Managing pecking order disputes when training horses at Liberty

I went to Barnes and Noble to buy a journal and a book as a birthday gift for a friend. I wanted something that he could use while Sharing Territory with his horse. I found just what I was looking for!  When I got home I discovered a small brochure had been placed in the bag with my purchases. It was a brochure advertising Behr’s interior paint. As I was looking at the brochure I noticed the words Natural Harmonies. I then thought to myself this is what we all want to experience when training horses. We want to train in the conditions of what is natural to the horse and in the flow of harmony.

I then set aside the brochure and went to my Facebook messages. I found  a message from a past student wanting some advice.

I am sharing  her questions, and my answer, because they are on the subject of Natural Harmony, as it relates to horses. I believe it is valuable information for the Chair Challenge and Liberty Horse Academy students in how to communicate in a natural flow of harmony when dissonance is present.  My student wrote, “How do you deal with skirmishes within the pecking order between two horses? When I am with my horses Sharing Territory I want them to be polite and relaxed around each other. So, I tell them “no” and sometimes I also send the horse away that is being pushy. But, I am not absolutely sure if they understand me when I am doing that. What are your suggestions?”

This is a great question! Many times a person can get injured from one horse getting into a dispute with another horse while you are inadvertently in the middle with no ability to stop the dispute. When we are with horses it is important to train them in how to behave around us so we can stay safe. When horses are in our charge we need to be in control. It is especially important when you are asking for a horse’s full cooperation. For example; leading, riding, grooming, trimming, vetting, or hauling a horse in a horse trailer where a horse needs to be polite to the strange horse next to him.  Safety in training is also very important in Stallion management.

Carolyn training several horses while Sharing Territory

Carolyn training several horses while Sharing Territory

The easiest way to train a horse to be relaxed and willing in all situations is while Sharing Territory at liberty with his or her pasture mates.  

The first thing you want to develop in a horse is that he can be relaxed in your company and follow your lead. This is an important trait to bring out in your horse. It will support all of these activities you do with him.

In regards in how to handle a dispute between two horses, you are correct, in the beginning horses won’t understand when you send a horse out of your personal space. But they quickly learn. They learn to drop any form of aggressive behaviour when they are in your company Sharing Territory. Then, they will see you as their leader.

I would suggest that you do not use "no” in the beginning. It is not as effective as asking a horse to respond to his herding instincts. Herding returns willingness and removes aggression when done slowly. By separating the horses involved moving him or her far enough away will cause them to lose interest in each other. It may be a step or two, or maybe many feet.  As the horse catches on that you are directing him or her to leave his friend alone you can become more direct without upsetting the horses. Once the horse has a deeper understanding of why you are herding him or her away you can then use the word "no" because they now are responding to your leadership easily.

You can also avoid having to herd a horse away from another horse, when there is drama between them, by noticing that a dispute is about to take place and separating them before it happens.  You can easily see when a dispute is about to take place. This way you will avoid the conflict all together. The result of this kind of leadership creates social order. 

I have observed that in wild herds, once they have evolved into living in a harmonious herd, horses will allow any horse to herd them and will also respect a horse’s personal space. This removes pecking order disputes in general. From observing united herds and bands I learned how and when to lead, when to pause,  and when to leave well enough alone. 

In the beginning horses need to work out the details in how to get along with one another.  When a herd has evolved only the youths will engage in pecking order disputes. When the youths do not seem to evolve on their own elders will take an interest and will break up the disturbance.  This evolution, of the give and take process, is their natural way of life that ultimately leads to a deep harmonious bond.

How to approach your horse at liberty in a way that your influence and communication builds a bond, trust, willingness, and respect and a horse that will follow your lead is to follow the code of harmonious herds. This means that you will stay out of your horse’s way. When you do a horse does not see you as an obstacle. You will only approach a horse that will allow you to do so. When you ask a horse to move, you need to be sure he moves and when he approaches you, be clear about your personal boundaries. When Sharing Territory it is important to keep the horse listening to his herding instincts. 

Knowing how to interact, following this code, deepens the bond. You will have entered into the horse’s world where training is less important because you know how to communicate with him as a leader. From Sharing Territory, over time, you will learn the ways of horses. The first phase is to observe and do as little as possible to interfere with the herd dynamics.

We will be focused on these subjects in the up and coming Waterhole Ritual clinic at Return to Freedom on Aug 4th, 5th, and 6th, 2017. By attending this clinic, you will get to see the amazing results of communicating with wild horses by knowing how to interact with them following this code of conduct. We still have three spots open, so I hope to see you there! For more information, email me at