Here are some facts about horse behavior and communication as I understand them:
Horses have evolved into highly social animals. To them the herd is everything.
All horse communication is based upon things that affect the herd and interactions within the herd.
There is no such thing as democracy within a horse herd. Every animal has a rank within it and knows his or her place. They don’t even want a democracy. They are most comfortable when there is a clean pecking order and they know their own place. A lead horse within one herd can be the lowest ranking horse in another.
Different activities can result in different pecking orders. The primary leadership ranking can be seen at meal times. The highest ranking horse gets first choice of the food. But for other activities, like; when it’s time to graze, who goes first on a trail, or who greets strangers, other horses within the herd can assume the leadership role.
Ranking within the herd is not always about which horse is the strongest, fastest or the best kicker. The most important attribute which determines the leader is attitude. Sometimes a member of the herd will yield his or her position, based solely upon the attitude of a new member. Sometimes, a horse whose position is being challenged will defend his or her ranking – that’s when strength, kicking and biting ability also become important. But attitude still remains the most important.
Horse communications are only about 10% audible. The remainder is visual, touch and subliminal. There are people that doubt that horses communicate with a form of ESP, but none of these doubters are horsemen. When driving a team down the road, I can often just cast my thoughts on of one of the horses and he’ll turn his head to look at me.
A herd isn’t completely rigid; there are smaller organizations within it. The most common is the buddy system. Usually, most horses will pair with another animal and become best friends, often even sharing the same grain bowl. When a horse loses his or her buddy, they can grieve for the animal for years.
As tight as a herd is, a team of draft animals is much tighter. A good horseman is one that gets to be the leader of a herd. An even better experience is when a team of horses also accepts the person as the leader of a team.
Horses think of people as two legged horses. To them, you’re just another horse that could either be inside or outside the herd.
I could write pages on this topic, but I think I’ve covered the most important concepts.