Horse Behaviour Characteristics

From: Horse 'Equus'

See Also: Horse BehaviourHorse BreedsHorse EvolutionHorse Gaits

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Horse Behaviour Characteristics
Horses are herd animals and even the domesticated horse will still retain their natural basic instincts. Training, temperament and age can all play a part in the way a horse will handle a situation.

Learned Behaviour
This is behaviour that the horse has learnt through either watching another horse, training or from its own experiences. Horses are quick learners and if there is a positive reward to a certain act they will often repeat it. For example if a horse bangs its front feet against the stable door and then gets fed then it will associate banging the door with the reward action of getting food. Other examples can include barging through electric fences, opening stable doors, entering the feed room.

Horses use different vocal noises to communicate with one another, sounds can include nicker, neigh, snort, blowing and squealing.

Fright and Flight
Horses are prey animals and have developed quick responses to danger and will run away from the predator or with a domestic horse anything that the horse feels could be danger to them. This can often be seen with:

Horses can sleep lying down or standing up, thanks to a unique locking mechanism within the Patella. Domestic horses will often sleep very soundly lying down in a stable and horses within a group out at grass will often take it in turn to lye down to sleep as there will be a horse on look out who is watching out for predator.

Some horses need regular exercise especially fit, young or excitable horses which can be prone to becoming more exuberant when they are not in consistent work due to the energy reserves building up within the horse. Horses will often use bucking, spooking and other cheeky behaviour to release this built up energy and so careful monitoring of food and work programme's must be undertaken.

The Young Or Inexperienced Horse
Horses become confident and learn from positive experiences. Many young or inexperienced horses become anxious because they are uncertain and therefore more suspicious of new objects, sounds or new situations. By taking an experienced horse with you can be a great way to instill confidence into an uncertain youngster, for example if there is an object that your horse is not sure of then the schoolmaster can lead the way and the youngster can follow, you can use this technique with many things from jumping a little ditch on a cross country session to crossing a shallow stream out on a hack.

Dominance Hierarchy
Horses are herd animals and love the company of one another within a group. In any group of horses there will be a pecking order with the dominant horse using its body language to communicate its wishes through to the rest of the herd. With domestic horses this can be easily observed with horses at grass at feeding time where the dominant horse of the group will be able to easily push the other members of the herd away. The dominant horse will use body language like putting its ears back, swishing its tail, kicking out and lunging at a horse that is either in the way or trying to intrude.

Horses roll all year round to help improve their coat condition and also for enjoyment. Rolling is great way to shift those dead hairs and make way for the new, this is especially noticed in the spring when the horse sheds its winter coat. By rolling horses are also able to add dirt into there coats which all helps them to achieve a thick, greasy and therefore warm coat for the winter. Excessive rolling can be a sign of discomfort such as that caused by colic.

Domestic horses use grooming for social and practical purposes, for example a mare will groom her foal to bond with it.

Spooky Object Training
Practicing with unusual objects, within an arena can help to prepare the horse with certain spooky situations that may be encountered, for example you can practice walking past bin bags. Always have an experienced instructor with you when you attempt this type of training.

Extrovert or Introvert
Every horse is a very unique and special individual with some horses being very fearful and others immensely dominant. By knowing your horses individual characteristics and behaviour will help you to achieve a successful training strategy and partnership.