Research suggests the concept of a lead mare who is responsible for guiding and disciplining members of the herd is false.
New research that suggests that the concept of a ‘lead mare’ is false has been published by Professor Konstanze Krüger at the University of Nürtingen in Germany.
The study undertaken by Professor Krüger and her assistants involved recording the movements of three herds of feral Esperia horses in Italy.
Attention was paid to two types of movement initiation; herding (i.e. driving other members of the group from behind) and departures (i.e. setting off in a particular direction, and other group members following).
The results were firstly a mare does not always hold the highest rank in the herd. In one group it was a stallion, and in the other two groups stallions were in ranks 2 and 5.
Secondly, only the alpha stallion (the highest ranking stallion in the group), showed herding behaviour and on each occasion it resulted in movement of the whole group.
Thirdly, mares of all ranks initiated movement by departure and it was definitely not the case that the highest ranking mare moved, and everyone followed.
Although high ranking mares were a little more likely to be followed than low ranking mares, there were plenty of occasions where low ranking mares were followed by several other group members. This showed that movement, at least, has distributed leadership.
This has interesting implications as far as the human relationship with horses is concerned. Being a “boss” does not necessarily mean that you become a leader your horse would choose to follow.
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