Why Should You Have An Understanding of Basic Horse Psychology?

Whether you are handling a horse from the ground, or from the saddle, it’s a big help to have some understanding of basic horse psychology. This makes it easier to predict how your horse may react in certain circumstances, and how he might respond in his interactions with you.

Always remember, a horse does not think like a human.

He doesn’t process ideas in the same way, and his priorities are different than yours or mine.

To understand equine behaviour, you should first study how horses relate to one another in a natural situation, i.e. in the wild, and not in the artificial environment of enclosed fields.

Basic Herd Structure

The most fundamental natural drives (instincts) have a huge impact on how horses respond to us, and our attempts to train them.

  1. Horses are herd animals; they always feel more comfortable in company
  2. Horses are prey animals; everything might be out to eat them

Starting with those principles in mind, let’s look at basic herd structure.

In the wild, horses live in large herds with a clearly defined hierarchical structure. Contrary to popular belief, the herd is not led by the stallion, but by the dominant, or lead, mare. She leads the herd between grazing grounds, while the herd stallion drives from behind, keeping all his wives together and seeing off other stallions seeking to steal his mares.

Aside from these two, hierarchy within the herd is determined by position and attention, and not, as used to be believed, by aggression (‘pecking order’), which is nearer to what we see in the artificial situation of small fields with limited food availability.

The nearer to the centre of the herd, the safer the horse is from predators. The ones on the outside are most likely to be eaten. Gaining a safer, inside space, is achieved by either moving in when a previously more dominant horse loses attention, or by jostling – shoving the weaker-willed horses to the outside of the herd, using their large shoulders.

Head height denotes dominance – the more dominant the animal, the higher the head carriage.

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