Who’s the Herd Leader? It Depends, Researchers Say

Researchers determined that the dominant horse is rarely the one who takes the first steps to get the herd moving.
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Who’s the leader of the pack? Or in the case of horses, the herd? If you think it’s the dominant horse, think again. French researchers recently determined that the dominant horse is rarely the one who makes the first move to get the herd going. And, in fact, the “herd leader” often changes throughout the day.

“To really be a true leader, you need followers, and that’s true of horses as well as humans,” said Odile Petit, PhD, of the University of Strasbourg, in Alsace, France. Petit presented her work on herd movements at the 2015 Equine Ethology Day held April 9 in Saumur, France.

Many researchers and owners have traditionally believed dominant horses—especially stallions or older, dominant mares—to be the herd leaders. But Petit’s research results show that, actually, they often leave the leading up to others. And the ones that most frequently take the job are the most sociable horses, she said.

But, Petit said, neither the dominant horses nor the more sociable horses are most likely to be followed. It’s the ones with the most “friends,” she said

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Passionate about horses and science from the time she was riding her first Shetland Pony in Texas, Christa Lesté-Lasserre writes about scientific research that contributes to a better understanding of all equids. After undergrad studies in science, journalism, and literature, she received a master’s degree in creative writing. Now based in France, she aims to present the most fascinating aspect of equine science: the story it creates. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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