The psychology of the horse

Understanding the psychology of the horse is key to managing him successfully.

  • #habit
  • #lifestyle

At any time when there is a ‘problem’ with a horse, consider how it has arisen. It’s almost certainly due to some mistake or error in his handling. Stable management might better be called horse management. In order to manage horses and ponies efficiently it’s important to understand their natural lifestyle.

Horses are herd animals. In the wild they live in family groups and roam over a wide area grazing for up to eighteen hours a day. They are flight animals, running away from perceived danger but when cornered will bite, kick, strike out and buck or rear in an attempt to rid themselves of the danger.
When kept in a group they quickly establish a ‘pecking order’. When a new animal is introduced into the group this order may change. It may also change if animal is removed.
​Horses are large, flightly and unpredictable. They are also much sensitive, have excellent memory and are creatures of habit. All these natural attributes need to be used to our advantage when caring for them. Taking care of the horse’s natural lifestyle is the key to good management. Horses do not know the difference between good and bad but they are quick to learn and react to the way they are handled.

For many centuries they were nomadic, grass-eating, herd animals and speed was their greatest protection against enemies. Even a new born foal is soon on his feet, ready to keep up with his mother and to join the rest of the herd in flight. If a horse is frightened, his first thought is to gallop off, bucking as he goes. If a frightened horse is cornered, his instinct is to kick his way out. Allied with his protective behaviour is very acute hearing, good eysight, both forward and to the side, and a nose sensitive to any strange or foreign smell. Horses therefore react very quickly when anything disturbs or alarms them. Their first thought is flight.
It’s essential that any persons dealing with the horse is calm and unafraid.

Horses have excellent memories. Their training from the earlies age must establish confidence, trust and good habits. If startled or frightened by circumstances or people, a horse never forgets! Given the same situation he will always be likely to think back and react in a similar way.
​Most bad behaviour by horses is caused by incorrect handling, particulary when the horse is young. The horse is a creature of habit and appreciates a regular routine. He can be easily upset by sudden and unexpected change.