Taken from Horsemanship – Myth Magic and Mayhem
by Holly Davis – Available from Amazon
The personalities of horses, their wants, needs and desires are as diverse as we find in humans. Due to this, it stands to reason that not all horses and people will be compatible. Sadly this is one of the many reasons that horses are bought, (sometimes argued with), cause both people and horses to get anxious and many horses to be sold and moved on to new homes.
When we go in search of an equine companion, or make a choice to work with one that belongs to someone else. It is of utmost importance to make the correct decision over the best personality match possible. This enables the relationship whether it is based on companionship, or a working life, to go as smoothly as possible. The other important consideration being that, the chosen horse will also fit in with the herd that he is expected to live in.
Cast your mind back to your school days. The personality of your teacher and how they interacted with you, will have had a huge influence on your willingness and ability to learn the lessons being offered by them.
The sullen dictator that never smiled and made demands of you: Not taking into consideration your own interests and needs and how best you learnt and retained information.
The smiling and ‘thinking out of the box’ teacher that inspired and nurtured your desire to learn and had the knowledge of how to adapt to each student on a unique level, best suited to the individual. Each personality will have something to offer; but is that offering in the best interests of the individual?
The sullen dictator may have knocked your confidence with their ‘no nonsense’ approach. Whilst at the same time, the rebellious side of you that was hindering your own progress and ability to listen and perform was aided. This will have helped you to develop the left hand side of your brain, the logical and problem solving side. Whilst the ‘thinking out of the box’ teacher may have caused you to question further, seek knowledge for yourself, and inspire you to follow your dreams and aided the confidence needed in order to do that. Likely that will have caused you to know that if a question can be answered to ‘why?’, then another question is needed in order to search for the answers you seek.
This way of teaching will help develop the right hand side of our brain, our ability to visualise, think out of the box, deeply question and enable us to arrive at our own answers. Development of the right side of the brain will also aid our ability to be compassionate and empathise with others – whether they are in a horse or human form.
Both forms of teaching style and approach will have helped within our future relationships. As each style will help will balancing the various sides of the brain. Helping us to create a harmonious approach towards our relationships and our ability to identify with, work with, and think like, each individual that we encounter.
The problem comes when we have only encountered and experienced one style of tutoring in our earlier years. More often than not, this will have had a long lasting effect on how we think, reason and question, as well as how we relate to others. This will in turn have an effect on each and every relationship that we engage in, whether it is horse or human in nature.
Ideally you will have come from a background where you have encountered, endured and enjoyed both teaching styles. This will have aided you in your ability to adapt yourself, to working with different horse personality types. It will have enabled you to empathise with those in need of compassion and extend to them the hand of friendship when fear sets in. As well as being a firm, but fair tutor and leader for those that are rebellious and others find hard to work with through their challenging behaviours.
These personalities are never the same each time we encounter them. They may flit between different personality traits. Sometimes faster than some are able to keep up with them. Just as we get used to approaching and working with them in a certain way, they will change their personality and due to that, also their outward behaviour. These types of personalities may also show one behaviour and outward persona to you, only to show another side of them selves when in the presence of others. These horses can also be beneficial as much as they are frustrating (for some). This is due to many such personalities having the ability to fit in with the person or herd that they are with, and adapt themselves accordingly. This may be in the form of the strong, bold cross country horse that revels in the excitement and adrenalin flow of the fast and furious gallop, controlled canter and huge jump. Once a child is put on their back, they breathe out and turn into the quiet plod that is every mothers dream horse and will help to keep the child safe.
Another way in which these horses can benefit certain relationships, or break them, is their ability to change from the calm, quiet and amenable to the wild no nonsense stallion, no matter what their gender. These horses will challenge our mental and emotional ability in a way that will cause us to adapt, keep our cool and relax at the flick of a switch….or break us. Thus, making it clear that this horse is not for us and another personality type is in fact what we need for balance.
An example of how (for some) the variable personality horses can be of benefit, I will use my chestnut Arabian, named Alfi. He was my co-facilitator, or rather my superior, in Equine Facilitated Therapy with clients for several years. His variable personality was perfect for such a task, due to his ability to shift from trait to trait in order to mirror the personality and emotional state of those in his care.
During this time my granddaughter was around four or five. She had two little Miniature Shetland ponies named Meeka and Cinders; her ‘cuddle ponies’. They were every little girl’s and grandmother’s dream. They would happily stand and be pampered and praised, sharing kisses and there was never any concern over accidents occurring. At the time I had several horses. My granddaughter was scared of them, not only because they towered over her, but also due to the fact that Alfi would chase her, ears back and teeth bared, whilst she ran, heart thumping for what she thought was her life. She wanted to like him and feel safe in his company, but she was scared of him and he knew it.
Then one day these worrying displays came to a halt. Alfi was playing out once again, mirroring her fear and the by now typical chase was on. Granddaughter running for what she thought was her life, screaming to be saved from the wild thing that actually meant her no harm in hot pursuit. Then she was cornered – she had no where to run. She summoned up every ounce of confidence and mental strength she had, as she waved her shaking finger at him. Whilst telling him, ‘how dare you do that to me’. Alfi pricked his ears, stared at her for a few seconds, then walked off. His job to help her find her courage that he knew was inside of her was complete.
Their relationship changed in those few seconds, they now instead share in a relationship of trust and mutual respect. He carries her on his back, no bridle or saddle in sight. They spend many happy hours together exploring our fields, as well as sunbathing together as she lies on his back.
The Variable Compatibles
Any of the other personalities at any one time – this will be dependant on which personalities are dominant and how often the variables are shown.
The Free Thinking Truth Seeker
This type of personality may be viewed as a bit of a challenge by some trainers and owners. They will not bow down to the will of the trainer and in some cases, would rather be beaten to a pulp than summit to what they know is not truthful. That said, this does not mean that these horses will display outward aggression, more likely they will show a lack of compliance and acceptance of what it is you are asking of them, as they feel they are not being asked correctly. Some may choose to express their distaste of certain requests from others, or for the way in which the request is made. The manner in which the request is made, may in some cases, result in frustration for the horse causing them to ‘act out’. These may come in the free expression of biting, kicking or other behaviours many humans may feel are undesirable. However, it should always be considered that such behaviour have a foundational cause. The owner or trainer that is able to identify such behaviour as information and frustration, rather than aggression, will always be of huge benefit to these horses. As well as, these horses being of huge benefit to them and their own education of horses and psychology.
The Free Thinking Truth Seeker Compatibles
All of the personalities; thought the dominant may be annoying for them at times. The personalities he can take under his wing and need extra care or are like minded will be his most compatible.
The introvert thrives best in smaller herds. His attention is quiet and thoughtful; he is a deep thinker. He is very sensitive to atmospheres and will do his best to avoid arguments, but if pushed too far he may be seen to stand his ground and then walk away. His way of both making his stand and disengaging from conflict.
He may be seen as a bit of a loner, preferring time alone or in smaller groups. He does not like to be pushed out into the foreground, instead preferring to hide behind others in his own quiet company. He should not be forced to engage, as to do so would mean stepping over his personal boundaries and therefore, invasively into his private mind space that is as important to him as his physical space.
Over the years he is unlikely to change; this is his natural way of being and it is innate to him, deep within him.
He will have his likes and dislikes, but no matter what is put before him (unless too much that it overrides him) he will always offer his best effort. Should his best effort be ‘stamped on’, or not acknowledged, it will lead to him close down and his insecurity will be fed. He will search for acknowledgment in what he offers. Not by way of flattering his ego, but rather, as an inner need to boost his confidence and thus drive him forwards. He is kind and earthy but in some cases he may possess a quick and fiery temper. The better he is listened to and adaption is made to work within in his mental boundaries (he has difficulty thinking outside of the box and craves routine) the safer he will feel. Do not spread his knowledge and teachings too thinly or expect him to enter into areas, both mental and physical that are over stimulating for him. This horse craves peace and security and his education broken down into bite sized chunks.
The Introvert Compatibles
The free thinking truth seeker, other introverts and sometimes the lost and lonely. The extrovert that complements his own traits and is compatible in the right way that helps to aid his confidence.
This horse loves to be in a larger herd, the more that listen to what he has to say and offer, the better he will perform for his audience. He is a teacher of sorts and once his confidence is found it is used to his advantage. Many will learn from what he has to offer, so long as it is coming from the right place and he does not allow ego to override.
He is a double edged sword in as much as when his confidence is there it is there, but when it is waning he can retreat into his shell. Only to emerge renewed again when he feels that the time is right. He is more sensitive than he lets on. Some individuals may create the illusion of ‘all is well’, whilst deep inside they harbour a deep and unresolved past. Their ‘now’, enabling them to believe otherwise and a mask to wear, that allows them to hide their sorrows not just from others, but themselves at times as well.
There is not much more that I can say about the extrovert, as he is so deep and meaningful inwardly, that at times he will be hard to work out, due to the mask he wears. But his nature is one to be nurtured, as he is in, and will likely for some time be in a state of growth. Only hindered by the invasion of others, daily duties and should it befall him, ill health.
He is on a quest to find not only his inner self, but find a way in which the world and those in it reflect in such a way that they tie into a bigger picture for him. He is not the ego many would lead us to believe he is.
The Extrovert Compatibles
The complementary introvert, the free thinking truth seeker, he will be able to handle some dominant personalities that are strong, but only if they are strong in the right way.
This personality is the tester of others, rigid in his mindset and to some degree unaware of the full complexity and needs of others. He is stuck to within his own mind and expects others to ‘pussy foot’ around him. In some individual cases others will be expected to ‘bend to his will’ most, if not all of the time.
His rigid mindset limits him in his ability to be the seeking free thinker. Why learn or do more when it suits him this way? Why put more effort in than he needs to? More often than not these horses will be heavier in body frame, rather than the lighter breeds, but this is not a hard and fast rule.
Most likely he will not put more effort into anything than is required (in his opinion) unless of course there is something in it for him. The more you push, the more frustration he causes, ‘no skin of his nose’ if you are pulling your hair out. He quite simply thinks you should learn the lesson he is offering (his one sided biased one) for which there is only one answer – his way or the highway.
In most cases he will have only a few close companions, if any. Only those of lower rank and that find comfort in his apparent and sometimes fake confidence tend to be drawn to him, others simply tolerate him. He will often be seen grazing alone, are we surprised at that?
His stereotype may predict that fast work is too much effort, why should he work harder than needed? Especially when he can stay in his own company and eat grass unhindered. He has the ability to test the patience of the saint and is the control freaks nightmare. This horse actually has a lot to offer others about themselves, if only in some cases how not to be. Amazing insights can be offered by them. Once we find out what is hidden beneath that mask they choose to wear.
The Stubborn Compatibles
The free thinking truth seeker
This type of horse personality will more often than not have a high head carriage. Or at least when his head carriage is low, the slightest unknown noise or sudden change will suddenly raise his head. His movements are quick and deliberate and may even appear clumsy at times. If suddenly something moves and startles him, he will be quick to react.
His anxiety may have been caused by his past; he may come from a history of abuse or neglect. It could even be the case that his neurotransmitters are misfiring, causing him to have issues with passing information and instruction through his brain, causing him confusion. Maybe he is just nervous in nature, maybe it is hereditary, it could be that he is not the only one that this way in his breeding line? It could be that he was not neglected or abused in the physical sense, but that he spent years with a novice owner. One who often aired their frustration, due to their own inability to instruct him and achieve a desired result – maybe that is what has caused him to be this way?
People will feel sorry for him as they see his muscles tense and see him stomach held in, as if poised ready to flee should he need too. His sudden movements will put some on edge. They will move, he will jump, they then jump because he does and the ongoing cycle of bouncing off of each other’s anxiety continues. Wearing each other out and not aiding either party.
Maybe he is suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). His trauma stuck within every cell of his body, as it has never found a way out and to release itself. It could be that the snowball effect has brought him to where he is now. The anxiety may have increased for him over time through being fed, even thought the original cause may have been minor. No one may have dealt with it back then, thus enabling a situation where it has been able to grow.
The Anxious Compatibles
The free thinking truth seeker, the introvert, the calmer of the institutionalised.
The personality that does what he is told without question, so long as it is within his physical capabilities. He doesn’t know he is allowed to question; he just believes this is the way it is, ‘follow thy master and his instruction’.
Each time he is reprimanded, he just accepts it as part of his life. Being shut in his stable for hours on end is normal to him – it is just how it ‘is’. He maybe suffering from Post Incarceration Syndrome (PICS) that has created a state of learned helplessness in him, that he has been unable to shake off. If that has been his past till now, he may also be displaying anti- social personality traits towards other horses, have difficulty fitting into a herd, or forming a relationship with humans and other horses.
His prolonged solitary confinement, or prolonged years of silence due to not being allowed a voice, may have deprived him of sensory stimulation – other than having orders shouted at him.
It could be that people didn’t realise they were being unkind, that they never meant him any harm, but that this has been the result for him none the less. His ability to play may be lacking, as he has only known work and the ability to play is not within him and nor does he know where to search inside of himself for that feeling of letting go in order to play. Maybe it just overwhelms him and he freezes?
Now he is allowed a voice, he is unable to find it. He may be scared to leave his stable and venture onto grass with other horses to relax and graze, as his feet have never known anything beneath him other than a sand school and filthy straw.
The Institutional Compatibles
The free thinking truth seeker, the introvert, (loneliness likes company) so in some cases the lost and lonely.
The Lost and Lonely
Maybe the saddest personality of all? He may not feel at home anywhere – his stable, his field, his herd or in a another’s company. Though some of these things may feel acceptable to him, maybe even grow on him, making his life palatable. If he is lucky he will find the right person or horse that will understand him, so he has an ally in life and someone to turn to.
His ability to engage with others, both in relationships and in one off situations is impaired. He views the world as if looking through a gold fish bowl. He can see the world outside of him, he knows it is there and yet he does not feel in anyway part of it. He may as well not even be here….he thinks?
If he is lucky, in time he may be able to form a friendship with another horse that has singled him out and knows he needs help. Maybe this will be the truth seeker and free thinker of the herd that holds compassion and understanding for his situation. The one that is able to read him in a way the others can’t.
If no such person or horse exists in his world, he will spend most of his time alone grazing away from the herd. Unless an inner desire to join the others is there and he knows ‘how’. His inability to mix and blend in may not be there, he may try repeatedly to gain his place in the herd. Only to find himself an outcast as he just does not ‘fit in’. He is different and the other herd members know this, he is not one of them and is of no benefit to them. In fact his incessant pestering of other herd members, due to his inability to properly engage may even be an annoyance to the herd and they may let him know this to his cost.
The Lost and Lonely Compatibles
The free thinking truth seeker, the introvert and in some cases the extrovert that offers himself as a confident leader – if he is of the correct attitude and traits.
This personality is two fold; the dominant that is insecure so enforces his ‘will’ on others, as a way of boosting his own confidence, and the dominant that is naturally dominant in nature that may also be caused by hormones or other factors.
The dominant personality expects others to bend to his will. He will likely (but not always) physically attack and bully to get his point across. At the very least he will be a face puller. He may be prone to tantrums, should he be in the company of one that will not bow down to him. In the male of this personality, mares will likely be ‘his’ property and other males may find themselves being chased off and excluded.
He may also display his dominance towards people. He can be a hard horse to get along with. Your best bet is to comply to avoid conflict when in his presence, if you are unable to play him at his own game. By tricking his mind in to thinking your idea was his all along. He is not one to be challenged, but rather, one to work along side. Let him think it was his idea, let him think he has won even when he has offered what you set out to achieve. Include him, do not isolate him, else his anger and dominance may soar.
The dominant in a wild herd and even in some cases the domesticated one, will have his place. He will keep in check any youngsters and wayward characters. To some degree if he is not an outright bully, he may aid in the smooth running of the herd, if he does not allow his ego to get the better of him or his hormones to override his role.
The Dominant Compatibles
In certain cases the free thinking truth seeker. If the dominant is not an outright bully – for the same reason also the introvert.
In certain cases the lost and lonely that are looking for strength, structure and guidance to lead them, if bullying is not part of the relationship and the dominance shows as strength.