Conformity in horse behaviour - lies and the truthes - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 14 Old 03-13-2016, 11:52 AM Thread Starter
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Conformity in horse behaviour - lies and the truthes

So I was thinking today about how we often describe animal behaviour at a species level. Horses do this - dogs do that - cats to whatever the heck they want etc...

However alongside the species there's the breed, but also the upbringing as well. Both their formative years and their work/living/adult years.

So I was wondering about this and how it translates into the world of horses, one where I feel those who are "horsey" have far more general awareness of this than many other animals, even working animals due to how close people tend to work with horses and how that requires a greater general level of understanding (because if you get something wrong it can range from being painful to deadly very easily).


So what behaviours do you see in horses you've interacted with that differ from how a horse "should" behave; or patterns within breeds or backgrounds; it would be interesting to also see where breed and background start to differ or vary in how they influence horses.
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post #2 of 14 Old 03-13-2016, 12:35 PM
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Well, there is the basic nature of all horses, based on what they are.
Horses are a prey and herd species, thus both live in a herd order, get security from a herd, and have natural flight reaction, and if that is taken away, will resort to fight.
Beyond that, like any living species, there are differences in temperament.
Besides that, there is the up bringing, same as in any species, starting with the influence of that mare on her foal, then the herd, and then the interaction with the humans, far as training, respect, leadership and trust, which modify their basic nature of a prey species, making it possible for us to handle and ride them.
Temperament also varies, and has a large degree of inheritability
Then, horses are also classified into three main groups, far as blood
Hot bloods=Arabians and TBs
Warmbloods ( Not the limited term' Warmblood, as related to sport horses, ) but the blood classification of most of our riding horses
Coldbloods-drafts
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post #3 of 14 Old 03-13-2016, 01:04 PM
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Adage: Horses are prey animals and therefore are flighty by instinct. Given the opportunity they will flee rather than fight.

I have two (full bred QH's and former cattle working horses) who fit the above box. They are quite obedient and give a decent ride but they are more nervous and flighty by nature especially when encountering new things over my other two who are grade, mixed breed horses that to the best of my knowledge, were never trained before they came to us as "pets".

The latter group is also very much smarter than the former which, based on observations, I think has an influence. They do not run from new things but instead, investigate them. They exhibit a curiosity that you would not expect to find in a prey species, much more "dog like" than "horse like".

They are also the first two to attack (yes attack) when there is an absolute danger present such as a feral pack of dogs while the other two run off.

They are the last to spook and in the event that someone else spooks and starts a herd panic, they rarely take more than a step or two before stopping and figuring out there is nothing really to run from and stand there looking after the fleeing horses with a look on their face that says "fools!".

The instinct of conserving energy for a real threat rather than simply wasting energy on every little thing seems to be strong with them or so it appears. But also might strongly be the influence of environment and the type of training they first encountered.

It's a chicken and egg situation.

“You spend your whole life with horses and just about the time you think you have them figured out, a horse comes along that tells you otherwise.” –quote from my very wizened trainer



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post #4 of 14 Old 03-13-2016, 01:12 PM
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Honestly I think among any breed there will be such a wide array of personalities. People are what most of us know best...look at how calm and relaxed no matter what some are while others are high strung and anxious (I am the latter FYI ).

There are, as Smilie said, some horse general characteristics, given that they are herd animals. But, there will always but a huge variation and many exceptions to any "rule" you write.
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post #5 of 14 Old 03-13-2016, 01:42 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Reiningcatsanddogs View Post
I have two (full bred QH's and former cattle working horses) who fit the above box. They are quite obedient and give a decent ride but they are more nervous and flighty by nature especially when encountering new things over my other two who are grade, mixed breed horses that to the best of my knowledge, were never trained before they came to us as "pets".

The latter group is also very much smarter than the former which, based on observations, I think has an influence. They do not run from new things but instead, investigate them. They exhibit a curiosity that you would not expect to find in a prey species, much more "dog like" than "horse like".
.
Mixed/grades are smarter than purebreds? (Most breeds are all mixed up just to create the breed.)
This could be a topic for a thread of its own.

If you ever find yourself in a fair fight, it's because your tactics suck. ~ Marine 1SGT J. Reifinger
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post #6 of 14 Old 03-13-2016, 01:45 PM
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Originally Posted by Jan1975 View Post
Honestly I think among any breed there will be such a wide array of personalities. People are what most of us know best...look at how calm and relaxed no matter what some are while others are high strung and anxious (I am the latter FYI ).

There are, as Smilie said, some horse general characteristics, given that they are herd animals. But, there will always but a huge variation and many exceptions to any "rule" you write.
And it's not just in the breed. Every single horse I've worked with has had their own individual personalities, likes/dislike and attitudes. Each different than any other. We have to speak in generalities when we don't know a particular horse but they are each very specific in actual personality.
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post #7 of 14 Old 03-13-2016, 01:56 PM
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Dust bunny, if you note, I stated that I think intelligence plays a role in behavior, not that intelligence is dependent upon breed or lack there of; thus it got a new paragraph. Perhaps I should have clarified I think breed is coincidental.

There are two instincts at play here, both go towards self preservation. The odd thing is that as humans we are taught to only give creedence to the influence of one and not the other.

The instict to preserve energy serves in survival as much as the instinct to flee danger. The difference in whether or not it becomes an asset or liability comes down to the animal's ability to decern which to use, which in part I believe, has to do with intelligence. Some horses only have one tool in their box. Run first, think later . Some have more than one.

A herd who runs from a danger which really isn't might then be too tired to flee effectively when a true threat appears a short while later. In a situation where food is scarce, the constant burning off of calories by fleeing, is counterproductive.

It therefore behooves (pun intended) the herd as a whole to have a leader who is good at decerning true danger from something scary, but non-threatening.

A flighty leader who runs from everything can be a liability. A leader who exercises good judgement in his/her decernment on the other hand, becomes an evolutionary asset to the herd. A leader who knows when to run, when to stay put and when to run the danger off has many more options to effectively protect the herd.

How much of our own perception is simply going off what we have been "told" over and over again and how much of it is really based in logic and observation?

“You spend your whole life with horses and just about the time you think you have them figured out, a horse comes along that tells you otherwise.” –quote from my very wizened trainer



Last edited by Reiningcatsanddogs; 03-13-2016 at 02:16 PM.
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post #8 of 14 Old 03-13-2016, 02:40 PM
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The problem with generalizations when describing a breed is they are opinions that may or may not be based in fact. Then toss in that there will be stout defenders arguing the generalization is wrong (no matter what is personal experience/evidence is brought up) while others are saying they are quite true (no matter what is personal experience/evidence is brought up). Discussions about Arabs is a good example of this, are they really high strung and flighty or are they not?

So can we classify a breed as X? Not really due to what's already been said above, there's to darn many factors that play into a particular horses upbringing that all play a major role in how they turn out.
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post #9 of 14 Old 03-13-2016, 04:05 PM
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Horses are much more like other horses than they differ as breeds or individuals.

Anyone who works much with livestock (yes, I consider horses livestock) learns to almost unconsciously but continually observe them and how they are feeling and what they are likely to do next. It is just as important if you are raising cattle or sheep as with horses. If you don't think sheep can't hurt you, I'm living proof you're wrong. Small pet owners (but not trainers) often get away with obliviousness but not livestock farmers.

I have spent my life more with animals than people. Although I read and listen to wiser heads than my own, mostly I just am with the animals. They teach you everything, really.

My horse and her companion mare are quite different from each other mentally. My young mare, a Morgan, is the leader and the boss. She sees everything first. She's spunky, sensitive but sensible, endlessly curious, is reactive but learns quickly. Her pasture mate (a Quarter Horse), is by comparison dull. She is incurious, a bit slow on the uptake, reacts slowly and calmly when handled. Yet she is also easily agitated by being confined or left alone.

She also doesn't continually poke at the limits of behavior like my horse, who if she was a child would be the one who when told to shut up would whisper loudly and then if rapped for that would whisper softly and when rapped for that would mouth soundlessly . . . that kid. So personalities really differ.

Quarter horses are an extremely variable breed, because people breed for very different uses. I don't make a lot of generalizations about a breed that can be 15/16ths TB or practically cold-blooded or anything in between.

Morgans seem to have split into two: miniature Saddlebreds and the old bright but solid type. I think my mare, though slim, has more of the old-fashioned mind.
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post #10 of 14 Old 03-15-2016, 08:31 AM
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Originally Posted by Darrin View Post
The problem with generalizations when describing a breed is they are opinions ... defenders arguing the generalization is wrong (no matter what is personal experience/evidence is brought up) while others are saying they are quite true
That's because, in MY opinion, a lot of horse behaviour also comes down to people's attitudes, and 'you get what you expect' tends to be one big (general) truth of the matter! Self fulfilling prophesies abound!
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