Personality or Neurosis?

Is it actually their personality, or is it adaptation or stress behavior?

I watch the behavior of horses in boarding barns and yards and wherever horses are kept with interest. What fascinates me is how behavior changes radically with the manner in which they’re kept.

Large fields of turned out horses often have a peaceful feel to them, with horses grazing or browsing, dozing or grooming.

Horses kept in smaller pens often have more aggressive, competitive behaviors, especially if hay is fed at “meals,” instead of being available all day. These environments often carry the feel of a prison yard- lots of aggressive gesturing, fights breaking out, some horses bully others needlessly and without cause.

Once we get into single kept horses or stalled horses, horses kept alone or spending a lot of time in small spaces confined, we can often see more neurosis develop- horses that bite or make aggressive gestures at anyone walking by, stall walking, cribbing, kicking, etc.

I often get a run down on a horse’s behavior, placement in the herd hierarchy, eating habits, vices etc, when getting a new horse into my training program. I get information about their personality, what they like and don’t like, and while I take note of it, I take it with a large grain of salt.

Quite often, the horse behaves entirely different in a different environment- grumpy or pushy horses become calm and peaceful, horses that are stressed and don’t eat well graze all day, groom friends, and doze.

It isn’t magic – it’s simply setting up the environment for the mental and physical needs of the horse first, human convenience second. Horses need space to move, functional herds (this is not the same as just number of horses- they need horses who know how to read and respond appropriately to other horses expression), forage available steadily, and an environment where being a horse is the top priority. The training helps; but environment plays 50% of it.

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