The alpha horse has always been very distinctly alpha in my little groups here at home. Now I'm wondering who is in charge.
Gray - 22 yo TB, has been here for 14 years. Always head honcho...'til recently...kinda...
Chestnut - 14 yo Paint, has been here for 9 years. Always low man...'til recently...kinda...
I've had two or three different third horses here for various periods of time, as boarding favors for friends. The third horse has always been on bottom.
Now I have my own third horse:
Bay - 8 yo TB, low man in previous owner's herd of 5. Arrived here this winter, domineered relentlessly by the chestnut. Gray ignored the bay unless he got in his way and sort of gave him the "face" that said "Move it, buster."
For a while it seemed that the order was Gray, Chestnut, Bay. Recently, though, Bay and Chestnut have become very chummy. Gray has become submissive to Bay. Bay can tell Gray where to go and how fast to get there. However, Bay is still generally submissive to Chestnut and Gray still clearly dominates Chestnut.
Oh, like any herd dynamic, it can always change over time.
Example 1: My always on the bottom qh, with my always on top tb who was 2 years older. One day the qh randomly asserted himself and to his astonishment the tb yielded. You could see the wonderment in his face and body language. But it was funny, he was so used to being low man he kinda gave the spot back without further dispute!
#2: My present 7 yo appendix qh, at age 2, when first turned out with my warmblood, about got killed by said warmblood who grabbed him by the neck and was going do a number on him. I got them separated and after a few more weeks they were copacetic when turned out together. Before long the appendix guy was backing into alpha status in a clever way, such as, 'hey, you are in charge, I'm just going to have a little corner here of your flake of hay, okay?' and before long, and without fireworks, having the whole flake to himself.
#3: When I had 4 to 5 together, previously mentioned tb 'thought' he was in charge and everyone else 'thought' they agreed. But every now and then my ancient mare showed she was 'really' in charge. She kicked or pinned ears, the rest of the group said 'yes ma'am.'