I was walking Storm yesterday and thought to myself (as he dived down for some green blades of grass) how upset and angry most people get when their horse displays unwanted behaviour like this; behaviour that seems to be going against your will.

It’s important, when things like this happen, to see clearly what is motivating your horse. Realizing this often helps us know what our horses need, and how we can help dysfunctional behaviour.

I can usually divide horses into three types (every horse is an individual, but there are patterns in behaviour, just like in human behaviour!):

1. The needs-oriented horse.

The needs oriented horse can often be the most trouble for unaware handlers. The needs-motivated horse cares about the food ration, exactly how many squirts of bug spray you’ve dispensed on his legs, and if his boots are put on just right. He must feel like his needs are being met before he can settle down into a relationship with you. This comes out in various ways. He might be an obsessive-compulsive eater on the trail. Believe it or not, the horse that does this does not know where or when he’ll be able to eat ever again. He does not know that you have everything under control, and this makes the need-driven horse anxious. Needs-driven horses also have a hard time

in new environments. They like to feel safe and know what’s coming. I’ve found that needs oriented horses are one of two extremes:

My mom’s horse, Drifter, is a needs-oriented horse. He can’t focus on anything if his needs haven’t first been met.

Either they seem bull-headed and stubborn, or they are paranoid wrecks.


2. The experience-driven horse.

These horses are fun! My deceased horse, Epic, was very experience-driven. He didn’t care how many bugs were biting him, how little food he’d been allowed to eat on the trail, or how far away he was from home. These horses enjoy doing things and having new adventures. They are easily distracted and curious. This horse is rare, but I know they exist. I think they are rare because humans don’t appreciate horses who like to have fun – they can be little terrors to beginners and people who are unconfident. Exploration is the name of the game. These horses get bored easily and can be pretty annoying when they aren’t stimulated enough.

Usually extroverted, experience-oriented horses are super confident and exuberant.


3. The acceptance-motivated horse.

We have a couple of these horses in our pen. Our pretty little Arabian mare, SI,IMG_2998 is the most content when she can just stand to be brushed. These horses are often really quiet and content with very little action. They need to feel accepted in the herd and by humans, otherwise they get depressed and unmotivated. Safety and contentedness is really important. These horses like to work in team. They need to feel intimately part of what you’re doing. Extroverted horses can be acceptance-motivated as well, but then they are usually motivated by one or more on this list.

You can see in both of these pictures the same look in their eyes – they are ready to shut down at any time if they aren’t included.


So what is the best thing to do for each horse? Have you been misjudging your horse based on your own motivations? What can you do to live harmoniously with these horses without losing your own individuality?

1. Take care of their needs first, and they’ll take care of yours!

The needs-oriented horse needs you! He just doesn’t know it yet. Strong leadership is required with this horse so that he can feel like he can rely on you. Rest is really important for this horse because he doesn’t get a lot of it. Often, this is the big, macho, leader in the pen who is really just wildly trying to meet his own needs.

Setting aside set grazing time works for this horse – where a clear schedule is set and then followed through. Not catering to his every paranoia is also something you could try – ‘bug spray goes on when we ride, and that’s it!’ He needs decisiveness.

2. Do anything and everything to keep them entertained!

An experience-oriented horse just needs action. He’s really the easiest horse to satisfy and work with because he’s so willing to go places. However, this horse will become unwilling if you punish his ideas. The key is to anticipate his ideas and initiate them instead of punish them. This will cause such joy and loyalty to radiate from this horse that you won’t know what to with all the willingness. Again, decisiveness is key, but there’s no rush. Don’t argue, just ride the wind.

3. Keep them involved, and they’ll want you in their life.

Acceptance-motivated horses horses are easily sad and self-deprecating. They shut people and other horses out when they get into this state. They need someone to nourish their souls. Involvement and acceptance is huge for this horse, because she’ll feel she has a place in your herd. Lots of the time, this horse doesn’t get along well with other horses. This is merely because she’s not confident in herself. Stay persistent and get her to believe in herself. Creative purpose and lots of positive thinking will take you far. Pressure is the last thing this horse needs.

As with everything, there is middle ground and unique cases. Keep an open mind and see if you can’t pick out the small things that motivate your horse. Is it recognition that your horse seeks? Is it understanding? You may even find similarities between your horse and yourself! You just have to look for them …


This post was edited March 2018.


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