Behaviour and its interpretation

Behavior is the manner in which the horse interacts with its environment. Pay attention to its signals!


  • #equine science

Horses, mostly foals, learn by habituation, sensitisation, association and observation.
Behaviour is the manner in which the horse interacts with its environment, whether living things or inanimate structures. In the mature animali it is a mixture of inherited and acquired components. Inherited behaviour varies from simple reflexes up to complex patterns, while acquired components are conditioned reflexes, general habits and learned habits, habits both naturally and taught by man.
Many of the natural needs expressed as behaviour in the wild cannot be met in domestication.
​Some of the taught responses conflict with the innate, and when this occurs the need to escape from control and revert to the behaviour patterns of the wild – with subsequent loss of trained behaviour – becomes psychologically necessary to the horse and sometimes mentally and phisically worryng for the owner.

A horse’s behaviour is therefore determined by what its senses tell it. For example, in the loosebox the noise of your approach, and especially the rattle of buckets – will usually attract the horse to look over the door. Again, your voice will augment what he has already heard and seen. If well trained he will back off on command and, from experience, go to the manger and wait for you put the feed in. A horse fully engaged in eating or standing asleep should be attracted by the voice, not by immediate direct hand contact. It’s then preferable to pat the neck and shoulders before the quarters. Handling should be confident but slow, with firm flat contact. Keep talking soothingly, using his name or other constantly used expression. It’s not just what you say but also how you say it: the tone, pitch, speed.

When first dealing with a new horse, careful observation should be made of its behaviour when approached in the stable and field. This is especially important in the close confines of a box. An animal’s first line of defence is an innate or unconditioned reflex. Such responses are prompt but brief. In a box the response is likely to be aggressive (because he is afraid of his ‘predator’ and the has no way of escape); in the field the horse will look for evasive escape.
​When a horse is afraid of something or someone and feels threatened, he can react according to his natural behaviour and attacks by teeth and/or hind and/or fore feet. A warning is often given: ears are laid back tightly, eyes are rolled to show the whites, and the body is turned to threaten before aggressive reaction is begun. Often these reaction can be due to previous painful experiences recolled to memory by, for example, the noise of clippers or the presence of a particular handler associated with something unpleasant in the past. In conclusion, you must take carefully care in handling the horse since is was born and throughout the whole growth phase and then the whole training. In this way your horse will be always happy and will be a faithful friend for the whole life.