Whether you are riding, training, showing, or just keeping horses at home, the “herd thing” is a major factor that keeps you from having control of the situation much of the time. Herd thinking is a horse’s operating system, and it’s a big mistake to discount its influence or perseverance. Good horsemen use the horse’s innate desire to be part of the herd to their advantage. The rest of us, maybe not as much as we could?
- Have you ever gone from the warm up ring riding one horse, who was working great, and entered the show ring with what felt like another horse all together?
- Does your horse do his rundowns and extended gaits way faster and more ‘on the muscle’ toward the location of the barn or other horses?
- Do your circles always seem to bow out toward the gate or barn?
- Does your horse move out like a tennessee walker on the way home on your trail rides?
- When you load your horse in the trailer does your horse jump right in when he sees there another horse already loaded, then get balky about loading if the trailer is empty?
If you’ve ever seen one of those animal television shows featuring herds of wild zebras or wildebeests reacting in a group stampede to the presence of a lion, you have a good picture of herd thinking. Let’s face it, your horse is here in the present day because his ancestors were real good at dodging predators and using the herd to survive!
Good horsemen and women recognize a horse’s innate desire to join up and be safe. With training time and by using good methods a horse can be gradually accustomed to recognize his rider as an important herd member. Riders must take care to present themselves as a leader from the moment the halter is put on. Horses will challenge you in both small and large ways and you have to be alert to this behavior to reinforce the notion that you are indeed the herd boss. In the herd ranking system, you can see this dynamic played out 100s of times a day.
Be fair, be consistent and train your horse to show respect. Continually ask for small acts of compliance with your riding and handling. If you give a command, be sure you have first gotten their attention and ask clearly. If there is confusion break it down into smaller components to be understood. When you are warming up this is training them, you are setting the tone for your ride. When you are not focused, the horse feels insecure. The more skills you develop in connecting with your horse, the safer he will feel, with you in charge of the herd.