Follow the Leader

Think you can pick out the leader of your herd? Think again. Odile Petit, Ph.D., of the University of Strasbourg has been studying several different kinds of groups of horses, and one thing seems clear: there is no set leader. “People have traditionally thought that one dominant horse decides when to set a herd in motion, but we now know that’s not the case,” she said. “Several individuals can initiate movement of the herd - with more or less success depending on the situation.” What determines the success? Quite simply, whether the others are up for following at that particular moment or not. But that success doesn’t have much to do with dominance, Petit tells us. Even a low-ranking horse can get the herd to move - provided it somehow chooses the right moment (everyone’s thirsty?) or has enough ‘friends’ to go along with them and get the troop in motion.