Observing your herd could be one of the best decisions you make for your horse. Not everyone is in the position to do this with their horse(s) for example on a full livery yard where horses are turned out while the owner is at work. But if you are – I advise you to take the opportunity (and bring a notepad and a camera).

Watching your horse in a herd setting – and giving your horse plenty of access to a herd is vitally important for his/her well being – will give you an insight in to your horse’s personality when they aren’t with you. Often horses can become submissive or passive around the rider so we don’t fully see what the horse is expressing. Finding out what your horse gets up to with the others can assist you with training and also changing/enriching their environment. As you begin to see what they need, what’s plentiful and what is missing, you are giving yourself the knowledge to support them.

I’ll take you through a few of my own observations in my herd.

Value Systems

Horses have basic needs, they value their basic needs according to 1) availability and 2) importance to them. If the need is scarce and it’s of high importance, the horse is more likely to push harder to win it over. In this case (above) the mare, Sandy is threatening to take the gelding, Rodeo’s, feed.

Previously Rodeo would be pushed away and a fight would ensue. However, through herd training Rodeo will now share his feed with Sandy. They still fought occasionally while eating, but Rodeo was able to stay with his bowl until the end, which would never have happened previously.


Geldings tend to like to play more than the mares, in the wild if they were stallions they would be competing and learning how to defend the herd. Teddy is the more territorial of the two geldings and therefore behaves in a more dominant way because it is very important to him. He was in the herd long before Rodeo, so we had to take the introduction very slowly. The herd is still split.

In this photo, the two look like they are playing and the smaller photo shows some similar behaviour.

But, what happened before this?

Teddy moved Rodeo away from this spot. Could it be related to the empty feed bucket? and what about the behaviour now? Does it still look like playing? Please comment below, I’d love to know what you think is happening. I’m not just interested in the ‘right’ answer, I want to know what you see – because we see things differently and as the horses can’t tell us, we need to learn to interpret for them.

Learning to Watch before Riding

I believe it’s important to watch your herd, finding the dynamics and learning what’s really going on before you begin to work with your horse has an effect. I know looking at these photos that Rodeo had a tough time at dinner. He had to be quite defensive and was pushed about. Do you think this will affect how he is in training? I think it will.

Developing techniques to support the horses to develop themselves will have a positive effect on the herd and hopfully reduce stresses so that the horses can come to training less stressed. Also, it’s a good idea to know the best times to work with your horse so you start off on the right hoof.

Happy Training 🙂

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