The importance of the group

“Being in a group represents security and survival, being alone means vulnerability and danger.”

In the wild state horses live in small groups, usually of about 6 to 12 horses. These groups, also called family bands or harems, normally have one stallion and several mares and their foals, although there are also all male groups, called bachelor bands, and occasionally mixed groups with 2 or 3 stallions and several mares. A herd includes several of these groups, and usually has a fairly fixed territory even though the groups within the herd may move around a great deal.

Sorraia Mustangs – photo FiBi Photography

While horses change groups now and then, and young horses often leave or are driven out when they reach sexual maturity, the groups are generally relatively stable, and a horse may spend its whole life in the same group.

With this in mind, it’s hardly surprising that the group is extremely important to any horse, wild or domestic. Being in a group represents security and

survival, being alone means vulnerability and danger. A horse on its own is vulnerable to predators, so a horse’s most basic instinct is that it does NOT want to be alone!

The group has its own organisation, based on a hierarchy. If we can show we understand the rules of the hierarchy, we can start to win the horse’s confidence.

The hierarchy is largely defined by control of personal space, with higher ranking horses able to control larger areas of space. Leaders, that is to say the horses that the others follow and trust to take them in the right direction, are usually high ranking, but just because a horse is high ranking, doesn’t necessarily mean it is a leader. A bossy, aggressive horse who chases everyone away might be dominant in the group, but may not be trusted by the others as a leader.

That means that when we want to earn a leadership role with our horses, it’s not about “showing it who’s the boss”, but rather showing the horse that we understand its world and that we are trustworthy.