Dominance and Hierarchy

I have argued that a herd of horses is much like a school of fish or flock of birds, leaderless and choosing a course of action via collective decision making. I have argued that “respect” as is normally meant by humans, does not exist in the horse, and that humans often use it as a euphemism for “fear”. I do not dispute the existence of “dominance” in a herd of horses, but I have questions about what it is and whether the concept is useful. Thirty years ago, researchers were far from a consensus on how to define and measure dominance, and little has changed since then. Anything gets harder to talk about when we can’t agree on what it is.


One of the most common social behaviors is allogrooming (also known as mutual grooming). It is expressed by the lateral parallel body position of two horses that allows for nibbling along the back or withers of each horse. While this behavior can be considered grooming, it is also thought to facilitate pair-bonding and dominance structure between band mates