Sometimes horses are labelled as dominant. But what exactly is dominance and where does this behaviour come from? Is dominance really the right term or is it an expression of something else, such as insecurity or misunderstanding? No matter where it comes from, it can sometimes be difficult to deal with. In this article we delve deeper into the causes and origins of this behaviour and things to keep in mind in your training.
Let’s first go back to the definition of dominance: dominant means that something or someone is more powerful than the rest, someone can have a dominant personality or be dominating. In the horse world, this does not necessarily mean that the most dominant horse is also the leader. Dominance should always be viewed in the framework of a relationship between two horses. It says something about the relationship between these two horses, but not about the relationships within the larger group. Every horse in the herd knows what position they hold in relation to every other horse, but the individual horses have no insight into how all the other horses relate to each other.
So who is the leader? For horses, the rule is ‘if I can move your feet, I make the decisions’. In other words, the one who can make the rest move is the leader. This does not always have to be the most dominant mare. In many cases horses follow the mare who is most sure of herself. If she radiates a certainty of where safety, food and water can be found, the herd will follow her. A dominance battle for that role is therefore rare.
Horses that are insecure can sometimes express this in dominant behaviour. It could be that your horse is looking for leadership in that moment. This causes the horse to try to go their own way, and your personal space no longer seems so important. It may help to do a lot of groundwork with such a horse, so you can work on your mutual understanding and communication. Put down an L-shape in the arena with ground poles, or put out some cones. Visual markers on the ground help to make it easier for you to have a clear goal and focus in your training. Be consistent and try to make your questions and answers as black and white as possible. Are you dealing with a truly dominant horse? The same tips as mentioned above also apply. You will, however, find that an insecure horse will be quicker to accept your leadership (after all, this is what they needed) than a truly dominant horse.
The difference between an insecure and a dominant horse can sometimes be difficult to tell. Are you stuck in how to deal with this behaviour? Always ask an expert for help.