By Published On: June 19, 20220 Comments
Lessons and insights for leaders can come from virtually anywhere…even from horses.
Over the past ten years I have had numerous experiences dealing with horses. Admittedly, this is not because of my own equestrian tendencies. I prefer small animals that can sit on the floor by my feet. Rather, my equestrian involvement is exclusively due to my participation in my wife’s and daughter’s relentless passion for those half-ton beasts.
I’ve learned a lot from being around horses–how to lead them, lunge them, and feed them as well as some of the more “essential” things like how to use the shovel, etc. Another important lesson I’ve learned is that I’d rather be on my on two feet planted solidly on the ground rather than flying off the back of a stubborn, hyper-sensitive thoroughbred.
Herding Insights
All other lessons aside, perhaps the most valuable insight I’ve gained from horses is their herding behavior. Horses are very social “community” animals. They stay in groups and, within their groups, they typically are found in pairs.
The pairing is determined, as far as I can tell (and, again, I’m no equestrian) by two factors:
1) Their relative strength in the herd; and to a much lesser extent,
2) Their personal preferences of their “companion” or “buddy.”
If you happen to ever look at a group of horses, you’ll see this characteristic pattern. Horses will be in pairs and they will remain in pairs until there is a change of horses, a change in hierarchy, or a change in the number of horses in the herd.
A Simple Story Problem
If you have twelve horses, all paired off in six contented groups of two horses each, and then take away one, what do you get? Answer: Eleven bucking and screaming horses. Yell at them, whip them, chase them away, try anything. You can’t stop them. They will kick at each other for several days, sometimes causing significant injury unless they are physically separated.
What are they fighting for?
Simple! They’re fighting to gain or retain power and position relative to the herd’s hierarchy.
Taking a horse out of the group (or adding or replacing one) causes a disruption in the power structure. As soon as this is noticed, the horses (of both sexes) will fight for prominence and recognition. The better they fight, the higher their hierarchical standing. Those reigning in the hierarchy have their choice of their “buddy,” while the weakest ones will be left to “hang out” together as “losers.” If there’s an odd number of horses, the weakest one will be all alone without a “buddy.”
Ah, The Privileges!
What privileges do the powerful ones get? Certainly, the head stallion has the “privileges” of selecting and mating his most-favored mare. However, even among geldings (i.e. neutered stallion) the head gelding will fight vigorously to maintain his status as the “head honcho.” These privileges may include being…

  • the first horse out of the barn,
  • the first horse into the barn,
  • the first to get fed,
  • the first one in to the other pastures,
  • the first one to get out of other pastures,
  • the first one to get a fresh drink from the water trough,
  • the first one to get to pick at the communal supply of hay,
  • the privilege of having priority choice of the mare of his own choosing, and
  • the right not to be subject to any other horse’s power or standards. After all, he’s in charge until “kicked” out (literally!).
So strong is his authority, that if any other horse even so much as tries to infringe on any of the privileges of power without proper authority, all heck breaks out. Stand back or else you’ll get caught between some flying hoofs!
The head stallion’s chosen mare is also worthy of special recognition among the herd. By virtue of her most-favored status, she enjoys various privileges of priority. The most frequent privilege the head mare enjoys is that the head stallion will often let his favorite mare go into or out of the barn before him. He will often let her have first grabs at the food, too. If she’s injured and another horse tries to step in to take her priority position and privileges, the head stallion will intervene with a mean vengeance.
Ah, Those Pecking Orders…
Every horse has its pecking order. They follow that order in everything they do because, after all, it’s a power thing. Once a change in the herd is introduced, it usually takes several weeks for a new pecking order to emerge. Of course, the results are virtually always the same:
1) More than one horse gets hurt;
2) The ones who get hurt worst are the strongest ones
3) Though the weakest don’t even really try to fight, since they’re the “little guys”, they get hurt anyway;
3) Equilibrium eventually always comes, although the group hierarchy and group pairings will be different;
4) No horses die as a result of the process.
5) Those who are “wanna be’s” just have to wait around for the next opportunity.
When will their next opportunity to raise their standing come?
1) Whenever a horse higher than them is removed from the herd;
2) Whenever a stronger horse is weakened through injury, lameness, or other detrimental physical changes; and/or
3) Whenever a new horse is introduced to the herd.
Does This Sound Like Your Church???
Does some of this horse behavior sound like your church?  What insights can these wonderful creatures of God give you about your congregation? What leadership lessons can horses teach you? Does your church, at times, seem more like a “horse fellowship” than a “Christian” fellowship? In what ways?
Instead of giving you my insights and observations, take a few minutes to consider how much “horse sense” is in your church by completing the “‘Horse Sense’ For Your Church” worksheet below. “Happy Trails” to you in your ministry corral!
Thomas F. Fischer

“Horse Sense” In Your Church

In what ways are the behaviors of horses above reflected in your church relative to…
1) The Office Of The Ministry:


2) Motivations For Service In The Church:


3) Factors Influencing Tenure Of Leaders and Pastors:


4) Factors Influencing Fellowship Activities And People Groupings:


5) Factors Which May Cause, Perpetuate, And/Or Escalate Conflict:


6) Factors Which Make Can Make Change So Difficult Or Easy:


7) Other Insights:

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