Understanding horse behavior is an essential tool to anyone owning or caring for a horse. In many cases abuse or neglect could be avoided if the person taking care of the horse understood the horse’s motivations for his or her actions. Horses are not people and never will be. They cannot be expected to talk to you, like Mr. Ed of ancient television lore. However, they do communicate – we just need to learn how to listen.

Here are some basic facts about horse behavior:

    horses in a field

  • Horses are large herbivores. Like all herbivores they spend a great deal of time passively eating, unlike us human omnivores who are used to hunting and eating on the run. This means plenty of time spent in the pasture, too much time in the stable makes for unhappy and unhealthy animals.
  • Horses are extremely social herd animals. They have a much higher comfort level when they maintain a visual contact with other horses. A horse alone in the wild is much more likely to be killed by a carnivore. This is why companion horses are so important to anyone owning horses.
  • Horses are intelligent creatures. They typically show a tendency for imitation between young and old. Horses will learn behaviors from other horses. It is important to keep this in mind and treat all horses in your care with respect.
  • Horses are seasonal breeders and, as a consequence, foaling patterns occur. If you intend to keep mares for breeding, it is essential to learn as much as possible about their behavior during mating season and while foaling. Horses of both sexes behave differently during these time periods. Human misunderstanding can endanger the inexperienced horse owner and their horse.
  • Males tend to form a separate male sub-group structure at certain times of the year. The most dominant male horse is the one who stays with the mares throughout most of the season. Other males, particularly geldings, will group into all-bachelor smaller herds for protection.
  • Horses are capable of strong pair-bond relationships that can last a life time. It is not unusual to see the same horses together all the time– these pairings not only provide needed socialization but offer them protection from predators. Horses form tight friendships and will feel a deep loss when they are not around their buddies. When adopting a horse, consider adopting their buddy too.

horses and peopleLearning about horse behavior is essential to good horse stewardship and to training your horse. 4-H clubs can be a great place for children to learn all about horses. Many stables and area schools offer classes for adults as well. Horses that are behaving in a way that is unsafe for you or them need to be be helped by a qualified horse expert. You will not be able to help your horse unless you understand why he/she is acting they way they are. Do not be afraid to ask us at Habitat for Horses about any horse behavior issues you may have, we will help guide you to the best solution to your problem. First and foremost: Treat your horses with kindness and respect. Abusive behavior – physical or mental – toward a horse will only cause more problems and is of course morally inexcusable.
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[callout bg=”#C5E0DC” color=”#FFFFFF” padding=”25″]RESOURCE: Understanding Horse Behavior – A 4-H Member Guide[/callout]