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Wikipedia’s definition:

Leadership is both a research area, and a practical skill encompassing the ability of an individual, group or organization to "lead", influence or guide other individuals, teams, or entire organizations.

The definition of herd leadership in a domesticated equine herd:

Each herd, be it 2, 20 or 200-strong, has a herd leader. Usually, but not always, this leader is an older mare.  The lead mare is typically one that has enough life experience to be trusted to make important decisions. The herd leader keeps the herd “safe” from predators, guides them to food and water and moves them to safety when danger is around.


Stallions are rarely in the herd in domestic situations but when they are they also participate in the leadership dynamics. Their role is to fight to protect the herd from predators and deal with any major disagreements within the herd that may jeopardize the herd’s safety overall. However, he will stand back and allow small disputes and altercations to resolve themselves, granting the horses involved the chance to learn from the experience.


A few key points on herd dynamics that are useful to understand are:

  • Horses like to have a leader.

  • Some horses are passive and don’t want to move any further up the pecking order, so accept a leader willingly. Others can be more assertive and will try any number of covert and overt behaviours to move up the pecking order and become leaders.

  • Horses are habitual and enjoy routine.

  • When a human takes on the leader’s roles, it is their job to keep the horses safe, fed, watered and to participate in mutual activities like grooming or side by side walking.

  • Horses with very strong bonds often physically position themselves in each other’s “heart areas”. The “heart area” is the part of the body running from the head to just behind the shoulder. This area seems to be an acceptable area to communicate from.

  • Conflicts are resolved by an instant reprimand from the leader. The leader then returns to being passive immediately after the reprimand and resumes what they were doing before. Horses don’t hold grudges.

  • Horses are social, they enjoy interacting with others, and have a natural instinct to keep moving forward.


Now think about how this information can be transferred into the workplace?

The following leadership principles are commonly seen as vital to success:

  • Lead by example.

  • Leadership is about people.

  • Focus on change.

  • Be human and admit mistakes.

  • Understand the value of listening.

  • Develop leadership skills.

  • Promote diversity.

  • Work together to achieve more.

  • Foster equanimity.

  • Notice, develop and harness the natural gifts, skills and talents of others.


The herd can be used to bring forward these principles through metaphoric learning.

If bringing out the best in your leaders or exploring which of your staff have natural leadership tendencies would be helpful for you, get in touch and book a day out in the sunshine at Serendipity’s purpose-built facility in Hira, Nelson, to discover how the herd can identify, improve and motivate your leaders.

Get in touch for more info.

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