Addressing Dominant Herd Behavior in Horses

Question: We are slowly introducing a 4-month-old weanling into a herd of 13. We have a dominant 19-month-old gelding that is displaying behavior that we can’t explain. When together in the paddock, the gelding is controlling basically every step the weanling is allowed to make. He doesn’t get any freedom whatsoever to move independently. There’s no aggression involved so far. Is this normal and why? – Aruba-Girl

Answer: Yes, your horses’ behavior is absolutely normal. No matter if you put two horses together or 20, within a herd horses develop a social order to determine who leads and who follows. The leader of the herd decides when the herd moves, which direction it goes in, and when it eats. The leader makes the decisions, drinks first and eats the best feed.

Each of the horses in a herd has a specific place. The number two horse can threaten any horse but the leader. Each horse has individuals he can boss and those he is bossed by, except the horse at the bottom of the pecking order. He is bossed by everyone and threatens no one. No horse wants to be the one at the bottom of the herd—he drinks last and gets the worst feed.

Your 19-month-old gelding ranks higher in the pecking order of your herd than your weanling does, and he’s proving to your weanling that he can and will move his feet. If you stop to watch how a herd of horses interacts, you’ll notice that the horses are constantly trying to move up the pecking order and the leader must assert himself every day and prove that he is capable of leading the herd.

Unless you think that your weanling is going to get injured, I wouldn’t worry about your herd’s behavior. If you are worried that your weanling is going to get hurt, then I would separate him from the gelding.