Who’s really in charge?
Regarding “Busting the Lead Mare Myth” (Medical Front, EQUUS 444), I’ve been studying and applying the concepts of natural horsemanship to my herd for about six years now. I don’t “hang” with any one clinician; rather, I use the concepts from any source that make sense to me and that align with my values and experience. And while I don’t recall any references to “lead mares” in any of the materials I’ve seen (and I admit it’s a drop in the bucket of what’s out there today), I do commonly see references to establishing “leadership.” In fact, in all of my readings, two concepts remain universal: leadership and safety.
It has been my long-standing belief that leaders of a domestic herd can be a male or a female horse, and I’ve seen this truth play out in my own herd. Initially, I had two mares. When it came to training and riding, the dominant/ lead mare was standoffish, sometimes disrespectful to me and defiant. The subordinate mare had a foal, and at 2 months of age, I had him gelded. That foal, at 6 months old, started pushing the “lead mare” around, and she let him. I then adopted a second 6-monthold gelding.
Once she was number 2 in the pecking order, my former lead mare became a very compliant, friendly and curious participant in training and riding. She is also the stabilizing factor for the herd. If I’m going to try something different, I try it with her first while the others watch. It makes the process go smoother for the rest. The other mare is number 3 in the pecking order, but if she sees something that concerns her, the rest of the herd doesn’t relax until she does. And often it’s the number 4 horse, the second gelding, who will walk off to check out another grazing spot, while the others follow.
So what I’ve seen in my herd is that, while there is an alpha horse, each horse in the herd plays his own leadership role: One has a talent for “intel.” One has a “nose for what grows.” And one provides the herd a little extra confidence in new situations. It makes for a well-balanced herd.
Balance equals safety, and safety allows everyone to play their role, unclutter their minds and allow trust and learning. Karen Kolbu Kerrville, Texas