We’ve been talking about the part that personality plays in the training of a horse. We know about the herd instinct and the fight or flight mechanism, but the personality of the horse is also an important factor in the training of a horse. Last time we discussed five of the seven distinct types of personalities: compliant, bully, indifferent, timid, and the Nervous Nellie. This time we are going to cover the last two personality types.
Lethargic – There are actually two categories of lethargic horses. There are those who are cold-blooded with little natural life or energy. You can achieve an increase in energy and forwardness, but it takes work. This type of horse is not good for a novice who often does not follow through with the forward cue. If not properly addressed through foundation training, this horse’s attitude will become, “If you make me go forward, I will kick or buck.” If a good work ethic is not firmly trained into them, they can get nasty.
The other variety of lethargic horse is what I call a “sleeper horse.” Beginning riders buy these horses all the time. Super calm and relaxed, the sleeper is fine poking along and appears to be a compliant horse. What you discover later is that in the past, this horse simply never had anything asked of it. The horse has never been required to work and as soon as you start asking with energy, for good forward impulsion, you end up with a real Jekyll and Hyde situation. This horse has a lot of energy and is actually a forward horse, but he was never asked or motivated to use that energy. The sleeper horse can develop a real attitude. He doesn’t want to work, since he has been trained in the past not to want to work. This can be overcome, but again, which he appeared to be a good beginner’s horse, the reality is that a confident trainer with the right timing and feel is needed to get the horse back to its natural forwardness, minus the attitude.
Of these two types of lethargic horses, the first is “naturally” not forward; it was not born with a strong “go forward button.” This comes back again to a lesser flight instinct and sometimes just lower energy or impulsion— just as with certain people. The sleeper horse though, is man made and is the result of poor training and expectations.
Way too smart – We all want an intelligent horse but if you are a beginner, you really do not want a truly smart horse. It’s not that they cannot perform; the problem is that they find the holes in your training rather than you finding the holes in theirs! They are not very forgiving when you are unclear on signals and cues, and they have an uncanny knack for training their people rather than the other way around. For example, they learn quickly that when they do something that scares you, you may back off or cease asking for work. The next thing you know, they are behaving that way all the time. It takes a lot of confidence and exceptional timing to make a really smart horse into your dream horse.
Of course, most horses are made up of a combination of the elements of the seven personality types. The important thing is to evaluate and recognize your horse’s personality characteristics so that you can most effectively work on his emotional and mental aspects. This is what all of this comes down to: understanding how your horse acts so that you know how to apply the training principles in the most effective way.
Our talk about horse personalities would not be complete without mentioning the “B” word. That is bombproof. What is the most requested type of horse? A bombproof horse. Between parents looking for a safe mount for their kids and the huge influx of adults who discover or return to riding later in life (and discover they don’t bounce so well as grown ups), thousands of people each year search far and wide for the legendary bombproof horse.
Clients ask me all the time to find one of these elusive animals. I will tell you the same thing I tell them: there are no truly bombproof horses. The very complacent horses with naturally low fear levels, and those who have had very solid foundation training added to that natural disposition are the closest thing to bombproof, this is true especially if they are older horses with solid maturity and life experience to season them even further. But every horse in the world has the potential to react negatively to something. Despite the best disposition and training, there is always the chance that the flight instinct will override all else. Riding and handling horses is inherently dangerous. Ultimate Foundation Training will greatly reduce the danger by significantly increasing the horse’s respect, confidence and responsiveness but there is always some risk. Accepting that risk is part of horsemanship and should provide you the best motivation for training you and your horse.