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Horses and Instinct, Herd Bound – by Craig Cameron



Craig Cameron

Craig Cameron

A common problem for horse owners is the  herd-bound horse.   They say, “Craig, my trouble  is that my horse is herd-bound.” I’ve seen very  few horses that were not herd-bound.   I hope you  know that almost all horses are herd-bound.   Why? That is the nature of the horse.   The horse  is a social or herd animal and finds safety  in number  The horse’s instinct gives  him an extremely strong herd  mentality.   Next to the instinct to  survive, I think this strong social  behavior is one of the most  important to the horse.   For most  horses, the herd is everything.

From day one, the herd mentality  is formed.   A foal’s mother is his  security and the herd is the center  of his universe.   A foal learns  from his mother as well as from  members of the herd.   In the wild, horses have no  “man-made” problems.   Why don’t  wild horses have trouble going  down steep trails, negotiating obstacles,  or crossing water? Why””  because the herd teaches them how  to survive natural obstacles! The herd  creates “naturally” brave horses.

The  call of the herd is stronger than the fear of the  individual horse.   Consequently, the problems of  crossing rugged terrain do not exist in nature.   Younger, inexperienced horses have a trust of  older, dominant, experienced and lead horses.   In  short, horses have a trust of the herd.   Being within  the herd is “a no-fear environment.” It is the  herd that gives the horse security.

Within the herd  there is a pecking  order.   A pecking order  among horses is not  about pride or ego as  it is in mans’ world.   In the natural environment  of the horse,  pecking order is about  strength, keenness  and experience.   This  social status is about  survival of the  strong, fit and smart.

In human society,  the power or pecking  order is about  who you know,  the car you drive,  the size of your  house, and of  course, how  much money you  have.   The hierarchy of the horse is  not about material things, but more about  natural status; a status in the herd.   This is proven  and re-proven on a daily basis.   Like man  however, in most horse societies or herds it is  a female or older dominant mare who is the  leader.   The breeding stallions keep the herd  together, but make no mistake; it is more often  a mare who is the leader of the herd.   Pecking  order is important and gives the herd just that””  order.   Lead or dominant horses teach and keep  discipline in the herd.

As horse people, we need to understand  the nature, the structure and the importance of  herd mentality.   This knowledge enables us to  communicate and be better teachers and trainers  of the horse.   In the herd of two, you and your  horse, there is just one leader and there is just  one follower.   If you are not the leader, you are  the follower; if you are not the alpha, you are  the beta.   With millions of years of herd instinct,  the horse picks up very quickly where you are  in the pecking order.   If presented correctly the  horse will easily accept your role as the leader.   With your understanding of the herd mentality,  it is easy to see as a trainer why you do not  want to destroy trust.   If you are the type of  trainer that works through force, pain or fear,  the horse will never look to you as his leader.   He will only see you for what you are; he will  only see you as a predator.

Experienced and  effective trainers develop trust between themselves  and their horse.   When there is trust a  horse relaxes and when a horse relaxes he can  learn.   The best trainers consistently have good  horses.   Great trainers create a learning environment  of trust with their horses.   It’s not that their  horses are not herd-bound it is that the trainer  is part of the herd.   The trainer is the leader of  the herd.   With this approach, herd-bound energy  does not work against you, it works for you.

As a horseman, I challenge you to create a no-fear  environment between you and your horses.   Do not be the predator stalking the herd.   Instead, with effectiveness and understanding  the trainer becomes a member of the herd; he  is the leader of the herd.   Your presence should  not represent the threat of a predator, but rather  the assurance that you are a part of “The Call  of the Herd.”  “”Craig Cameron,Horseman  You can order Craig’s book and DVD’s at

[published in Performance Horse Digest, Volume 3, Issue 6.]


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  1. Carole

    March 25, 2014 at 4:24 pm

    I carry a shedder blade with me every time I go up to see the horses and brush for a few minutes each time. Before you know it the hair is gone.

    • Horse Digests

      March 26, 2014 at 2:56 pm

      GREAT idea! That sure beats trying to tackle it all in one day!

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