In tough times, stick together!

Have you ever watched a group of horses outside on a windy day? They will often stand together in a group, and all face away from the direction the wind is blowing. This is another observation we can learn from: when things get tough, stick together! The wind will stop eventually.

What are some of your favorite equine herd behaviors?

Daniel Johnson is a freelance writer and professional photographer.
He’s the author of several books, including How to Raise Horses:
Everything You Need to Know, (Voyageur Press, 2014).See Dan’s
horse photography at www.foxhillphoto.com or like his Facebook page: www.facebook.com/foxhillphoto

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