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Being the alpha horse

From: David

Hello Jessica! I'm hoping that your wise words will once again make

something difficult perfectly clear to me. I'm relatively new to horses, but my wife and daughter love them and have been riding for several years.

We've recently bought a small farm, I have retired from the military, and our horses are now at home with us. My gals go to shows on most weekends, and I usually stay at home with the other horses.

My problem is establishing my authority with the horses. I don't like being crowded by large animals and I find myself having to swat them or yell at them sometimes to get them to move back. My gals tell me that I shouldn't have to do any of that, because if I am the "alpha" horse then they should all step back and get out of my way, in a show of respect. I need you to tell me a few things! First, do horses really recognize this kind of status?

Second, if they do, how should I establish my "alpha" status with them?

Third, how important is it that I become the "alpha" horse? As long as I was in the service, I never did like generals all that much.

Thanks for all your good advice over the years.


Hi David! Thanks for the kind words. You'll be happy to know that you don't actually have to play a general (at home OR on TV). You need to establish a superior status, yes, but horse herds are hierarchical and complex, not groups of omegas all bowing to the will of the single alpha. You don't have to over-awe your horses -- all you have to do is outrank them. ;-) You can be a general, a full-bird colonel, a master sergeant -- or any other designation you like, just as long as your horses know that your rank is higher than theirs.

Since you're ex-military, this will make sense to you: with whom does an enlisted man have regular contact? Whom is an enlisted man in the daily habit of noticing, paying attention to, staying out of the way of, obeying?

Not the Commander-in-Chief, not a five-star general, probably not even the colonel, but the person directly above him.

If your horse is a second-in-command type, then yes, you'll need to be the alpha horse -- the general, so to speak. But if your horse would typically be more at ease anywhere else in the herd hierarchy, all you need to do is make it clear that you're one or two ranks above him. If he's a private, be a sergeant -- you don't have to act like a full-bird colonel. That's overkill. ;-)

When you want the horses to respect your space, make yourself large: inhale, lift your head and chest, square your shoulders and take your arms a little away from your sides. In other words, do what you would do if you were walking down the sidewalk in a not-so-nice neighbourhood, and wanted the oncoming walkers to move out of YOUR way instead of vice versa. A person who cringes, folds up, drops his head and otherwise makes himself smaller is likely to get run over by human and equine traffic, because both will (correctly) perceive that it is YOUR job to get out of THEIR way.


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