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Understanding horse behaviour

We owe it to domestic horses to understand and acknowledge their behaviour. We need to understand the fundamental physical and behavioural characteristics of horses both for our safety and theirs, to be able to train them without undue stress and to provide the correct living conditions for them. As humans it is very easy to assume that animals ‘are just like us’ and that they want the same things that we do. This is certainly not the case as horses did not evolve to be kept in captivity or to be ridden by humans. Remember - domestic horses have no input into who owns them, how they are kept and what their owners do to them therefore it is very important that we understand their behaviour so that we can continually strive to improve the way that we keep them.

Welcome to the horse behaviour page. Make sure you put yourself on our free mailing list (subcribe) so that you receive notification about updates to this page and others on the web site via an email every one to two months.

We have pages on Facebook for Jane Myers and Equiculture and The Equicentral System

Horses are large, grazing herbivores that live in herds when in a natural environment. They are part of the equine family that includes Donkeys, Zebra and wild Asses. In their natural environment, horses are hunted by predators such as large felines and canines (although in modern times many of their horses grazing natural predators have become endangered or extinct in the wild). The domestic horse has been manipulated by breeding programs to range in size from very large (more than 19hh) to very small (less than 8hh). Apart from size differences all horses share the same fundamental physical and behavioural characteristics.

Most domesticated horses have been trained to become accustomed (habituated) to humans and various sights and sounds and have been trained, to a lesser or greater degree, to override their natural instincts while being handled and ridden. However even the best trained horse can revert to instinctive behaviour in certain circumstances depending on their individual behavioural characteristics, their level of training and also on how scary the situation (stimulus) is.

Domestic horses still possess all of their natural behavioural characteristics and can become stressed if they are not allowed to carry out certain natural behaviours. For example grazing, playing and mutual grooming are all part of natural horse behaviour. Unnatural behaviours such as fence walking, crib biting and weaving come about when a horse is stressed due to imposed restrictions that prevent natural social and grazing/eating behaviours.

Many horse owners tend to think that it is ‘normal’ and ‘good horse care’ for a horse to be rugged from the tip of his nose to the tip of his tail, to be permanently separated from other horses ‘for his or her own safety’, and to stand around for hours on end with nothing to do and not enough fibre to eat. These practices have become normalised in the horse industry and this is a very sad situation for the domestic horse. See the Systems and facilities page for more information about how you can redress these issues.

Any animal kept in captivity, such as zoo animals, also resort to unnatural behaviours if their living conditions are poor. This is why in modern times (in the better zoos) the animals tend to have better enclosures and their keepers continuously strive to ‘enrich’ their environment with other stimulating activities that whenever possible encourage natural behaviours. Unfortunately, in the horse world many horses are still being kept using outdated management systems that do not take natural horse behaviour into account and would actually be regarded as unacceptable practices in a modern zoo!

The equiculture website strives to provide lots of information about what you can do to improve the ‘life style’ of your horse. See the more behaviour info page for links to articles, books, organisations and other websites.

Our publication (available as a PDF ebook, a kindle ebook and in printed form) A horse is a horse - of course will teach you more about horse behaviour and training.

Make sure you put yourself on our free mailing list (subcribe) so that you receive notification about updates to this page and others on the web site via an email every one to two months.

We have pages on Facebook for Jane Myers and Equiculture and The Equicentral System

Now also available as a kindle ebook