Hello – Silence Speaks More – Kelly Adams here. Today we would like to discuss the dynamics of a herd and what being in a herd really means. If you have ever had the opportunity to watch a herd of horses you will notice that their relationships are in a constant state of change. There are always the same one or two that are “in charge” and there is always a pecking order. There are also separate groups that stick together keeping apart from the whole. Over the course of a day the pecking order changes as well as the different members of the various groups. Some days the herd will pick out one member to chase off and this is also in constant flux.
This past winter we had the leaders “turn” on one little mare. They spent all day chasing her off. She had been in the same field with them for years and all of a sudden she was not welcome. It was also interesting that when she tried to connect with a group a member of that group would also chase her off that day. We thought everyone would settle down but by the end of the day we had to remove her from the field.
If you have ever watched a playground at recess or in the park on the weekend, kids are the exact same way. This doesn’t stop with the kids. In adult life we call it office politics or even worse “personality conflicts”. Always it is a bully pushing their weight around. The location doesn’t matter; it could be in the field, playground, or office – it is always a bully looking for attention and dominance. Always on the receiving end of the abuse is a person, or horse, that knows they are on the receiving end of unfair abuse and are just trying to fit in. As stewards of any group each of us is associated with we must pay attention to the dynamics behind the actions. Frequently the actions are only the result of where the real problems lie.
In the case of our little mare we took a close look at her and discovered that she had a bunch of burrs in her tail and couldn’t pick her tail up far enough when she urinated. Her scent had changed and she became “different” in the eyes of the leaders of the herd. The rest of the herd didn’t want to “get involved” so stood off and allowed the little mare to be run off by the leaders. We cleaned her tail and put her in with some other pregnant mares and she is getting along well in the new herd. Many times looking beyond the “big” problem and noticing the little things we can easily change the situation for the better in the herd.
People frequently come to us for advice. They have one horse at home and are worried about that horse being lonely. Some of these people spend lots of time with their horse and don’t understand that they have become that horse’s herd. Yes horses are herd animals but many people forget that horses are very happy with their herd of people. In the wild many horse are required for a herd. This is the only way the herd can provide safety and stability. When an animal is “domesticated” people become important and truly become part of the herd. They don’t need to bring a “friend” into the environment because the horse is happy and fulfilled with the family being their herd.
In other cases there was a happy and healthy relationship with the horse being alone and they got their horse a “friend”. After that they began having problems with their horse. Unknowingly the people had changed their herd’s dynamics. By introducing another horse they did not have time for both horses. With this change in attention the horses became “herd bound”. What we mean by “herd bound” is that the horses become so attached to each other and with the decreased attention the horses don’t want to leave each other. Trying to take one horse from the field causes worry and panic. Their attention is so focused on the horse left behind they can’t concentrate on their job. If you don’t have the time to take care of one horse why would you get more?
In all situations of dysfunction step away and look at the whole picture. Don’t rely on what other people say – take a good hard look at what is really going on. Have the herd dynamics changed in the field, playground, or office? Frequently the “problem” is left alone and the herd suffers. Take a good look at the problem and find a way to change that dynamic. Of most importance is the greater good for all.
Thank you kindly for listening to this old horseman.
Kelly & Heidi Adams have been in the horse industry since 1978. Over the years we have been blessed with exceptional horses, clients, and friends. The lessons we have learned we share with you here.