Monday, 8 June 2009

Instincts or Personality?

I went to a show this Sunday and was approached by a wonderful lady who wanted to know how I could group horses together when analysing their behaviour, as surely each horse is an individual.

It is great that people are challenging and asking such questions as this is how we learn. I thought that my response might benefit others, so here goes...

Over millions of years the horse has evolved to behave in a certain way to survive and stay happy and healthy. Being domesticated by humans over a few thousand years, the horse has had a relatively short time to adapt to the radical changes from a herd animal on the plains to social isolation in a stable for example.

Just as our basic instincts have stuck with us from caveman times, these essential behaviours are 'hard wired' within the brains of our domestic horses, forming a ‘blueprint’ as to how they should react in certain situations.

Above these shared underlying drives, then lies personality. These secondary individual traits are shaped through the different experiences that our horses have, positive or negative.

To become a better horse owner, we must acknowledge that certain behaviours are essential to every horse that we meet. Although it is true that each horse is an individual on one level, we must always remember that every horse has these same basic instincts underlying and defining the way they act.

To maintain a positive and relaxed horse, we need to teach things in a gradual manner with no pressure and reinforcement of fear, if not he will react in one of four ways; flight, fiddle, freeze or fight depending on his personality - just as all humans would.

So, Instincts or personality?…In the end it comes down to both.

I don't expect people to 'just swallow what I say' so if you have any queries or comments please do not hesitate to contact me.

Best Wishes


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