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Understanding the Psychology of the Horse

Oct 9, 2007
How many times have you heard people say that horses are stupid, unable to reason, and extremely selfish? But who stops to take the trouble to find out what really makes a horse "tick"? Admitted, there are stupid horses just as there are stupid people, but this large animal is full of fears, emotions, and affection.

The answer behind all this is, simply, that horses are most dependent on people. There are many stories of stallions protecting their herds with tricks that only a good mind could manage. Range horses know the dangers they are up against and react much differently than pasture-raised animals.

The domestic horse is protected with shelter, good food, and care by an honest owner. He seldom has to think about more than play or having his own way. His reasoning comes from boredom, the desire to get out of work, and a search for forbidden food. Horses copy each other. If one animal sees another break a fence, raid the hay barn, or find the grain barrel or even open a gate, he immediately wants the same and follows the same procedure to get it.

Watch your horse for an indication of what he is going to do. Actually, an animal telegraphs every move he will make. It is up to the owner to learn to "read" his horse. When an animal is going to shy or buck the muscles of his back tense and can be felt through the saddle.

The ears tell volumes. Ears stiffly forward means the animal is acutely alert. This means interest, curiosity, or fear. The conditions presented will tell the rider what it means. One ear forward and one back means he is listening for the rider and keeping an ear pointed for something ahead.

Ears laid slightly back means he doesn't like something or doesn't want to do what is asked. Ears laid back flat against the head means the animal is vicious or angry. He will try to fight, either the owner or another horse.

Horses have a pattern of thought, and once you know them you learn how they react to different situations. But remember, these big animals are afraid of everything they cannot understand or see. If a horse realized his strength, we would never handle him. But he is dependent on man. This is the secret of handling a horse and making a useful animal out of him.

A horse needs something to depend on. You seldom see him alone by choice. At the racetrack the thoroughbred has a chicken on his stall door, or a goat to share his hay, or a dog to lie at his feet, or a cat to rub against his legs. Sometimes a small pony shares his stall; he may look for a favorite groom who talks to him; often there is a quiet understanding between the trainer and the horse, but... there is always something... someone.

When a horse becomes accustomed to your presence and your voice he will begin to take on personality. A quiet, authoritative voice that can also soothe and give confidence will win an animal quicker than anything else. The horse may be able to understand only twelve command words, but the tone of your voice will speak many things to him. Although the horse is normally timid, he will develop confidence in you to the point where he will trust you implicitly.

The horse demands attention and craves affection. However, it must be remembered that a horse is made to do things by fear, hunger, thirst, and biological urge. So we use these things to our advantage without forgetting the other requisites that round out the complete picture of the horse, such as attention and affection. He does things only to satisfy his hunger, demands for comfort, and curiosity and attention. He cannot concentrate for long periods of time.

There are more things to learn about the psychology of your horse, but these will come from experience.
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