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
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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 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
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
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
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
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.