How To Understand Your Horse’s Personality Type

Ever wondered why some horses behave so differently to others? Why one will hack out completely relaxed and yet another horse on the same hack will be really spooky.

Like humans, all horses are different. Some of their behaviour is instinctual whilst others can be learnt, either from personal experience or by watching other horses.

Since all horses are different does that mean that all training techniques should be different as well?

This article explores horse behaviour a little more and what the implications are for training horses of any age and background.


Understanding Different Horse Behaviour

horse personality
Every horse is different (Image – “Funny Horse” by Tina Phillips,

In order to get the best results in your riding partnership it is important that there is trust and understanding between the horse and rider / trainer.

Understanding the nature and personality of your horse can save a lot of frustration and prevent unnecessary time being spent on things that will never be suitable or achieve the best results.

And as each horse is different what works well for one of your horses may be totally counterproductive for another.

Here I have looked at how three well known natural horsemanship trainers have used personality in their work, to give you some ideas of things to consider.



Yvonne Barteau – Training & Personalities

As a horse and dressage trainer Yvonne studies the personalities of horses that come to her. She classifies horses into four major groups;

  • Social horse– friendly horses that can be easily distracted but are usually tolerant of poor handling.
  • Fearful horse – rely on another horse or rider that they have bonded with to perform well, can develop long attention spans once settled..
  • Aloof horse – live in their own world and may be distracted or not respond to stimulus, have a reasonable tolerance of poor handling.
  • Challenging horse – can be strong and brave but also opportunistic and easily take advantage of poor handlers

Yvonne also maintains that each type of horse also responds differently to external interactions according to their level of passive aggressiveness.

Passive Aggressive behaviour in horses is similar to introvert and extrovert behaviour or responses in humans.  Yvonne explains this in more detail in the descriptions below.

Horse personalities passive agressive responses

Yvonne describes passive aggressive behaviour on a scale of 1 -10. With 10 being the most aggressive and 1 is very passive.


Parelli Horsenalities

horsenality chart
Linda Parelli Horsenality Chart

Another major promoter of understanding horse personality is Linda Parelli. She studied human psychology and applied the same basic personality framework to horses.

She called it horsenality.

She also describes 4 basic terms of horse personality which she describes as being based on the models of introvertism and extrovertism, as well as creative and logical thinking.

  1. Left brain extrovert
  2. Right brain extrovert
  3. Left brain introvert
  4. Right brain introvert.

The model is useful to some extent, although modern human psychology has moved away now from simple classification systems such as these, since it has been proven that people are a lot more complex. Whether the same is true of horses I am unsure, but it seems likely that there are many more forms of personality than simply 4 and many horses may move between personality traits in different situations.

Linda Parelli and Yvonne both advocate that different horse personalities need to be taught things differently, however since most horses are fairly instinctual and herd animals, does that really apply to all generic training?


Using the Same Approach – Monty Roberts

One of the leaders in horsemanship training is Monty Roberts who advocates a method known as join up. This is an interesting technique to look at from a  behavioural point of view, because he uses the same technique on all horses, regardless of personality.

So how does that work?

image horses herd
Horses are naturally herd animals (Image – “Horse Galloping” by Tina Phillips,

Monty’s approach works with the natural herd behaviour and disciplines and communicates to the horse in the same way as the herd does.

This implies that horse learning and personality need to be considered in a herd context rather than as an individual animal. Horses aren’t designed to be on their own, so their behaviour and responses are in relation to the herd.

This doesn’t mean that horse personalities don’t mean anything, they do. But as Yvonne mentions horses can change according to their situation. In order to understand your own horse thoroughly you need to observe their behaviour in a number of different situations.


Assessing Your Own Horse’s Personality

Most of the time we focus on trying to manage a horse’s behaviour so that they conform with what is expected, either by the instructor, the competition environment or other riders in the club.

It can be hard to stand back slightly and just observe, without needing to judge or explain why the horse is behaving as they are.

In order to assess your own horse’s personality there are a number of observations that you can make that may help you work out which group he belongs to.

  • How does he behave in turn out – on his own and with other horses?
  • Take him to an unfamiliar environment – how does he behave here?
  • Stressful situation such as competitions
  • How does he respond to personal space and letting you near him or respecting your boundaries?

The same technique of observation can also be applied when visiting a new horse. Look at how they interact with the owner, other horses, in their home environment and when working. What personality type can you describe them as and how will this fit in with your current horses and approach to training?


Concluding Comments

There are different models of training for working with horses and some will work better for some horses than others.

However by developing your own understanding of your horse, her personality and what works best for her, then this can help to improve your relationship together and achieve better results in work.

I would love to hear of any other models for understanding horse personality and/or how you have managed to apply it within your own training regime.


Further Reading

There are a number of articles on this site on natural horsemanship. Most trainers in this area advise working with your horse and understanding their own fears and anxieties, in order to get the best possible results and pick the most appropriate training approach to use.

I hope you enjoyed this article and please do share on your own social media sites, thanks.


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