Have you Herd? I'm the Leader!


Has this ever happened to you?

You are the last horse on the trail ride or the last one in the arena, all the other horses are leaving and your horse starts becoming tense, fidgeting and moving around. And whinnying and shrieking.. making so much noise … calling for his/her herd mates and equine friends. You look around, feeling frantic, wondering how on earth to get out of there and get this horse connected!  

First and foremost, it is natural for the horse to want to be with its herd or other horses and for them to be distressed when they are not. However, this is not OK for our continued safety to be around them in this state, when they are “loose of us” and running around in prey animal mode.

Of utmost importance, when the horse is getting animated, is that you and the horse know some fundamental skills.

I will suggest these points assuming you are not mounted. These issues, of course, can be dealt with while mounted but many riders can not manage it safely as a horse escalates. And there is nothing to prove by engaging with things that are over your head. 

The Goal:

Have the horse focus on YOU and rely on your leadership, NOT be overtaken by the environment around them. 

Key Safety Tips and Must Haves: 

  1. Any information I provide here only works if you have already strongly established personal space. This is for safety and it is the only pathway to becoming the leader. If the horse knows they can simply run you over and bolt away there is no additional strategy that will work.  
  2. Know how much you or your horse can handle - If your horse is too heightened then you need to reduce the pressure and get the herd mate back or bring the both of you closer to home. Begin in a safe location with good footing and space to work. 

Here are some suggestions. 

  • Start by returning to the foundation skills both you and the horse know. (My Course 1 Leadership Program is a great place to start!)  
  • Using a smaller circle, begin directing the energy. Don't allow them to run in a panic. Movement and direction of the feet is your friend but running in a panic will perpetuate their anxiety.  
  • Slow their forward momentum and move their whole mass over causing them to think about foot placement. Like this: yield the hindquarters, move the shoulders over, then go forward into the mini circle. Give them a chance to consider and connect. 
  • As demonstrated in the video, I teach an exercise called the Horseman's Dance. It’s in this that you see a series of focused turns and transitions. 
  • Practicing upward and downward transitions with focus and accuracy will help a horse begin to Feel for you and not their herd mates. 
  • Take special note of when the horse is exactly where you want them. Release any extra pressure and allow this connection in this exact spot to become a place of comfort. 

That exact place of comfort is what I call the Sweet Spot. This is the place I want my horse focused on staying, in relation to me. Like with a herd of horses, each horse has a sweet spot. This is what they become herd bound to. And if they are looking for that comfort and you provide it, then they become herd bound to you. While many times we are the source of pressure in these situations, we need to become the source of comfort. After all, we took them away from home or the herd, they didn’t choose that, we did! If you can balance the directive leadership and the Sweet Spot you will have a horse that looks to you instead of worrying more about when a herd mate leaves. 

There is no quick fix here. If you want to actually become a leader a horse looks to, it takes feel, timing and skills that are taught to a horse when they are in a calm state of mind. It takes real education for humans to get good enough with horses to actually become a leader in a horse's eyes. This pursuit is one of the best journeys I have ever been on in my life. I encourage you to consider the process of learning that you and your horse need to go through. Invest in knowledge and time that will help you become the leader your horse needs you to be. When you get that right, a horse being herd bound isn’t an issue at all because they become herd bound to you. 

I encourage you to start small - but Start! Take a look at my programs DVD 1 Ground or invest in an Open Field Membership and begin the journey of becoming ‘Better with Horses’. 

And of course remember, 

Stay Inspired by Horses!  



Need more information on this lesson? Learn Jonathan's Program: Natural Foundation Set.

Read MORE articles from Jonathan HERE.

 Be Better With Horses!  Join us with a yearly membership in Open Field.


FREE Horsemanship tips, articles or videos shared monthly. Stay connected!

We will never sell your information, for any reason.