Who is a leader?

Last night I went out into the back 50 looking for the herd. After 2 hours walking around – no horses! They’re there, but they were deep in the woods somewhere. Last night I went out into the back 50 looking for the herd. After 2 hours walking around – no horses! They’re there, but they were deep in the woods somewhere.

Today I went out again to find them. An hour later, I returned to where I had started at the water troughs, and then I saw some horses coming up the road. But mine were not among them, and some others were missing too – where could they be?

I walked past the herd at the troughs. It was mostly mares, including Rhoda who is the main decision-maker in the herd. Her best buddy Hoss was not there either. As I walked along the road leading around the pond, I could hear a couple of riding groups nearby. Soon I came upon the rest of the herd, who had lingered in a shady spot by the roadside.
There were about six of them, including my two, and Hoss. I walked around saying Hello, but noticed that Hoss seemed preoccupied and looked a bit distracted.  He kept neighing as if calling out. I thought he might be calling to locate Rhoda and the rest of the herd….but surely he knew where they were?

Then a riding group rode by on the other side of the fence and trees, and their horses called back to Hoss. Another group of riding horses called out from far up the road away from the water troughs. And horses in an adjacent pasture called out too. Hoss became very agitated and led his small group, including my mares, up the road and through some woods, calling out as he went, and leaving me behind. In moments they came back down the road toward me, with my mares leading. When they got to me, they stopped and were wandering around. I got a feeling that they were not sure what to do next. It was odd, because I could faintly hear Rhoda calling from the direction of the water troughs.

So…I took over. I said firmly, “Come on, let’s go!” And I clucked a couple of times as I turned away and began striding quite purposefully down the road toward the water troughs. And son of a gun….they followed me! I heard the sound of a half dozen horses trotting behind me, and I kept looking back in case they decided to start running. But they followed me like good little school children.

After several moments, Rhoda and the rest of the herd came trotting up the road, and I sensed relief as the herd was once again united. They calmed down and began looking for something to eat in the surrounding forest.

I never expected to be able to influence the herd like that. I always thought of it as a long term stable entity that had its own internal guiding wisdom, and all I have ever done is come and visit and not disturb the harmony.  But it made me look at leadership in a horse herd differently. Perhaps truly any horse can guide the herd, if at a certain moment that horse alone knows what to do and acts purposefully. In that case, Carolyn is right when she says that every horse in a herd has a job, and a contribution to make for the good of the herd.

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About Ladiehawke

Born in the USA, of Canadian parents, family is cross-border and I have lived most of my adult life in Ontario. PhD in developmental neurobiology, DVM from Ontario Veterinary College. Married, no children, we own a 107 acre farm and I have two horses - haflingers, mother and daughter, named Folly and Chance, hence the name of my blog.
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