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.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org.