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The Team Leader

Call It Partnership........Call it Leadership......Call it Relationship...
just don’t call it “Egoship”



What's in a name? Well, I feel that there is lots and so I have shifted my terminology in the past year of how I describe our need for "Leadership" with our horses. It's not that I have changed the philosophy... just the name. Let me explain.

Natural Horsemanship has always supported in some form the term Leadership..being a good leader, a fair leader, a firm leader, a knowing leader. And while all of these are true, the term leader can also be misrepresented and is often taken as a word with more subjugation than what it is meant to be.


Wild Horses on the Prarie

What is a Herd Leader Anyways?

If we were to study the research on feral herds there is actually no one Alpha or Leader in the herd as that role changes due to a number of different factors. Because herds are large in number compared to our smaller domestic herds, you would see that the leader of the herd is not one particular horse at all but is inherently connected to what is going on at any one time.


What I mean by this, is that studies describe seeing the leadership of large groups of wild horses distributed amongst more than one horse..... and that changes constantly, based on the fact that different horses have different strengths and are called upon to use that strength if the situation merits it.

We don't get to see this unless we are studying larger herds and in particular feral herds because through domestication we have provided most of the food, safety and taken the pressure off in a sense to procreate (although don't tell this to some of our mares). However, latent these have become in our herds there still is a need to sort things out as the instinct to survive is ever present in prey animals.


What would your horse's role be in a wild herd?

To understand our horses now we need to understand wild herd behaviour. We often hear of the lead mare and while she is responsible for perpetuating the herd, she also sets the direction and pace of the herd especially to find food.


The lead stallion keeps the herd together and protects it from predators or from insubordinate  stallions who may be lurking along the fringes trying to seize a herd of his own.



There are others in the herd that are called passive leaders and while they may not have the strength and prowess to do the fighting, they also add to the safety of the herd by staying more behind the scenes, quietly surveying the surroundings, usually while eating, and if needed alert the herd if danger appears much the same as a scout would. 

Then there are more active leaders, that take over when there are social issues that need to be resolved like when a new horse joins the group or another horse is picking on their best friend.

You can see if this all were left to one horse, they would be exhausted, nor would they probably have the ability to be everything to everyone.


It's All In The Numbers

Image by Thibault Carron

There are also other assorted extroverted horses who are the social ones. These are the ones with a huge play drive. They seemingly enjoy the role of getting the herd to play. Play is a very important part of herd maintenance and is what is often left out from our schedule with them. Play is so important to horses as it release endorphins, as does good food and clean water.


The larger the herd, the larger the range of strengths there is to choose from. With our smaller domesticated herds though each horse has to take on more of the jobs for the herd as well as those jobs have been numbed down so to speak over the years of domestication.


If you look closer now, you may see one of your horses taking on multiple roles. This is why we often are confused why one horse seems like the leader one day and not so much the next day. It makes sense just mathematically....if all roles need to be covered by the team then each horse will sometimes have multiple rolls.

NOTE: when we look at our own herd the horse that is pushing horses around with a lot of movement may just be the bully or the playful one and NOT the leader. Leaders can't be bothered imparting that much energy.

Now It 's OurTurn

Now, when you take your horse away from his herd you have asked him to be part of a herd of what, who is the Team Leader? The intent doesn't change should always be to create unity, harmony, and collaboration while keeping your herd safe, so it will be up to you to take on those roles.



That Team Leader needs to be the humans because of safety but it should always be one of listening, observing and helping to keep safety and harmony of your herd of 2 in the forefront. The role should never be one to produce fear, or indecisiveness or confusion ... and that is why I have used the word TEAM with leader. 


Think of it the same way as perhaps how your workplace is, or the last time you were part of a committee. Everyone takes on the role that suits their strengths for the sake of the team. The Team Leader, though is a mentor, a listener, a protector and leads by example with just, with compassion with grounded energy and emotions toward the end result. 

It is always important to remember when working with horses that there is someone else on your team to consider and that it is never your way or the highway.


You can call it semantics but the difference between saying Team Leader and Leader is huge in shifting the thinking and that is what I want my horse to think.

Image by Alex Blăjan
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