Last Updated on June 15, 2020 by Allison Price
Horses have been on this Earth for more than 50 million years. They originated in North America and then spread to Asia and Europe. The horses were extinct 10,000 years ago in North America. They reintroduced by European colonizers after. Horses initially use for milk and meat. Then, they’re considered for transportation afterward.
As of today, there are more than 400 different breeds of horses. They can be found in every continent except Antarctica. They’re very social and usually lived in groups. Herds consist of three to 20 animals and led by a mature male or a stallion.
Other names for a group of horses are then called a team, a harras, a rag, a stud, and a string. Harras of horses is for the group of the sport-related breed of horses. These words are usually for Thoroughbred, Arabians, Quarter Horses, and Standardbreds. A rag of horses is then used to call a group of young male horses aged 3-4 years old. A stud of horses was then used to call a group of horses kept for breeding purposes. These consist of Stallions and Mare. A String of horses is then used to call a group of horses that were then owned by one person. This collective noun applies to many breeds of horses, as long as it is owned solely. A Herd of horses is a common term usually used by anyone. This term is set for the group of horses that are for working and transportation such as Draft horses.
Understanding Horses’ Social Behavior
Since horses are very social, they use different subtle communication methods. When grouped in a herd, they arrange themselves in a well-defined social hierarchy. This is usually based on sex and age. Domestic groups of horses create social hierarchies. Rankings are intended to protect the herd. It is also made to identify priority access to resources such as food, water, and shelter. Horses will set up an order of who is first to eat, first to drink, and first to access shelter.
How to tell if the horses are getting along well in a group?
First of all, if you see your horse stood close to each other that is a sign that they are compatible. Second, there is a mutual grooming. You will notice it when horses nibble on each other’s withers, neck, or back.
How to tell if the horses are not responding to each other?
You will be able to tell it from your horses’ actions. If they squeal, bite threats, kick threats, pinned ears, and rolling eyes, that means they do not like to be in the group. In extreme cases, the threats can lead to actual kicks and bites as your horses turn violent.
Horses’ Hierarchy: The Leader and The Dominant
Horse hierarchies are often rather complex. Yet, two things are clear: There is always a leader, and there is always a top dominant horse above the herd.
This type of horse plays an important role in the hierarchy. In a herd of horses, leadership is then shared. The lead mare sets herd direction and pace. The lead stallion keeps the herd together and protects it from predators. Each member of the herd has a role in protecting the health of the herd. All the horses in the herd contribute to the socialization of new or young members. They teach them what behaviors are acceptable and right. They also correct those who behave in ways that compromise the health of the herd. Herd leadership’s overwhelming goal is to create unity, harmony, and collaboration. The leader does this while safeguarding the herd.
The dominant horse assumes he is the boss among the herd. They develop bad habits that can make them dangerous to interact with. Dominant horses may even make an attempt to assert their dominance over humans. These traits include pinned ears, lunging, charging, biting, kicking, and a host of other aggressive behaviors. They act like this to maintain authority among the horses below them in the pecking order. In herds, some horses can be so dominant that they actually stand guard over the resources. They do this so others can’t get to them for a while.
How Horses Group Themselves: Subgroups and Friends
Horses usually break up into what researchers call as subgroups within a herd. This consists of smaller groups of horses. They tend to remain clustered together without straying too far from the entire herd.
Horses of a similar color also seem to be then paired together. When they were young it reminds them of their mothers or their friends.
Past experiences influence the choices of horses. This will cause them to prefer equine companions like the ones they liked in the past.
Personality and Temperament
This also plays a key role. Horses value individuality so they prefer to be with other horses who influence them.
How to Manage a Group of Horses
Managing horses in groups has many benefits when it comes to their mental health. But, as you have found, it has its own set of management challenges. The fact that horses choose to live in groups means that the benefits must outweigh the costs in the long run.
It is important to realize that groups tend to be flexible. There is no one social system which applies to all circumstances. Members of a social group adjust their behavior, within their own limits. They do this to stay together in conditions presented to them by their environment. Horses appear to exist in all manner of groups. Groups of horses or bands can be all male, mixed sexes, and all female in domestic situations.
Here are few things you need to take note to take control of the situation:
Spend some time observing your horses at feeding time. See how they interact, what the pecking order is, and how long they each take to eat. This will give you some data to work with to develop a management plan. Train your horses of the order in which they are then fed and their feeder position. Split the feed of your leader horse between two feeders. Next, position the second feeder between him and the next horse. This will help deter him from stealing meals from others. Remove a single horse from the situation while the remaining horses eat. Feed it somewhere else. Make sure that the horse who is lowest in the pecking order is then located well away from your leader horse. If the lowest rank horse is very timid and harasses before during feed, it might don’t want to eat.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Keeping Horses in Group
In wildlife, there are a greater number of eyes looking out to each other either for predators or for food. This means a better chance of survival. If a predator does spot you and you are in a group, it may be possible to scare it off if you stick together. If the horses run, there’s a chance the predator will lose track of it in the chaos that follows. Groups are also more able to defend their resources such as food, water, and territory better. Sometimes, stallions who control a group of mares may allow another stallion to join. It seems that this helps him fight off other intruding male horses.
This includes greater risk to foals in particular. Foals may be then injured and dying as a result of the behavior of other members of the group. Just like in a stampede or in a competition over some resources. Competition over limited resources is more intense in a group. This is because, if you find something, so does all the members of the group. Another serious problem is the threat of infectious disease. If one of a group becomes infected then there is often a greater chance of others catching the same illness.