Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Horses and personalities

Riley offers an opinion on Birthday cake icing
I guess the average person doesn't really think horses have much personality. To so many folks, they're livestock. Horse people know better of course!  I do think some horses have had the spirit knocked out of them -- a breeder I met once referred to mistreated horses as having a shellshocked demeanor.
If you read the books (and there are lots of them), experts create a classification system that makes sense for other horses -- social, fearful, aloof, mixed, etc. The classification systems are interesting, but do they have value? Do all horses fit into this system? I think not. Riley and Harv, of course, are far more complex than any four-category system could capture accurately :-).

Riley: The Social/Clown/Goofballstubborn , with a little Crabby Baby thrown in. He's a clown in the pasture, he's a social butterfly, head always hanging out the dutch door. He's a crabby baby for the farrier, and stubborn about working that inside hind.

Harvey: The Leader/Watchful/Funny/Sensitiveworrier horse.  He's confident in herds, he's sweet, easily offended, he's kind, and a worrier. Harv is constantly peering out his stall windows with a look of concern. It's as if he knows that somewhere out there...
  • Someone could be late with his dinner.
  • Something  might not be in its proper place.
  • Something predator-like is approaching. Or, okay, maybe not a predator, maybe a cat or rabbit.  Still, one must be vigilant.
How does your horse express his personality?


Building Your Dream Horse: Charles Wilhelm's Ultimate Foundation Training by Charles Wilhelm, Allison Houston

Ride the right horse: Understanding core equine personalities
by Yvonne Barteau and Carol Lavell
Personality of the horse by Brandt Aymar, Edward Sagarin

Is your horse a rock star? Understanding our horse's personality by  Dessa Hockley

Hit It Off with Your Horse!: Understanding and Influencing Character and Personality

Horse personality types
from Horsechannel.com

Understanding horse personalities: Parts I-IV from Equisearch


  1. Tucker is a prince..at least he thinks so. He's very demonstrative of his opinion on things and expects me to interpret all of his messages.
    Toby is the herd leader, a worrier, and needs to be in control of things.
    Chance has lots of self-confidence and even more curiosity. He likes to figure out things and keep himself busy.

    You are so right. People who do not "know" horses really do not understand what individuals they are. Equally, trainers who insist "There is only one way," fail to take into account the many differences in horse personalities.

    I do not think the cute classifications suit very well as they try to lump horses into groups. Just like kids in a classroom, although there are some similar characteristics, each is a unique individual whose particular learning style and skill set must be taken into account.

  2. I remember an article in Dressage Today where I young woman took her horse to Germany for training. He was introduced to cavaletti and kept jumping over it rather than trotting through it, and initially the famous German trainer said "no dressage horse goes very far without cavaletti basics." Through multiple sessions the horse kept jumping over them, and finally the trainer said "well, maybe he'll be the first" and laughed it off. That's the kind of trainer to have, I think.

  3. Totally agree with you that you can't catagorise them. A horse's personality is the sum of many parts, and to use some sort of classification pretty much says you don't really know the horse very well.

  4. Red is STUBBORN!! Throw in a good dose of intelligence and bossiness and he's a handful. Training him is a challenge because he anticipates everything and *thinks* he knows what I'm asking. He teaches me something new everyday.

    A few weeks ago my co-worker was saying that she doesn't think horses are as smart as or smarter than dogs. I was at a loss for words because there is so much with horses that I take for granted.

  5. Khanalee, my 3/4 Arabian that I had to put down in '09, was a prince also. He just exuded it. Princely yet kind. Every horse that shared a pasture w/ him felt this also. Amazing how they all loved him, even this awful appendix that was a bully was in awe of him.
    The horse I have now, I was given. He is an Appalousa. He's got that drowsy Appy eye. I don't know quite how to explain him...can be easy going, obediant but can be pissy, too, and thwap, thwap, thwap that poor excuse of a tail he's got. I don't blame him. If I didn't have a tail to speak of, I'd be pissy, too.

  6. Teaching at an Equine Therapy barn has given me a glimpse into a herd of very special horses. Every week I watch a 10yo Quarab gelding clown around in the pasture, chase the herd around, pretend to be Alpha (even though he’s not), jump around, bite stuff, untie his lead rope, and generally ham it up until he’s exhausted every amount of your patience! But put a young child with Autism on his back who might bounce, kick, screech, tug on the reins, or shift position in the saddle randomly; then add games with an assortment of toys that are usually tossed around; and you’d be amazed watching this horse calmly shift into a tolerant, gentle, quiet horse. He’ll pack around a rowdy child stopping if he feels the child lose balance or let a child in a wheelchair lead him around the arena but the second he realizes the person leading him thinks they have some skill handling horses- he’ll remind you that human forearms bruise easily. Can a horse be both a “social” and “aloof” personality type?

  7. Antarius is complex (of course...lol).
    **In the pasture - he's the goof - playing with friends and keeping the "young-ins" in line.
    **In his stall - he'll hang his head out to see who is coming with the next meal (because, well, he believes he doesn't get enough to eat), or he'll have him bum to the door, taking a snooze; OR he will nip at the mare next to him - it's this love/hate relationship thing they have going on.
    **In the cross ties - he has to chew on either side of the ties. It's just a nibble/chew for about a minute - but he has to leave "his" mark everytime. Grooming - he LOVES it...and is known to snooze at times.
    **In the arena - it depends on the day. Anty is a NERD:) He has been there and done that. You can't school a series of movements more than twice because he WILL remember it and anticipate the change without you asking for it. On another day - he won't do anything you ask for...unless you get creative.

    All in all - he is a wise man. He loves "his" people and keeps others laughing:)

  8. I feel like the (unintentionally irritating) parent of a gifted child saying this, but my horse is really smart and never ceases to amaze me. He is curious, social, and playful, but also protective (of his herd and himself). He is kind and eager to please, but he can also get frustrated or even angry with less than tactful treatment. With age his patience has grown and he is developing a subtly affectionate side. He is the kind of horse who will let me hang out under his body to trim his feet and I can ride him bareback, but he also will not tolerate my old postural habits if they creep in during a ride: "If your leg is going to creep back that far, I am not going anywhere!" He started offering flying changes after practicing canter figure eights like it was a waste of time to trot between circles and he still looks to my husband for a treat even though the only time he has ever fed him was once when we first purchased him nearly five years ago. His look is "maybe, THIS time (visit #599) you have a pretzel."

  9. Nova (Friesian x Welsh sec C) - Outgoing clown homebody. Will kiss you on the lips, yes, literally. Will take a random course of jumps on his own (I kid you not ... dead serious). Loves games, learning tricks and winning. Gets worried in new situations and without a buddy, which is the explanation for "homebody".

    Olive (Rescue Pony Mutt Momma Mare) - Business-like, affectionate ONLY toward specified few, caretaker/maternal even toward people, dislikes being patronized but will tolerate it if things are quid pro quo (i.e. if her favorite treats are promised).

    No personalities??? Riiiiiiight.

  10. Saying any animal doesn't have personality is like saying humans are the only species capable of it, which all animal lovers know just isn't true - and there's no way we're just imagining that our pets have personality - they do. Personally I've never had horses (why I read your blog haha, I love them but I can't have any - I keep models and write about them instead for now) but I've worked a great deal with cats and the one thing I've learned about the little monsters is that no two are the same and that they really are like people. My cat Sunny will bed for cheese, but he hates being held while Mamma Kitty will annoy the tar out of you trying to get you to obey and pet her, while Smokey will steal socks (then announce loudly to the world that she has captured one) and my youngest cat Copernicus is an incessant biter who gets very excited about new toys.

    The one time I ever got to form a relationship with a horse was with a 20 yr old school horse named Pumpkin, who apparently was very specific about who rode her (she would roll if she really didn't like you and every time you rode her she had to have a full-body shake - luckily I was good at holding on for dear life) but her and her master (an old cowboy <3) seemed to like me. That horse had me trotting and going over cavelleti before anyone else in the class. She really makes me hope that someday when I do have the resources to learn to ride, I'll be good at it. :)


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