Many times we like to put horses in a box when we talk about training them, but just like humans, their personalities can vary greatly.

Just as easy-going kids make their parents look good, easy-going horses make their trainers look good. The nervous, emotional, high-energy individuals are the ones that can humble us all. They force us to learn more if we are going to team up with them in the future.

It’s funny how we can think a horse is trained because it will let us on its back, or take a saddle without throwing a fit. There will be other horses that seem to over react when saddled and/or ridden the first time, and they may not ever do it again. There are a good number of horses that will let us on their back that have never been ridden before, and others who have been ridden before that may not. There are all variations of these dispositions in between.

Usually the indication of how much training horses have had is related to how well they listen to our pressure cues. Most horses have a basic opposition reflex when it comes to pressure (just as we do). They usually need to be taught to give to our pressure cues.

Mike Daniels

Mike Daniels

We humans are familiar with personality types put forth by some of the great philosophers of the past. We can also find basic personality distinctions with horses also. The simplest way to separate horse dispositions is in two ways. The first way is whether they are basically creative thinkers or instinctive reactors. The second way is whether they like to move or are they more on the lazy side, or do they freeze up from lack of confidence. These parameters give us at least four personality types pairing up these different  combinations.

We like horses to be thinkers, because when they are using their brains they are likely to be more inclined to try new things, and they may not panic as easy as reactors would. Most injuries with humans and their equipment happen from horses in panic mode. But thinking horses can backfire on us too, when they learn ways to let themselves out of their pens, or pull a fast one on unsuspecting humans.

Instinctive reactors can be good when there is no time to think. Quick reactions can fend off a set of teeth coming at you, or avoid other forms of danger quickly. Horses that tend to react first before thinking can also be very loyal. They are less likely to try to out think their human because they are more comfortable with routine, and do not really want to rock the boat.

When separating horses dispositions based on high energy or low energy, we observe whether they like to move or not. We live in a time where the prevailing number of riders would rather have low energy horses because it is usually a safer scenario. Like power brakes on a semi truck, when the brakes are not working they are locked on. I always like to ask people whether they would rather work on getting a horse stopped, or getting him going. It takes a good rider to get a lazy horse moving faster, as well as getting a lively one stopped. But it is definitely less panicky for the human to work on getting a turtle moving than a freight train stopped. Generally an easy-going horse is too lazy to unseat us, but sometimes they will.

The down side of a low energy horse is that if it is a thinker, it can conspire against the human to get out of work and fool us. A reacting horse may fool us by freezing up if it is bothered, but then might explode if it is further antagonized. It’s a great defense against a predator, because it can underestimate the horse when it does this, but the same thing makes it dangerous for us. We have to handle this type of horse exactly opposite of the thinker because it is on the defense, whereas the thinker is on the offense.

The good side of a high-energy horse is that they do not try to get out of work, because they love to move. A high-energy horse is more likely to run than to buck. As long as we can ride them as fast as they will run, we are fine (as long as there are no trees or fences spoiling our fun). A high-energy, thinking horse has all kinds of moves. It loves to party and keep us on our toes, and is probably the closest thing to a playful dog.

Just like humans, horses’ basic natures have down sides to their positive traits. Our goal is to try to lose the negatives of our personalities and gain the positives of others personalities. High-energy horses need to learn patience, and low energy horses need to learn the work ethic. Thinkers need to practice loyalty and learn that some routine won’t hurt them. Reactors need to learn to think more and try new things. The more we all put ourselves in position to help one another achieve these goals with ourselves as well as our horses, then we practice true worship or true church (Isaiah 1: 11-17).  Isn’t it remarkable how true love is really very efficient? It grows all involved at the same time. The Bible is a good example of this. Reactive Peter learned how to think more as he matured in Christ. Hard-charging Paul learned more patience as he grew. Fearful Abraham learned to venture into new territory from faith in God. Moses learned that his Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde tendencies had consequences. He probably learned more about patience than anyone. I believe when we see at least a little bit of ourselves in all of these “real life characters,” we begin to truly better understand “life.” The wisest thing we can get from all this is that it ain’t a one man show. When we realize we need God, and all the personalities he has given us to learn from, then we are in position to grow. If we want to grow forever then we had better trust the greatest personality there is: The creator God who took on a body like ours in Jesus Christ.

Mike Daniels is a horsemanship trainer and barefoot trimming specialist from Raymondville. Email: rlhorse58@yahoo.com.

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Sean might be one of the hairiest horses in the Ozarks. That's part of his winter coat on the ground below him, which he shed (with a little help) a couple of weeks ago.

For the better part of the past year, I was feeling like I was in need of a new horse.

Things had not been working out the way I thought they should with the one I had been riding most, our 20-plus-year-old Arabian gelding, Big Sur. The problem had nothing to do with ol’ Sur’s age; he has more gas left in the tank than a lot of far younger horses.

No, I think it was more because of a simple mismatch. You see, Sur was taught just about everything a horse can learn during his many years in Colorado, including western, English, and even dressage. He’s been a show horse, a teaching horse, and a trail horse, and even spent some time as a short-order cook at a coffee shop in Steamboat Springs (not really, of course, but he probably would have if he had thumbs).

On the other hand, there’s a large gap between my horsemanship ability and that of an expert. Not that that’s necessarily the crux of the problem; during his lengthy career, Sur has had many riders of all levels of experience climb onto his back, so I’m not sure he has any unfulfilled expectations of me. And for that matter, there were times when we really clicked and it seemed as if we’d been together since way back in his early days in Colorado.

For the most part, though, we just hadn’t been meshing well on all occasions. I guess the fact is, Sur’s a bit “spirited” (as “horse people” like to say about an animal with some attitude), and maybe in his advanced age he does have some expectations and wishes to only cater to riders who won’t inadvertently give mixed signals or commands.

Doug Davison

Doug Davison

Whatever the case, I had come to a point where I felt a change was in order.

But before I started any sort of focused search for a fresh mount, I got the notion to throw a saddle on the other Arabian gelding that eats grass in our pasture: a 15-year-old model named Sean.

That turned out to be a very interesting decision.

Now, while there is still that gap between expert horsemanship and where I’m at, it’s worth pointing out that during approximately the same period of time I had been pondering a quest for a new horse, I had also been making some progress as a horseman. I’ve been gleaning information from a variety of sources, including my friend Mike Daniels (one of Texas County’s resident horsemanship trainers, who has a lot of “horse sense”), and instruction videos done by trainers with varying styles.

My wife and I also watched the movie “Buck,” an incredibly well done documentary about Buck Brannaman, an extraordinary trainer who lives in Wyoming and is by my estimation one of the horse world’s most insightful, colorful, and gifted individuals. I’d go so far as to say that he’s so gifted, his gift oozes from the screen and anyone watching can’t help but learn at least something simply by osmosis. But really, to anybody with even a drop of appreciation for horses, this biographical flick is an absolute must-see.

Anyway, it’s possible that my progress had something to do with what happened when I climbed aboard Sean. It’s possible that Daniels’ constant reminders of “good seat,” “good hands,” “timing,” and “consistency” made a positive difference in my technique, and it’s possible that Brannaman’s straight forward, no nonsense, “I train people, not horses” approach somehow registered in my brain in a meaningful way.

I had ridden Sean several times before, but always found him to kind of antsy and nervous, and a little too quick. But perhaps this time I was indeed better equipped, because the experience was entirely different.

Of course, before I hopped on, I did some purposeful groundwork with him. As Daniels and Brannaman teach, a horse must show willingness and respect prior to being mounted, and a rider must know that the 850-pound animal whose back they’re about to sit on is ready. That’s best done with both the horse’s and rider’s feet still touching Terra firma.

But when I did get on him, it seemed like Sean was controlled and under control from the get-go. He moved willingly, and did what I asked. More importantly, he didn’t do a bunch of stuff I didn’t ask, and seemed tuned into what his master of the moment wished.

Since that occasion about a month or so ago, I’ve worked with Sean several more times and there’s been nothing but a good connection between us. It’s quite amazing to me, really. My wife and I love this handsome animal, but I never really expected him to be a favorite ride, because ever since we acquired him several years ago, we’ve both had our difficulties getting him to cooperate.

There’s always been hope, particularly because we had actually witnessed him looking darn good with other people riding him. But despite our best intentions and efforts, we never got the same kind of results.

Until now.

So I apparently have my new horse. And he’s been right there all this time.

I guess I just needed more training.

Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald.  Email:  ddavison@houstonherald.com.