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Understanding Herd Mentality in Horse Training

Aug 4, 2008
Despite mankind's top level status in the evolutionary chain, understanding and making friends in the animal kingdom has a lot of rewarding benefits. Whether the formed relationship is for companionship, working purposes, or both, it helps to when one can learn the language of the animal counterpart.

The great thing about animals is their honesty. They give signs of what they are thinking and feeling and it's up to you to decipher the message. It's no different with horses as you have to understand their mindset of where they are coming from.

Horses are herd animals. They are also prey animals so they can get a bit twitchy if they perceive you as a hunter. In the wild, a herd is governed by a boss mare. She protects the herd's safety by looking for dangers and motivates the herd into flight from predators. When the boss mare is on alert with her head up and her ears are pricked forward along with tense muscles, the herd knows it's a danger sign and is prepared to run at her signal. However, when the lead mare is relaxed with her head down grazing, the rest of the herd knows it can relax too. You can tell that a horse is at ease by the position of its head, the relaxation in the ears, the drop of the tail and yes, even a deep sigh too.

For her leadership, the boss mare is given complete obedience from the herd. She controls the space, food and water resources of the herd. This is the status that a horse trainer would want. A trainer will need to be accepted as part of the herd and take the position of a leader by providing safety and food resources.

In training a horse, it's about a trainer's ability to control his body language as well. He must not back away from a horse or else lose his position in the herd hierarchy. He must also control his breathing and his muscles as the fear will be sensed by the horses. The task is to establish leadership by portraying the ability to care for the herd and showing fear certainly won't inspire confidence!

By taking an interest in the nature of horses and how their minds work, it makes the relationship more beneficial to both the horse and the trainer. A relationship based on bonding rather than fear and pain makes natural horsemanship the preferred method in horse training.
About the Author
Mariam Ma is a freelance writer for Drop In Bucket, a great source for horse care supplies such as horse fly masks and horse fly sheets to keep those pests at bay.
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