To Herdship

Some days ago all of a sudden everything I have been doing with my horses, my work and even my photography all came together as I was driving and thinking about what horses really care about. It became evidently clear that horses do not care who leads or follows – there is status in a herd, and it is not as important to them as it is to us … horses are concerned about their group, about being together, about surviving as a herd.

When I let my mares out of the paddock and onto the track that takes them to the field I notice that there are typically two horses who will indicate it is time to go – they will be the first to take a step onto the path. If Fantasia is the first to go she will take a few steps and then she stops, she is not too brave and would like someone else to go ahead, so a younger and braver mare will often take the lead. These days it tends to be the seven year olds who, alone or together, pave the way. As I watch my herd there are many small daily interactions like this, and they are all about keeping the group healthy and harmonious.

I once read in an article that horses use three hard rules to determine if they will follow another horse. First of all the horse that wants to lead the way needs to have a certain age (i recall it was 1,5 or 2 years old) before that they are not yet considered worthy to follow. They need to choose the right time and context, when you have just found water it is not interesting to follow another horse who suggests you go find food – you will drink first. Finally it depends on the determination with which the horse moves away, if the horse is only drifting other horses may just see it as grazing elsewhere and are unlikely to follow.

And then the obvious found me, horses aren’t concerned with who follows or leads they are concerned with the welfare of their herd. Horses do not live alone, they live in small groups, often family based. When a horse does not have a herd to belong to and be in, they tend to become miserable and their well being suffers. What horses are concerned with is neither follower- nor leadership they are concerned with… herdship … the movement to be a harmonious part of a healthy herd… found me

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