Friday, 10 October 2014

Horse Psychology

Perhaps we all know that horses are herd animals, in the wild they were prey animals and living in a herd gives them safety in numbers.  Think about the antelope in Africa that we see on T.V. moving in groups to protect themselves against the lions!   Now, we have few wild horses or ponies living free (there are some in remote regions of the world) but even in domesticated horses their natural instincts are still strong.  In the wild, horses move across grassland, hills and moors searching for  water and the best grass.  They live in herds as I mentioned and an alpha mare leads the herd to drink, to new pasture and when it is time to doze. 

The stallion is primarily concerned with reproduction, ensuring his genes are passed on.  Wild horses live in a stable group, they develop deep friendships and will develop a hierarchy.  The group hierarchy does not necessarily work in a 'linear' way ie: horse A is dominant over horse B, horse B is dominant over horse C, horse C is dominant over horse D.  Horse group dynamics and relationships seem more complicated and can mean that although horse A is dominant over horse B and horse B is dominant over horse C, horse C could be dominant over horse A! 

As you would expect, horses that react quickly to danger are the ones who will survive, they are the ones with quick reflexes.  To survive in the wild (again think about the antelope) good hearing, excellent peripheral vision and speed are vital.  A horse's first instinct is to run, but if a horse is cornered it will fight and defend itself by kicking, biting and rearing

Many of these survival traits are still seen in our domesticated horses.

The herd instinct means that many horses are not happy living alone.  Some will be happy living with other animals eg: sheep or cows, but few are happy living in isolation.  A horse that is unhappy when left on its own will run up and down a fence, whinnying, they may jump a fence or even go through the fence to get to a companion.  This instinct also means that a horse may be reluctant to leave a yard without their 'friends', however , it also means that a young horse will often follow an older more experienced horse past an obstacle or over a jump.  Our domesticated horses also seem to have a strong homing instinct which means that they will increase their pace when on their way home.  This instinct can be an advantage, as if a horse (or rider) gets lost, the horse will find its way back to the stable.

As in the wild our domesticated horses move slowly though their fields grazing, sometimes they will move to a different area.  Horses  graze for between 16 and 20 hours a day only resting for short periods,  this is called 'trickle feeding'.  They eat grass, herbs, shrubs and leaves.  Grazing is only one of a horses most important behaviours which have been identified and prioritised by a group of scientists.  These include:

  1. Reaction & Response 
  2. Grazing & Drinking    
  3. Body Care 
  4.  Rest & Sleep 
  5.  Motion 
  6.  Exploration 
  7.  Territorialism (their space and the herds' space) 
  8.  Association (friendships & stable herd)

There is so much to learn about Horse Psychology.  Adopting some slightly different behaviours and methods could make our horses happier and in turn healthier.  I try to use what I have learnt, it is sometimes difficult with the facilities available but I am sure that anything I can do will make my horses happier.

If you would like to know more a good book to start with is 'Teach Yourself Horse' by Heather Simpson.

Check out my new vlog channel on You Tube .... Horse Life and Love
or at

Until next time!

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