A Horse By Nature

Photo courtesy of Mary Ann Simonds

Managing Emotional and Mental Stress in Horses for Improved Welfare

BY Mary Ann Simonds
Reprinted with permission from Trafalgar Square Books

What Kind of a Horse Person are You?

We can all acknowledge that people have horses in their lives for various reasons. Because there is a need to define the “use” of horses in our lives, people often seek to learn how to “train” horses instead of learning how to be in a functional relationship with another species. People who have good relationship skills with other humans and understand the nature of social creatures in general, often have very good relationships with horses. So being honest about your own self-assessment and skillset is, therefore, critical in determining the type of relationship you will have with horses. 

In general, there are five categories that most people can identify with, to some degree. Realize that most people do not fall into just one category but rather have a strong tendency toward one while exhibiting traits in others, as well. Balance, in the end, is the goal. 

The Five Major Personality Types of Horse People

  1. Controller—You seek and value “obedient” horses who quickly learn what to do. You have a strong work ethic and expect your horses to work just as hard. You have a low tolerance for horses trying to think on their own. You feel happy when things are in order and you are in charge.
    • Best Horses for You: Those who like consistent and regular work and either seek to please or will test you, looking for strong guidance.
    • Strengths: You usually have well-trained horses. You expect people and horses to do their jobs, and they often rise to that expectation. Your barn is usually run well and horses are kept to schedules. You are goal-oriented and often perform well under stress.
  • Weaknesses: Horses and people need to “fit your program,” which may not be successful in all cases. You may rely on “shortcut” training devices to get your horses do things you want in order to be efficient. Signs of equine stress may go unnoticed as you are results-oriented.
  1. Caregiver—You love to nurture and care for horses and often have a “rescue” or someone else’s problem horse in your barn. Often you make a wonderful groom, veterinarian, or equine bodyworker. Your joy is being around horses as you appreciate all the duties related to caring for them.
    • Best Horses for You: Those who respond to love and nurturing, and who have sensitive natures and the ability to communicate their appreciation. You may find “rehabbing” injured horses fulfilling.
  • Strengths: You take the time to assess and care for horses physically and mentally. You are always willing to help your horse or other’s horses when they are in need. You support others and are good at getting tasks done. You are careful and stabilizing
  • Weaknesses: You can be prone to “compassion fatigue” from being overworked while trying to care for too many individuals at once, especially those that may not be “fixable.” You may end up with too many horses due to an inability to part with them or because they are horses not well suited to other living and training situations.
  1. Competitor/Athlete—You are looking for the competition horse to share your love of sport. Regardless of the discipline, you value a top equine athlete and enjoy working together to compete and stay in shape. Winning is important, but you value the work it takes to get there, as well. Often you are a professional rider or excel in other athletic endeavors as an amateur.
  • Best Horses for You: Those with equally competitive natures who “love the game.”
  • Strengths: Your horses usually get regular work and are fit for their discipline. You stay in shape, and both you and your horses get top athletic training and maintenance. You are detail-oriented, logical, and usually prepared for the task before you. You want to win and will spend the money and time to get to the top if you can.
  • Weaknesses: While you may find “difficult” horses interesting, you do not have the time or patience for horses who tend to have unsoundness issues or who are not both committed and talented. You will pass on and sell horses that do not meet your expectations. You may not be sympathetic to your horse’s needs.
  1. Teacher—You enjoy teaching both horses and people. Spending time with young horses and educating them about life, watching a student canter around a course for the first time, or teaching a group of students about equine behavior can all bring you satisfaction. Those who identify as a “riding instructor” or “educator” usually fit this category, but many who consider themselves “trainers” are often more aligned with the Controller and Competitor categories.
  • Best Horses for You: Young horses and those horses with little knowledge about how to “be a horse” or “be with people” are good fits, as you can help them learn essential skills.
  • Strengths: Full of knowledge, you love to share it with others. You are a good communicator with both horses and people. You take the time to listen and develop learning exercises that fit the horse and the person. You often are the “go-to” person in the barn for information. You are frequently friendly and enthusiastic. Horses generally like you, and your natural teaching ability makes you ideal for working with both horses and people in various disciplines.
  • Weaknesses: You think every horse and every person can benefit from learning something new from you. You may be judgmental of others when you know more than they do about what horses need, how to teach, or in general, how to do things better.
  1. Lifestyle Enthusiast—Horses are a “lifestyle” to you. You like the cultural aspects of the equestrian world, so owning horses, attending and supporting horse events, and socializing with other equestrians brings you pleasure. You may be a spouse or parent to an equestrian, or involved in breeding or investing in horses, own a farm in an equestrian community, or be involved in other aspects of the horse world.
  • Best Horses for You: Horses that decorate your pasture or barn “just being horses,” horses in training you might ride once in a while or just watch compete with someone else, and horses you support through donations of time or money are likely to fit your personality.
  • Strengths: You are social, outgoing, and usually have good relationship skills. You often support and contribute to horse charities, events, and equestrian lifestyle activities. You may be involved in equestrian organizations and volunteer to help at events, even though you may not choose to ride or own your own horses.
  • Weaknesses: You may overlook equine welfare as you may trust and believe others are caring for horses adequately, without knowing when to ask questions. Your desire for the status of being involved with horses can limit your direct connection with horses themselves and involvement in the bigger picture.

So… What Does This Mean?

The better you are at assessing yourself and recognizing your strengths and weaknesses, the better you will be in developing positive relationships with horses. To develop trust, loyalty, and friendship, you must first truly love horses, then provide safety and comfort to them from a horse’s perspective, not a human perspective. Horses respond far better to feelings than to thinking, so your motivation for being with horses must come from the heart, not the mind. Then, no matter what discipline you choose to pursue with your horse, your horse will enjoy being with you.