How to deal with a herd bound horse

Herd bound horse

Having a herd bound horse can cause problems when you want to  go on trail rides alone with your horse.

First you need to understand that for a horse being herd bound is very must a natural survival instinct. They are both prey and herd animals and therefor feel safe in their herd. The herd is their comfort zone.

Herd bound horse
Lacos is a different horse when I am not riding. Way more connected to me and we can conquer the world together.
picture made by Kim

So how do you change this behaviour?

This is a good question and it does depend a bit on your horse and the type of behaviour it displays when being away from the herd. It also depends on the rank your horse has within the herd and how your horse responses to certain types of training. 

Of the 4 horses I owned, 3 of them where herd bound in a way. Nina the little princess Welsh pony was the only one who was NOT herd bound. She was the lead mare of our herd at the time. 

Juno used to stick to Nina as glue. No other horse was allowed to come close to “her” Nina. Juno would neigh constantly to make contact with the herd when she was away from them and it was hard to distract her.

Rinse was a little herd bound like most horses are. He would speed walk home when out on a trail ride by himself. Nothing that wasn’t manageable though. Rinse was the underdog in our herd at that time. I could still ride him bitless without him being uncontrollable.

These days I deal with a different issue with Lacos. We have been trail riding alone for over 3 years. But lately he has gotten so herd bound in his behaviour out on the trail he gets almost uncontrollable. I have had to switch from bitless riding to riding with a bit to at least have some control over the speed on our way back home. Lacos can start to speed up as far as 10 km away from the herd.

Since I do not want to ride my horse with force, nor do I like blisters on my fingers or flying through the woods in an uncontrollable speed. There is a need for a change.

Training herd bound horse
Lacos during traing. My daughter sitting in the saddle to help me and I am leading him to the stable in a slow fashion.

First I have to determine what has caused the change in his behaviour. 

Lacos lives in a herd in a HIT active stable system. As you can read about in this article. It is a pension stable where multiple horse owners stable their horses. Therefor the herd is not a stable herd. Horses and people come and go over time. Recently the most dominant gelding has been moved elsewhere, this has given Lacos room for a move up in hierarchy. The most dominant mare  gave birth to her foal a few weeks ago and has also been moved out of the herd for the labour and to give the foal time to grow a little. A new horse has moved into the herd, normally Lacos responds physically by losing weight with the arrival of a new horse. He is keeping his weight at the moment, for which I am glad.

So those are the changes in the herd lately. Now let’s looks at the physical signs and his behaviour when Lacos is in the herd.

Lacos always has some playfull bite marks, because he plays with the other geldings a lot. Currently he only has marks on his front and shoulders and on the lower part of his hind legs. Those tell me that he is behaving in a dominant way and other horses kick or bite him in the chest. 

The bite marks on his shoulders could also come from geldings rearing and biting each other on the chest and front legs.

The marks on his lower hind legs most likely come from two horses kicking at each other. Lacos has gotten into kicking contests before, so that would not surprise me if this was the case for these marks. If Lacos would have behaved as the underdog I would have expected bite marks on his butt and belly. There are no marks on those spots.

I have watched Lacos getting back to the herd, neighing and all horses responding by neighing and running towards him. I watched Lacos biting the butt of another gelding to move him out of the feeding station, to make room for himself to eat. And I watched Lacos rubbing his head on “his” mare when he had an itch. Of course she sqeaked at him, but he took no notice and continued. These are all signs of very dominant behaviour.

At last there might also be a food component to the matter. In the spring and summer the herd gets a few hours on the green pastures each day. He does not like to miss out on that.

Here I am with a very happy horse in a herd where he climbed up the hierarchy ladder. But with almost uncontrollable behaviour out on the trail.

I will be training him the coming weeks to hopefully change the uncontrollable part of his behaviour. I will document the training as much as I can on camera. Please watch the videos and see if anything is applicable to your horse. Share you thoughts and tips in the comments.