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Pecking Order In Herds
WRITTEN BY: Cheryl Sutor   [December 1998]



What is a "Herd"?
A herd is a group of horses that live together. Horses naturally live in herds. Many other species also naturally live in groups. They include primates, whales & dolphins, wolves & dogs, horses & cattle, antelope. Humans naturally live in groups too. You live in a group with your family.


What is "Pecking Order"?
All animals that live in groups a "pecking order". Pecking order is the order of dominance. The pecking order starts with the most dominant animal that is the leader. The order continues down to the last animal who is the most submissive. The most submissive animal is dominated by all the others.


What is "Alpha"?
The Alpha horse is the dominant leader to whom all of the other horses respect and are submissive to. By nature, horses instinctively seek leadership. The Alpha horse provides that leadership and security to all others in their herd.


Who is the leader or "Alpha" horse?
The stallion owns the herd, all horses in the herd are his. He is not the leader though, he is not Alpha. His role is to keep intruders away from his horses (this includes other strange horses and predators). He usually runs behind the herd, keeping the slower horses caught up with the rest.

The leader (Alpha) of the herd is usually an old mare. She helps to keep the other horses safe. The other horses respect her for her wisdom. She leads them to safety and food.


What is "Dominance"?
Dominance has very little to do with strength. Dominance is all about wisdom. The wisest or oldest horse will be dominant, even if she is not the strongest.

Being dominant does not mean that you physically abuse, hurt, or mistreat the horse. Your parents are dominant to you, but they are gentle - they don't physically beat you to make you submissive to them. (However, there are a few unfortunate circumstances where parents have beaten their children only to find that along with submissiveness they have created fear, confusion, and mistrust).

To become dominant or "Alpha", you need to create submissiveness in the horse by making him feel dependent upon you. You cannot beat him to submissiveness, because you will teach him to also fear you and not trust you, along with confusing him.

The herd leader (the old mare) dominates all others with her experience, wisdom and guidance. They respect her and feel dependent upon her. Her wisdom may mean the difference between survival and death. She has proven to them that they can trust her in her decisions. These decisions include when and where to run in emergencies and which way they should travel to find food and water.

All horses are capable of being dominated if approached in the appropriate manner, and trained using the proper methods.


What is "Submissiveness"?
Being submissive means being respectful, obedient, and dependent. To horses, it means being secure and safe, knowing that the leader is in charge. Submissive horses must be respectful, obedient and dependent in order to survive. When a submissive horse is not respectful, it is rejected from the herd temporarily (thus, vulnerable to predators). From this mentally traumatic rejection, horses learn to be respectful and dependant upon their leaders for survival.

You must dominate your horse if he is to follow your leadership and respect you. You must be his leader (Alpha). That does not mean that you cannot also feel love for your horse, or that he cannot feel love for you.

You can love your parents, yet can also have respect for them, obey them and depend upon them for your own survival. This is the relationship you must create with your horse.



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This article was published on: December 1998. Last updated on: December 1998.