From our house we have a good view of the horses. I could pop a bowl of popcorn and watch them all day. That is, if I wasn’t down hanging out with them.
We keep our horses in two small herds. I call them “herdlets.” One herd is “Team Wishbone” — named after the herdlet’s leader, a Belgian draft horse named Wishbone. He’s giant, kind, but very opinionated. Sort of like a benevolent dictator.
The other herdlet is “Team Wrigley”. My saddle horse Wrigley is that herdlet’s leader. She’s bossy, particular, and protective. She’s a vocal leader, barking out orders via squeals and foot-stomping. No one ever gets too far out of line on Team Wrigley. Eating happens in shifts. Wrigley and her lieutenant (USA) will eat when they good and well want to eat. Axel and Suzzie are not allowed near the feeder until Wrigley and USA are finished. they won’t even try. Nevermind that the feeder can easily accommodate 6 horses. This is a new experience for Axel as he used to be on Team Wishbone, and was even a high-ranking horse in that herd – second only to Wish.
Wishbone’s leadership style is more of an “influencing” style. He lumbers along quietly, and when he wants a horse to move out of his way, he just shoves them out of his way. He doesn’t make a lot of mean faces or threats. He just rolls right on through.
It’s interesting to me that there isn’t really a specific trait to being a leader. When we first got Wrigley she was the bottom horse in a good-sized herd. Now she’s a pretty demanding alpha. Axel is one of our smaller horses, but he was the leader of Team Wishbone before Wishbone arrived. Wishbone “overthrew” Axel mostly by virtue of just ignoring Axel’s attempts to show him who was boss. When we first put Wish in the same herd as Axel, Axel would harass Wishbone — rearing up on his hind, pawing at him, biting him, just non-stop harassment. Wishbone practically yawned and just shoved Axel away. One time I saw Axel rear up on his hind legs to start in on Wish, and Wishbone just stepped ever-so-slightly into Axel, knocking him clear over on his back.
Sometimes I’ve had to just look away — horses play and bicker pretty rough. Yet, they are so tough. Axel scrambled right back up and started in again on Wish like nothing happened.
Even now, the times Axel is on Team Wishbone, he makes playful attempts to assert himself — chewing on Wishbone’s legs, biting him on the butt, trying to rear up and paw at him. It’s quite funny and Wishbone is a very tolerant leader. He mostly just yawns and lets Axel play himself out, then Wishbone will knock him back or over and Axel will decide to take a break.
Axel never ever approaches Wrigley that way. Axel and Wrigs have been pasture-mates since Axel was weaned. They were very attached for a long time. He will challenge any other horse, but he’s never tried Wrigley. I’ve seen him too close to whatever arbitrary line she’s drawn in the sand and she sends him packing. She is more aggressive and intolerant of him.
Fun to see their different “styles” of establishing leadership. Glad I’m the boss though! 😉