Life with our horse becomes so much easier when we understand the different ways in which the different horse personalities behave when they are afraid or confused AND when we know how to feel into and respond appropriately to those differences in the Present moment.
Horses are NOT all the same.
That’s why anyone who uses the same technique to deal with what might look like the same “problem”, will be doomed for failure a significant part of the time. It’s also why so many really good, really special, really smart horses get the bad horse label.
I have many different types of personalities in my herd, but Caretaker horses – possibly the most misunderstood horses on the planet – are a crusading passion of mine. Sooo many “problems” with horses come down to the horse trying to look after their person and being misunderstood. Sooo many problems come from a horse being a bit unsure of what you want and not being given enough time to figure it out and the anxiety that builds up because of that.
The whole recording is 19 and a half minutes. I’ve also broken it down into the different horse personalities should that make it easier if you just want to listen to a bit at a time.
The whole lesson 19.5 minutes
If you have any trouble with the audio player, click here for an alternate audio player to listen to Understanding Horse Personalities
The same lesson broken down into 6 parts for easy listening
Part 1 The flight horse
Part 2 The fight horse
Part 3 The fidget and faint horses
Part 4 The freeze horse – the Caretaker
Part 5 The fierce horse – the Warrior
Part 6 Summary and warnings
The first day of the next meditation mini series. This series is about finding those feelings that brought you into horses in the first place. The words of the mantra that I chose to go with this, says it all “The season has arrived, where I will finally see you and dance with you, with the breathing in of joy, it is time to live in bliss.” Makes me go all gooey…
Written Version of the Audio
Just about every problem that we have with our horse has its source somewhere in misunderstanding fear and or confusion. That’s no exaggeration… Just about every problem.
While you are practicing getting good at your inner guidance system, it’s good to have an intellectual understanding of the different ways that horses behave when they are afraid or confused.
Some horses flee (run).
Most horses tend to run away (or try to) when they afraid or confused. They spook, they shy, they jig out on the trail, they go faster and faster, they even bolt, they spin around trying to go home and this is just a tiny list of what they can do. And most humans don’t enjoy any of those things, so we apply all kinds of gadgets to prevent that from happening. It’s as if the gadget itself is going to make us safe. I wonder how that’s working for all those way too many people who have accidents on horses? that has the insurance industry considering that horse riding is THE most dangerous hobby of all.
And if you think about all the “badly” behaved horses that you’ve seen, I think you’ll notice that those gadgets and the way that they are used to stop the horse from running away when they are scared or confused, ARE THE ACTUAL ROOT CAUSE of even worse behavior, like bucking, rearing, pig rooting, just as a small handful of examples. Maybe even the biting and kicking stuff too. Nobody likes to be misunderstood.
And all this happens simply because when the horse can’t run away from what they are afraid or confused about, they have to express their fear or confusion in some other way that is usually MUCH more anti-social to the human.
In fact, as you start to pay attention to this, I think you are going to notice how many simple “problems” are also caused by fear and/or confusion and by the horse being unable to get away from the causes of that fear and confusion.
So HOW do we fix these problems?
There is a simple solution.
You’ve already been working on that in this program. Back off and take the pressure off them when they are afraid or confused and they won’t have to try and run away. With this gentle philosophy, even a novice rider can develop a beautiful relationship where the horse can learn to look after you too – as you look after them.
When you follow your good feelings and use your early warning signal that something is Not Quite Right and take action on it, like we talked about in that earlier lesson, then you can notice your horse’s fear and confusion long before they have it expressed in their body language. It gives you a chance to do something about it before something bad even happens.
When you wait for your horse to lick and chew that will give them time to think through what you are looking for (and that dramatically reduces the opportunity for confusion) PLUS it gives them time to release old brain pathways that are having them react in fearful ways that are not so useful to you and to them now like we talked about in the lesson about profound healing.
Did you notice that you now have a very simple way to help a horse change their fearful habits? Do you realize what a big deal that is?
Some horses fight.
When my horse Sunny arrived, she had a natural instinct to use her teeth and feet when she was afraid and she used them pretty easily to both bite and kick and crikey she was fast. That kind of behavior wasn’t something I was used to, I didn’t enjoy it (there’s that Aussie understatement again!) and it was quite unsafe (another understatement).
As I worked with her, following the good feelings and using Not Quite Right for change, developing our relationship – her behavior got better and better. Actually I learned a whole new depth of inner guidance with Sunny because my safety depended on it!
At one point in my work with her, she released the incident that exaggerated that strong fight pattern. I’ll tell you the “how” story another day. But she showed us how she was a tiny foal when she was cornered in a stable and the halter was wrestled on for the first time. She fought like crazy and it exaggerated that fight pattern – in fact because of this event happening in the first two days of her life, it IMPRINTED a brain pattern of bite and kick and defend yourself first, think later.
I knew we had done a good job helping her to release those dangerous habits, when one day I was walking past the rear end of my Caretaker horse Bobby dozing under a tree (more about Caretakers in a minute) and noticed a biting annoying bot fly hovering around his hocks. So I put a hand up on his butt and smooched to warn him that I was there and slapped his hock to kill the fly.
And Sunny – startled – leaped away from me at a hundred miles an hour.
In the moment, I had mistaken whose big chestnut butt it was. It wasn’t Bobby’s big butt, it was Sunny’s, who I would NEVER have treated so casually. And in fact, treating her like that a week earlier would probably have got my head kicked off.
I believe that if someone pushed her far enough, that she is still a natural fighter – it is part of what will make her a really good mother – but it’s no longer boiling away on the surface, and it’s no longer a danger to me and others.
Some horses fidget.
Sue next door has a young horse called Will, who is one of the horses who fidgets when he is afraid or confused. It can be very annoying if you don’t understand that it is his expression of feeling overwhelmed. He moves around and fiddles with things, chews the rope, nips at whoever is near him. And a nip that gets you, even a playful nip, is a bite that hurts and that is not OK with me.
He’s like a big gawky teenager who doesn’t know what to do with himself, shuffling around being a pain in the neck.
The thing to understand with horses like Will, is that HE IS OVERWHELMED. He is afraid or confused and like all the other horses who express their fear and confusion in different ways to him – we need to back off, take the pressure off him and wait for him to lick and Chew.
So think about it – if we punish one of these fidgeting horses for nipping for example – then we are punishing them for being afraid or confused. What kind of a relationship would that give us, to punish a horse for their fear or confusion? You can’t see my eyebrows raised into my hair line but I hope that you can hear it from the tone of my voice. 🙂
If you don’t back off, slow down, break things down into baby steps or do whatever it takes to help a horse not be afraid or confused – then you are adding pressure to fear or confusion.
And adding pressure to fear or confusion can only create MORE fear and confusion. And how are they going to deal with that? You’re going to get behaviors that you REALLY don’t want!
Some horses faint.
I’ve never personally come across a horse who faints when they are overwhelmed with fear, thank goodness, but I have heard of a couple.
I don’t like to think of horses as victims but to think of a horse fainting with fear is quite shocking to me – specially when it’s easily and simply solved by systematically listening to our horse and using our early warning signal to respond to fear and confusion in its early stages.
Some horses freeze.
Natural Caretaker horses – this is one of my favorite subjects.
There are a whole heap of incredibly generous horses in all kinds of different breeds who are The Caretaker Horses. Caretaker Horses tend to look after us and our kids before they look after themselves.
You can often recognize one of these horses by the fact that they could be going forwards better. If you have a horse that you think needs you to carry a stick, a whip or spurs to go forward properly, then I expect that you have a very precious NATURAL Caretaker Horse.
Caretaker horses can be found in any breed, but there are many breeds of horses who tend to be Caretakers too and lots of Warmbloods, Connemaras and Morgans come into this category.
This story about our tiny miniature Blondie tells us more about Caretakers – but while you’re listening to this, I suggest that you all pay special attention to the signs and symptoms of a Caretaker Horse.
Blondie was one of the scaredest horses I have ever met – right up there in the top ten and because of what I do for a living, I have met a lot of scared horses. But many people wouldn’t have noticed how scared she was, because Blondie is that precious, precious horse who stops when they are confused or afraid and that personality trait made her just perfect for looking after my tiny granddaughter.
Picture it folks – when a plastic bag suddenly blew across her path, she jumped a little, but then she stopped and kept Bree safe. When the dog rushed up behind her suddenly, she jumped a little and then stopped and kept Bree safe. When someone lifted an umbrella, came up to her with a pram, crept up behind her with a pushbike, frightened her with the loud roar of a motor bike – all of these things she stopped and kept Bree safe instead of running away.
Her general behavior is to stop, freeze and not go forward until she and her rider are all good again. Isn’t that just the most perfect personality trait for our beginners or our nervous riders or even just as we get older and the ground gets harder to fall on?
And what do we do with these incredibly generous and precious horses when we don’t understand what’s happening? We crack them over the butt with a whip. “Get that horse moving!”, “Make her do it, she’s just being stubborn!”. We tell the kids to ”kick that pony up”. We use spurs on those glorious horses to drive them forward.
We can’t have it both ways.
If we want horses with personality traits generous enough to look after us and our children easily, then we have to deal with them gently when they stop, freeze or won’t go forward properly. We have to deal with them from the knowledge that they are afraid or confused or looking after us– NOT pig headed, stubborn or being a bad horse.
I’ve seen horses and ponies with their minds broken by being misunderstood in this way. Their personality trait is to stop when they – or their rider – are afraid or confused or unsteady and they have had the stop beaten out of them. When this happens, they can’t look after their person any more.
I’ve made plenty of mistakes with Blondie, but generous little soul that she is, she has forgiven all of them. I’ve gone bulldozing through her fear threshold too hard, too fast and too often – because it’s way too easy to do that when a horse is as generous as she is and stands still when she’s afraid.
Here’s something that is incredibly important…
It’s just as important with these horses to help them feel safe with all kinds of things – as it is with the horses who run or fight when they are afraid.
We need to help them find their Comfort Zone with all kinds of things that they are going to see and experience – either routinely – or as they get out and about and meet more scarey things. Maybe it’s even more important with these horses because it’s way too easy for us to leave them in fear or confusion.
You can tell that Caretaker horses are my passion.
The Warrior Horse – we’ll call them “fierce” to keep with the f’s.
Orion is a magnificent black Friesian, capable of fulfilling every black stallion fantasy. He and his owner Angela came to us at Tanjil South for a private clinic. He came in, despite vast amounts of expensive training from some very talented riders, to work on his chronic barging. A barger is a horse who barges into your space, crowds you, even pushes you physically out of the way – and pushing was something that Orion did very well. If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of this, you’ll know that it’s not pleasant and it’s not safe.
We thought at first that this was a clear question of unacceptable behavior and that the solution would be to figure out how far away we wanted him, ask him gently and consistently to keep his distance and to enforce that.
As Angela worked with Orion, establishing clear boundaries that this barging was unacceptable, we had a moment of enlightenment that changed the way we saw everything. (And I wonder where THAT came from, given we were connected to him at the time?!)
We realized that the more pressure we had to put on him to stand off us, the more he went into the Oh Shit Zone. And the more he went into the Oh Shit Zone, the harder he came barging through us. More simply put, the harder we tried to stop him the harder he came barging through us. You can understand how seriously dangerous that was!
Our big realization was that Orion was simply afraid and he had been bred to push through when he was afraid.
Orion is a Friesian. He is from a long line of war horses who have been bred for hundreds if not thousands of years for their ability to keep doing whatever they were trained for, even when they were terrified. I can almost see them now, battle lines of these war horses, moving forwards through the noise and the cannon fire and the smoke – afraid, but using those massive chests to just barge through whatever was in the way. This was such a useful trait in a war horse that they selectively bred for it.
To stop him when he was really afraid, we had to be incredibly and physically hard on him – which was not who either Angela or I wanted to be. I don’t expect he enjoyed it too much either! Nor was it OK for him to keep coming into us or through us – it wasn’t safe.
It wasn’t rocket science once we understood where he was coming from, although it sure took some doing! The solution was in his Deep Comfort Zone.
We helped him find his Deep Comfort Zone by listening to our feelings of fear – his fear that we were feeling as if it was our own – and we felt this fear when he did, which was before he started barging at us. We listened to his fear when it was the first tiny feelings of Not Quite Right, which came long before he needed to act on that fear and barge over the top of us.
Each time we felt that Not Quite Right feeling, no matter what we were doing, we stopped, backed off and waited for him to lick and Chew. It was the combination of acting on our feelings of Not Quite Right and looking for very small progress at a time that made it possible for him to find his Deep Comfort Zone.
YET ANOTHER HEADING OF ITS OWN …
There were VERY long periods of time waiting for The Chew and lots of breaks where we took his halter off and walked away and had to leave him alone altogether to find the Comfort Zone again, because he didn’t have a Comfort Zone with people at all. Pay special attention to that, because that’s another big concept slipped in there!
From that insight, Angela continued to expand Orion’s comfort zone systematically and, even though back then she was a green rider and Orion was a young green horse, he was amazingly co-operative with her, all the way to riding when the timing for them both was right. And because they were both green, sometimes it wasn’t the right timing, but wasn’t it wonderful that she heard him and kept herself safe by paying attention to that?
Summary and warning
So… what do you think?
Which of these types of horses describes the way that your horse has been acting lately?
I expressed it like that, because I suggest that you don’t get hooked into defining your horse too much – they can change in the moment. A Caretaker can get a fright big enough to make them run and Sunny, my “fight” horse, like most horses indeed, wants to learn how to take care of people – it’s just that she can’t do that when she is afraid or confused or misunderstood.
There’s a big warning that comes with this horse personality stuff. Yes it’s useful to understand the different behaviors, but don’t allow this to take you out of the moment. Don’t allow this knowledge to take you out of your Feel for your horse in this moment. Treating them the same way all the time will mean that YOU WON’T BE USING YOUR FEEL and if you don’t use your Feel, you would miss out on all those wonderful opportunities for a greater bond together and a better outcome.