Is “Alpha” Better?

It is a credit to most assiduous, amateur horse-owners that they will try almost anything, give most new theories a chance in their quest to improve their riding and relationship with their horses.

Forgive me if, having seen more than a few fashions flare and fade – and as the riding public has grown exponentially into a formidable body of (mainly female) consumers – I take a wry, sideways glance at each new dogma or gadget reputed to lead us up the garden path to equine paradise.

Yes, I’m not insensible to a reasonably argued method of improvement in horsemanship. But if the latest guru’s theories require the purchase of certain own-branded, colour-coded paraphernalia, (do the horses note the logos or themed accessories?) or a double-figure series of expensive books and DVD’s is a pre-requisite…..?  Thankfully I don’t have enough spare cash or credulity rattling around in my pockets to fall for the most blatant sales pitches.

I read and listen.  Sift and sieve. Look and try to learn from the best –  I hope!

Since I last posted, I’ve been out and about a bit, taking Pom in the trailer to ride elsewhere and extend our range, in all senses.  (We’ve had our ups and downs, more of which anon.)  Inevitably, coming into contact with other riders, you come up against their differing theories and practices.

I’ve met nothing but good sense and kindness amongst new friends – but, here and there, I have seen occasional tendencies to follow certain systems somewhat dogmatically, which I find worrying.

Online, obviously, we all have a theory to voice or a point of view to push – otherwise why blog! – and mine is;  take the best advice, but don’t be afraid to think for yourself.

You may not always do things perfectly, but neither do the professionals – and the best always admit this and are usually open to question (i.e.  the ones in the list of blogs I follow!)

But, in recent times, there is one new ”dogma” I take issue with, the more I hear about it,  and that is the concept of the (presumably female) horse owner/rider as ”Alpha Mare”.

Think about it.  The ”Alpha” personality is a psycholanalytical concept evolved to evaluate human behaviour, most especially in a socio-political or business environment.  The CEO, leader of a country or county, opinion former, boss ….. is at the forefront;  the Alpha, the numero uno letter of the alphabet.  (And didn’t the Old Testament God claim to be the Alpha and the Omega;  the Beginning and End of everything…?)

This concept, of course, chimes with all those who think of themselves as leaders, instructors, chiefs and managers.   Alpha, yeah;  we lead from the front!  People need us to show them what’s what!

The ”Alpha Mare”,  herd manager, (”She Who Must Be Obeyed”, nod to Rider Haggard – or Rumpole of the Bailey!) is now supposed to be the horseowner’s talisman or rôle model.  The business model has now been appropriated to denote the Mother of the Herd, whose behaviour we are recommended to emulate.

You know the drill, so I won’t repeat the ways in which we are encouraged to mimic Alpha Mare behaviour to interact with our equine charges.  Yes, it’s evident ….. we should learn from the herd, but then use our human intelligence!

Although our horses retain the basic instincts of their ancestors – most pertinently (and dangerously) the fight or flight instinct – the vast majority of them will never, in their lifetimes – nor will generations of their ancestors – have run free with a herd.  And many of us own geldings – male horses trapped in an asexual adolescence that bears no relation to their ”normal” state.   Our horses are to their wild ancestors as zoo animals are to their free brethren.

So what are we horse owners?

Keepers, carers, guardians, educators, disciplinarians, providers of food and shelter, room cleaners, purveyors of security and confidence builders.  What does that sound like to you?

It sounds a lot like parents to me.

I know anthropomorphism is anathema to many biologists, trainers, animal handlers and I am in NO WAY advocating soft-centred ”spoiling”.  But I am saying there is no shame in being your horse’s ”Mum” (or ”Dad”).  And don’t pretend you haven’t ever said or thought it!

For me, being a mare-type ”Mum” is good – and not all mares are Alpha!

My view is;  bring all the things to your horsemanship that you would aspire to in being a parent.  Even if you aren’t one.

Don’t be afraid to show you love your horse.  It doesn’t mean you cede the parental rôle, but he or she will know and appreciate that bond (even if they pretend not to!).

Apologise if you get things wrong; they like to be able to forgive you.

Be straightforward, but don’t pretend to be the Almighty;  your horse knows you have feet of clay (and mucky boots from providing their ”room service”).  And with your patience, they come to understand that they must trust you to take the lead in the human world.

Mine like to help, to be consulted, to provide an answer to the sticky questions, not to be ground down and be underestimated.  Only then will they give of their best.

I have nothing to sell, nor do I expect you to buy into my opinion.  I’m just a woman, with horses, who likes to hear what they have to say.

Do you have a view?

(In the end;  Alpha, Beta …it’s all Greek to me …. ;-D  )


And ….. at this weekend’s Chevalroi Salon at Toulouse, I salute a wonderful duo in harmony with each other and their PREs:


About cavaliereattitude

Englishwoman, transplanted to SW France in '86, blogging - with a large dose of humour and self-deprecation - about life with my husband and our horses, the never-ending renovation of an ancient and crumbly stone farmhouse and the attempt to carve a beautiful garden and productive pasture out of a woodland wilderness.........
This entry was posted in Dressage, equitation, Horses, Living in France, Musings, Riding, Rural Living, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Is “Alpha” Better?

  1. Anna Blake says:

    First, thanks for writing again, I miss you. And second, this is a big one: Horses can actually tell we aren’t horses. It gets in the way of the alpha thing…


  2. Kimberly Griffin says:

    Hi, you have been missed by me. I believe you are on a very important journey . Thank you for sharing your perspective . I have also traveled as you do with my PRE and my first teacher a kindly gentleman Rocky Mountain.


  3. Sandra says:

    I have never understood this whole ‘be your horse’s alpha’ system. Like Anna says, horses do know that we are not horses. I like the parenting analogy: a lot of what we need to teach horses is to help them live in our human world without getting into trouble, and in my experience that works better if there is a dialogue (works for both horses and teenagers 🙂 ).


  4. Kimberly Griffin says:

    No, I do not have a blogg, however you are welcome to e mail if you like, I would love to talk with you. I am living in Malta at the moment, I think that puts me one hour ahead of your time zone.

    Cheers, Kim


    • As soon as you mentioned Malta I remembered you Kim, and I’m glad you remembered me. Can’t promise to e-mail at the moment, as you see it’s taken me months to post and I’m very behind in my correspondences (not the most productive of writers!!) but I would always be happy to hear from you…..


  5. magreenlee says:

    Hi nice to hear from you again! I love this post, very sensible.
    I’ve always had the attitude of listening to everything but using what suits me and my horse at the time. I believe in discipline when it’s needed and praise and affection when its earned, but the biggest thing I’ve learned is to be consistent. It’s also the hardest!!


    • Hi Martine and many thanks for the comment! Good to know you’re of like mind as someone with a wealth of horsey experience 😀 So right about being consistent, quite a difficult feat to achieve when you’re casting round for an answer to a particular equine problem, but I believe if your horses understand you are consistently doing your best for them, and you have their trust, then that has helped me get through all sorts of blips.

      Still loving your adventures in Provence – I have to smile at some of the Friday lunches; like you, I find French gastronomy is not always a patch on what it’s cracked up to be!


  6. Barley and I says:

    That’s just a great post! Nice that you are back!!! And you are totally right, you just explained the struggle I had. I learned the hard way that if you take “Alpha”= dominating…you’ve already lost! If you take “Alpha” = I will take care of you…that’s when things start to change. I wish you would have written that blog post two years ago 😀 Following somebody blindly is never the answer.Hehe, and you are right again, I started to call myself “Mom” some while ago, how weird is that 😀


    • Hello again Anna – I think it was your recent comment that spurred me into posting again, so, many thanks for that … and I’m glad it struck a chord! I feel that if our horses can trust that we are trying our best to look after and understand them, then, just maybe, they’ll feel more inclined to put more into the relationship – or that’s the theory 😀 I hope Barley appreciates he has a loving Mom!


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s