Who’s re­ally in charge?

EQUUS - - Letters -

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

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