Published 12-27-2010 8:09 PM | Fernanda Camargo
Horses define their hierarchy in a group through aggression. After the social order has been established, it is maintained with a series of body language and interactive behaviors. For example, small gestures such as ears back and head tossing will usually result in the subordinate horse moving out of the way. This behavior maintains order in the group and is one of the reason why herd animals are easier to train than animals that are solitary by nature.
Herd animals are used to and feel more secure in a structured environment, where they understand their role. This is why consistency is extremely important in horse training, so we don't confuse our horses. The horse leader of the group will always act the same way toward another horse in the group.
A horse that knows its placing in the hierarchy and is confident in its dominance can move other horses using as little effort as possible. Make a point to watch horses in group situations and pay attention how small gestures can get big results. Generally, only horses whose status is questionable uses a lot of aggression to get their points across.
It is important for us to realize that in the wild, horses are not particularly aggressive toward each other. Their food and water source is generally spread out and they don't have to fight each other for them. Aggression in their natural habitat is used only when absolutely necessary, because it is dangerous for both the aggressor and the victim. In domestic situations, horses generally get aggressive at feeding times. They can hurt people and each other when feed is being handed out. This is why it is important to separate the horses when feeding a concentrated feed, so you don't create competition. It is also important to have more sources of hay than the number of horses in a paddock if you are group feeding. Although not always done, it is also a good idea to have several waterers or water troughs in a paddock. This allows the horses that are lower in the pecking order a chance to drink or eat in peace, away from the more aggressive horses.