Understanding and Working with your Horse’s Unique Personality
One element that significantly differentiates the equestrian disciplines from other sporting activities is the importance of relationship, and its impact on performance. Equestrians have a living, breathing being that comes with its own ideas and feelings that they must understand and form a partnership with if they are to be successful. Further, our equine partners, being prey animals, have a very different way of perceiving and interacting with the world, so applying our framework to theirs just won’t work.
Whew! Is it any wonder we have trouble???
Now one would think that with my training and background that I would have had a leg up in this equation. Sadly, that is only partially true. While, I pretty much had the human side licked, I was starting at square one with the rest of you, on the equine side. What that meant was I had to do my homework, and I most assuredly did. I have spent countless hours reading about how the horse experiences the world, and the roots of his perspective. What I will share with you here is a small but terribly valuable sliver of my findings.
To begin with first you must take a step back and evaluate your own personality. It may help to have a buddy help you with this exercise, since we do not tend to have the clearest perspective on ourselves. Are you more courageous or more cautious? Do you value the comfort of routines or thrive on variety? What is your patience threshold? Do you thrive in the company of others, and feed off the energy? Or do you prefer having a significant amount of space to yourself? Do you prefer to be in charge of things or take a supportive role? Do you love thinking outside of the box or do you prefer ideas that you can easily wrap your mind around? Are you a high energy individual or more low key?
If you would like, you can take one of the many fun, informal quizzes based off the Myers-Briggs personality type inventory to help you gather some insight. Here is a link to one on facebook: http://www.facebook.com/apps/application.php?id=162258334912. In fact, it was the Myers-Brigg personality type inventory that provided the basis for my own favorite horse personality quiz.
Next, answer the same questions, about your horse, and sketch him out as well. Dessa Hockley’s book, Is your horse a rock star? Does an excellent job of giving you snapshots of various equine personality types, and so I will use her terminology and framework for my examples. You can take a pretty fun little shortcut here and Go to www.horsepersonality.com and take the quiz to get your horse’s personality type.
Now look at your profiles side by side and reflect on how they impact each other.
For example, I have, in horse terms, a “hot” personality. I am high energy (surprise, surprise), and I LOVE people and being with them but I require a certain amount of space to myself everyday. I love variety and trying new things. I am probably more courageous than cautious, but I am NOT the most courageous person on the planet, not even close. I love thinking outside of the box. The leader or follower question is a bit tricky but in a tossup, I would go with leader.
Ok, on to my horses. For this example, I will pick two very different horses, from my little herd of loved ones: Valentine and Hopscotch. (To see photos and mini-bios of my boys, check out The Herd page on my website.)
My dear Hopscotch is, a Goddess (a title that makes me smiles). He is submissive, lazy, curious, and friendly. So Hopscotch is comfortable with me being a leader, and will not fight me for control most of the time. He is friendly and engaging which makes him pretty easy for me (or anyone) to bond to, and demonstrates a willingness to please. He is pretty low key which works very well with my own high energy type because I can energize and motivate him with my own energy. His laid back also works well with me because he is not easily scared or ruffled which promotes my own sense of confidence in him. His curiosity is a real asset because it helps him to want to try new things, and explore. So Hopscotch and I are a very “easy” team since we share the curiosity and friendliness traits and our dominant/submissive, energetic/lazy traits balance each other out.
Valentine, oh my sweet Valentine, in Dessa’s terms is a Wild Card. This means he is dominant, energetic, afraid, and friendly. A trait we share, that definitely supports our relationship is the friendly trait. We are both terribly social beings and love to engage. We also share the dominant and energetic traits however, which requires a certain amount of understanding and adjusting on my part. As for the dominant trait, we both want to be the boss; however for Valentine to respect and listen to his rider, he needs his rider to confidently and thoroughly take up a leadership role. If his rider does not demonstrate that degree of confidence, he feels the need to take over. Although I am comfortable being a leader, Valentine made me develop my leadership skills more thoroughly, because a dip in his rider’s confidence makes him uneasy. And as for us sharing the energetic trait, I have learned to dial myself down and develop an attitude of serenity when I am working with him. If I did not keep my own energy in check, we could, and have, crank each either up in rather unpleasant manner. As for the curious/afraid dimension, I have learned that I need to be a solid, confident leader that Valentine can trust to keep him safe, and be respectful of his sensitivity.
What I have provided here is only the tip of the iceberg of what is possible with a deepened understanding of how both you and your horse operate. As you can see, taking a step back, and really reflecting on this issues can enhance all aspects of your relationship with your horse and what you are capable of doing together.