In Training


Passive Leadership: Challenging the Alpha Theory

By Mark Rashid

Is it necessary that we become the "Head Horse"?…

Mark Rashid helps this youngster by adopting the attitude of ‘how can I help you understand this' rather than ‘how can I make you do this'.

First of all, I think it's important to note that I am a firm believer that horses probably don't, nor will they ever, see us as a member of their herd. I think that horses do everything they can to fit into "our" herd. Horses are very perceptive and can easily adapt to their surroundings in order to help them survive from one day to the next.

I see it this way. Horses see hundreds, possibly thousands of people throughout their lifetime. Surely they must know they are "outnumbered'. A horse outnumbered by predators has one of two choices: Die… or find a way to get along with the predators so he won't die. I expect the horse, as a species, has simply chosen the latter. To that end, I believe he is constantly looking for a way to understand who we are and what we are about so that he can get along in "our herd". Much like we might do if we were visiting a foreign country.

Now, having said that, I also believe that it is important to note that most "herd" mammals are all set up pretty much the same way (this includes us humans). The herd starts with the "alpha", the one with all the power, then moves progressively downward. Somewhere in the middle of the herd structure are what I refer to as passive leaders. These are animals (whether human, horses, buffalo, deer, etc.) that simply try to get along with everybody in the herd. They aren't necessarily interested in moving up the "alpha" ladder, because they are content at their position within the herd. These passive leaders are usually very quiet in their day to day activities, and as a result, begin to gain the confidence of the other members of the herd.

Because horses are passive and quiet by nature, they will naturally want to spend more time with the individuals in the herd that cause them the least amount of stress throughout the day. The reason the passive leaders are causing the least amount of stress is because they are dependable in their actions. They seldom, if ever, use force to get their way, and seem to lead by example. Where ever they go, the rest of the herd willingly follows.

In fact, the majority of the horses in the herd will go out of their way to avoid the "alpha".

So the question is: how can we develop this same type of relationship with our horses; a relationship where our horses want to follow us and willingly perform the tasks that are being asked of them? I think the answer is simple: First, we need to find a way to be dependable for our horses. This is usually a problem for many folks because they seem to have the idea that horses need to be dominated in order to perform. This comes from the fact that the "alpha" in the herd uses dominance to accomplish its goals and many people believe that we need to emulate the actions of the "alpha" during our training. However, if you watch the horses within the herd, you will notice that while they definitely respond and seem to 'respect' the "alpha", they don't spend very much time in that horse's company. In fact, the majority of the horses in the herd will go out of their way to avoid the "alpha". So, knowing that, one good way to start on our way to becoming a passive leader with our horse is to avoid using force. If our horse isn't performing the task we are asking, help them through it instead of trying to force them through it. Give them time to think about what is being asked of them, and allow them time to try and figure it out. Usually, given this time to think, they will try to do the right thing.

Second, we can simply take care of our horses. What I mean by that is not just making sure that the water tank is full or that they have good feed or that they get their shots on time … although those things are also important … but rather do what is best for them in all situations. Don't allow somebody to work with them or ride them that you know (or feel) will be hard on them. By the same token, if somebody is working with them and doing something you don't feel comfortable with, stop them from doing it. In short, don't' be afraid to stand up for your horse!

Give them time to think about what is being asked of them, and allow them time to try and figure it out.

These two things, while they may sound simple, are often the hardest things for us to actually do for our horses. It isn't usually in our nature to be quiet and consistent. Our nature is more to get things done right now. Horses, on the other hand, simply don't see things that way. I guess the way I look at it is that if our horse is trying as hard as he can to fit into our 'herd', the least we can do is try and help him. When given the opportunity, he will fit in just fine.


About the author:

Mark Rashid has committed himself to finding quiet but effective ways to resolve even the most difficult problems with horses. He likes to say he is "just trying to get along". Mark's focus is always based upon assessing the situation from the horse's point of view. Mark presents one-on-one horse and rider clinics which involve his horse training methods and his philosophy of Passive Leadership with horses. He also teaches private lessons. He is the author of three books, 'Considering the Horse', 'A Good Horse is Never a Bad Color', and 'Horses Never Lie: The Heart of Passive Leadership'; a 3-videotape set 'Finding the Try'; and a new music CD titled 'Song of the Prairie'. When not out on the road with his busy teaching schedule, Rashid lives with his wife, Wendy, and their three children in Estes Park, Colorado.

Mark Rashid Horse Training
PO Box 3241
Estes Park, CO 80517

970-577-9944 or toll free 866-577-9944