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Much like humans, horses also have their unique personalities. If you’ve been around horses, you’ve probably noticed they all respond differently to similar situations.
A horse’s personality and temperament are determined mainly by genetics, interactions with humans and other horses, training, and environmental factors.
While every horse is unique, certain traits pop up repeatedly in some individuals. Based on these common traits, we can distinguish various horse personalities.
Knowing which personality type your horse belongs to can be useful in everyday handling and training. It will improve your communication, but you’ll also be able to predict how your horse will respond to certain situations. This will allow you to modify your training routine to suit your horse and improve your relationship in the long run.
Below, we explore the most common horse personality types and the unique traits of each one!
What is Horse Temperament?
Horse temperament refers to the basic nature of a horse. It determines how horses view humans and other horses and affects their actions and attitude towards work.
To put it in context, a horse with a quiet temperament will generally be patient and obedient. A horse with a willful temperament will be stubborn and challenging to handle.
A horse’s temperament should be among the main considerations when assessing the animal for purchase. Even if the horse has perfect conformation, correct gaits, and an excellent pedigree, a bad temperament is often a deal-breaker.
Main Horse Personality Types
Although not all experts agree, it is widely accepted that there are four main horse personality types. These were first described in the book of Yvonne Barteau, a U.S. Grand Prix dressage rider and clinician.
Based on many years of experience working with various types of horses, Barteau shared her views in “The Dressage Horse Manifesto” (Amazon link).
The four most common horse personality types are social, fearful, aloof, and challenging. While some horses will fit into one of these categories, others will have a mix of two or more personalities.
The intensity of each personality also varies from horse to horse. For example, some individuals might only be slightly fearful, whereas others will flee from any strange object or noise. The more intensely a horse expresses their personality, the more it will affect their training and everyday routine.
On the other hand, some horses might seem like they have no personality at all. Although they might seem indifferent on the surface, they also have unique traits just like any other horse.
As the name suggests, social horses enjoy interacting with humans and herd mates. They love nothing more than to draw attention to themselves, no matter the means.
High-energy breeds such as the Thoroughbred or Arabian often belong to this type, as do the cheeky Miniatures.
Horses that have some social traits enjoy observing their environment and playing with other horses on the field. They usually react well to training and maintain a positive relationship with humans.
In contrast, extremely social horses get easily distracted by things going on around them. While they are ever curious and inquisitive, you might have a hard time maintaining their attention. Unfortunately, social horses also tend to tolerate abuse and neglect longer than other personality types.
Also read: 10 Signs You Were Born to Be an Equestrian
Horses with fearful traits are what we call flighty or over-reactive. These horses have shallower comfort zones than others and are always watchful in new environments, especially when young. Fearful horses need understanding and patient hands to guide them through training and build up trust with humans.
Heavily fearful horses have a strong flight instinct that may cause them to panic in every new situation. They can also be quite claustrophobic when confined to smaller spaces or when restrained. However, once a fearful horse has bonded with a human, they will become attentive partners with a long attention span.
While there are fearful horses in every breed, this personality type is often associated with Arabians. As such, fearful horses are more common in breeds that have had Arabian influence, such as the Welsh Cob or Appaloosa.
Aloof horses are characterized by a lack of interest in their environment and a distant look in their eyes. They tend to ignore the people and horses around them and limit their interactions with others. Horses of this personality type need clear instructions during training and timely rewards for the correct response.
Horses that are overwhelmingly aloof will typically ignore the trainer’s signals for as long as they can get away with it. On the other hand, when it’s time for them to respond, these horses will often overreact. Strongly aloof horses need clear and systematic training programs that leave no room for confusion.
Similar to the social type, aloof horses will tolerate poor care and handling longer than the average horse would. In fact, long-term neglect can cause a horse to become aloof and disconnected from the world. There are no specific breeds linked to this personality type.
A challenging horse is fairly easy to recognize. They have a strong tendency to confront both people and horses about who’s in charge. They are usually high up in the pecking order in a herd and may even bully other horses to show their authority.
A mildly challenging horse will test you every now and again but will come around if you handle them with confidence. In contrast, a more aggressive type will grab every opportunity to step out of line. Unless you establish clear boundaries and mutual respect with them, these horses can easily become dangerous.
Challenging horses are often proud with a strong sense of self and must be treated fairly to win their cooperation. However, if they come to respect you, these horses will turn into brave and charismatic mounts. Challenging personalities are commonly found among baroque-type breeds such as the Friesian, Andalusian, and Lusitano.
Also read: 8 Signs a Horse Likes You
Other Horse Personality Types
While the above is how dressage rider Yvonne Barteau categorizes horse personalities, other experts have different opinions.
Danish horse trainer Klaus Ferdinand Hempfling, for example, groups horses into 26 different personalities. You can watch a short summary of each personality type on the KFH YouTube Channel.
Here are a few more horse personalities that are commonly recognized:
It’s quick to spot a distrustful horse as they will often pin their ears back as you approach. They have either come to resent humans due to bad handling and neglect or didn’t learn to respect them in the first place. Such horses are commonly referred to as “grumpy” or “miserable” and may attack both humans and horses.
Distrustful horses are often loners on the field as they don’t let other horses come too close. Since they may bite or kick out unexpectedly, you should always be careful around this type. It takes courage, dedication, and much patience to turn these horses into trusting partners again.
Sensitive horses are frequently hot-blooded breeds like the Thoroughbred and Arabian or sports horse types. They can become superb performers and a huge asset in the right hands.
Sensitive horses are generally eager to please, forward under saddle, and respond to the lightest aids. However, they are also easy to offend.
If given confusing signals, these horses may become flighty and try to escape the pressure. Therefore, sensitive horses require an experienced rider to reach their full potential.
This personality type is the perfect beginner’s or children’s horse. A bomb-proof confidence giver, these horses are easy-going in every sense of the word.
An easy-going horse won’t overreact in new situations or under inexperienced riders. They have an understanding and kind nature, and are very tolerant of the rider’s mistakes. On the other hand, they tend to be rather slow and unreactive at times, so might be unsuitable for more ambitious riders.
Since horses of this personality are generally reliable and easy to handle, they make for great children’s mounts. You can find easy-going horses among many pony and small horse breeds, such as the Gypsy Vanner, Haflinger, or Norwegian Fjord.
Also read: 12 Horse Zodiac Signs
How Do You Determine a Horse’s Personality?
Having a general idea about your horse’s personality gives you the upper hand when it comes to riding and training. You’ll be able to set realistic expectations that are achievable and within your limits. What’s more, your communication will improve drastically, eliminating a lot of stressful situations from day-to-day life.
Determining your horse’s personality requires a lot of careful observation and objective assessment. Watch your horse behave in a variety of situations and take notes. For best results, make sure he can’t see you watching as that might influence his behavior.
In her book, Yvonne Barteau recommends taking a pen and paper and noting down behaviors unique to any of the four horse personality types. Evaluate your horse in his usual environments, such as the barn or the field, as well as in new situations. Barteau also advises against attaching emotions or making excuses for your horse’s reactions.
“Understanding the personality of your horse, coupled with knowledge about your own temperament and skill level, gives us the best chance for success in our daily rides. We want to be paired with a horse whose natural behavior patterns allow us to stay within our own natural comfort zones as much as possible,” Ivonne Barteu wrote in The Dressage Horse Manifesto“.
Find The Dressage Horse Manifesto book here on Amazon.
When getting to know a new horse, it might take some time for their true personality to come out. However, if you’re patient and attentive, you’ll notice unique traits that make them different from other horses. Contrary to some opinions, all horses have a personality, some just take longer to show than others.
What Horse Has the Best Personality?
What horse has the best personality depends on what’s best for you. Some riders prefer fiery, forward-going horses, while others need steady, reliable steeds to feel safe in the saddle.
The best horse personality also depends on the horse’s intended use. Hot-blooded breeds that are often social and sensitive will do well in disciplines that require a reactive and quick-thinking brain. Whereas, easy-going horses and ponies are an ideal choice for a beginner or pleasure rider.