Horses are social herd animals that follow a leader and conform to a dominance hierarchy.
For their own safety they choose to be a part of a group of horses such as a band or a herd.
A horse is a grazing animal, never a predator and always the prey. In order to escape predators, horses have evolved extreme sensitivity and speed.
A Band of Horses
In the wild, horses naturally live in an organized social group based on the family unit called a band. A band normally contains a dominant stallion, mares, and juveniles.
A dominant stallion, usually 6 years of age or older, will be in the company of one mare or a group of mares 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. He sires the offspring, and these foals are with their band for at least one year, usually two.
Usually the band has a dominant mare who will be responsible for leading the family group in their grazing. She will lead the family to the water hole and to the mineral lick where they dig for these dietary supplement. She will guide them to sheltered places out of the wind when winter storms howl.
Wild Horse Herds and Harems
All wild horses are herd animals living off the land in harems dominated by the strongest stallions.
A Stallion owns the herd and sires all the herd's offspring. His role is to keep intruders and predators away from his mares. When you see a group of wild horses moving across the landscape, normally the stallion will be in the rear. He usually runs behind the herd, keeping the slower horses moving and protecting the group from attack.
Occasionally, a two or three year old will still be with their band, but generally the stallion will discourage a young male who is coming of age from consorting with the band.
Young females may be driven off by their mothers, or they simply may choose to leave when they come into estrous. They may select or be selected by another stallion who will breed with her and guard her vigilantly from rivals. By encouraging their offspring to leave the band, wild horses avoid inbreeding.
Most wild horses are more genetically diverse than any domestic horse breeds. As a result they are better able to deal with changing environments and can resist extreme drought or cold better than domestic breeds.
Every herd has leaders, followers, and a well defined pecking order known as a dominance hierarchy.
The Alpha Horse is the dominant leader in a herd. Horses instinctively seek leadership. The Alpha Horse provides leadership and security in a herd.
It is quite common for the Alpha Horse to be an old mare. The members of the herd are submissive to the Alpha Horse when it's time to eat or drink. She often leads the herd to safety and food.
When a horse breaks the rules of the herd, it is rejected and vulnerable to predators. Rejection teaches horses to be submissive and dependent upon leaders for survival and food.
This complex social dynamic holds the wild horse bands together, and each individual knows his or her place in the order. Rules of band behavior are carefully followed. Punishment to a young animal is swift, usually just a head movement with ears laid back or a nip or gentle kick.