I recently had the most wonderful conversation with my mentor about leaders and dominant horses. I had sent him my first post on the topic. He and his wife have also noticed the difference between these two types of equines; in our case, ponies. Like me, my mentor and his wife have found that leaders are much rarer than dominant ponies. In fact, they’ve only had one in their several decades of breeding ponies. They use the terms dominant and domineering, which I think are equally appropriate.
I have a mare that, in my opinion, is overly aggressive towards some of my other ponies, though a sweetheart with people. I put this mare with other ponies cautiously, as I’ve had a couple of wounds to treat because of her pushing them into fences. The other day when I found bite marks on a mare with foal at foot, I became more watchful and got to see this mare’s undesirable behavior first hand. The ponies had all come to the fence thinking I was headed their way, but when I went into the duck yard instead, the mare with her foal headed off for a sunny spot. About thirty seconds later I watched my aggressive mare saunter in the same direction. When she came to where the mare and foal were standing, she casually turned her body and let out a big kick in their direction. She got put in solitary confinement for the rest of the day.
Heltondale Gayle was the lead pony in my mentor’s herd. Her behavior was such that other ponies might question her once but not a second time, and she never had to kick to make herself understood. In addition, as soon as the other ponies behaved, Gayle left them alone. My mentor described her as asserting herself without making the other pony look bad. What an incredible description! I too have seen this type of leadership behavior from my head mares; it is something beautiful to behold. And the peacefulness that permeates the herd with this sort of mare in charge is a pleasure to witness.
There was a time when my mentor’s pony Gayle was away from the herd for a number of weeks. Upon her return, another mare tried to assert herself. Once again, Gayle put the mare in her place quietly and quickly. I can certainly see where my mare got her domineering ways since it was her dam that tested Gayle.
My mentor and I agreed that, as in ponies, it is very rare for humans to have leadership qualities in the dominant rather domineering category. Very few humans can lead by never making others look bad. These mares we have known are truly leaders, and truly leaders to be emulated.
© Jenifer Morrissey, 2012