Nonetheless, because of their physiology horses are also suited to a number of work and entertainment-related tasks. On the other hand, most light horse riding breeds were developed for speed, agility, alertness, and endurance; building on natural qualities that extended from their wild ancestors.
Horses evolved from small mammals whose survival depended on their ability to flee from predators. Humans have removed many predators from the life of the domestic horse; however, its first instinct when frightened is to escape.
If running is not possible, the horse resorts to biting, kicking, striking or rearing to protect itself. Many of the horse's natural behavior patterns, such as herd-formation and social facilitation of activities, are directly related to their being a prey species.
The fight-or-flight response involves nervous impulses which result in hormone secretions into the bloodstream. When a horse reacts to a threat, it may initially “freeze” in preparation to take flight.
The fight-or-flight reaction begins in the amygdala, which triggers a neural response in the hypothalamus. The initial reaction is followed by activation of the pituitary gland and secretion of the hormone ACTH.
The adrenal gland is activated almost simultaneously and releases the neurotransmitters epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine (noradrenaline). Catecholamine hormones, such as epinephrine and norepinephrine, facilitate immediate physical reactions associated with a preparation for violent muscular action.
The result is a rapid rise in blood pressure, resulting in an increased supply of oxygen and glucose for energy to the brain and skeletal muscles, the most vital organs the horse needs when fleeing from a perceived threat. Once the horse has removed itself from immediate danger, the body is returned to more “normal” conditions via the parasympathetic nervous system.
Newer research shows that there is no “pecking order” in horse herds. Free ranging, wild horses are mostly communicating via positive Reinforcement and less via punishment.
Horses are able to form companionship attachments not only to their own species, but with other animals as well, including humans. In fact, many domesticated horses will become anxious, flighty, and hard to manage if they are isolated.
Horses kept in near-complete isolation, particularly in a closed stable where they cannot see other animals, may require a stable companion such as a cat, goat, or even a small pony or donkey, to provide company and reduce stress. Feral and wild horse “herds” are usually made up of several, small “bands” which share a territory.
In bands, there is usually a single “herd” or “lead” stallion, though occasionally a few less-dominant males may remain on the fringes of the group. The reproductive success of the lead station is determined in part by his ability to prevent other males from mating with the mares of his harem.
The stability of the band is not affected by size, but tends to be more stable when there are subordinate stallions attached to the harem. Fights for dominance are normally brief; sometimes, displays which do not involve physical contact are sufficient to maintain the hierarchy.
As with many animals that live in large groups, establishment of a stable hierarchical system or “pecking order” is important to reduce aggression and increase group cohesion. Once a dominance hierarchy is established, horses more often than not will travel in rank order.
Most young horses in the wild are allowed to stay with the herd until they reach sexual maturity, usually in their first or second year. The fillies usually join another band soon afterward, and the colts driven out from several herds usually join together in small “bachelor” groups until those who are able to establish dominance over an older stallion in another herd.
Rather, the horse that tends to lead a wild or feral herd is most commonly a dominant mare. A recent supplemental theory posits that there is “distributed leadership”, and no single individual is a universal herd leader.
Stallions tend to stay on the periphery of the herd where they fight off both predators and other males. Domesticated stallions, with human management, often mate with (“cover”) more mares in a year than is possible in the wild.
Traditionally, thoroughbred stud farms limited stallions to breeding with between 40 and 60 mares a year. With use of artificial insemination, one stallion could potentially sire thousands of offspring annually, though in practice, economic considerations usually limit the number of foals produced.
Some breeders keep horses in semi-natural conditions, with a single stallion amongst a group of mares. While this has advantages of less intensive labor for human caretakers, and full-time turnout (living in pasture) may be psychologically healthy for the horses, pasture breeding presents a risk of injury to valuable breeding stock, both stallions and mares, particularly when unfamiliar animals are added to the herd.
Mature, domesticated stallions are commonly kept by themselves in a stable or small paddock. When stallions are stabled in a manner that allows visual and tactile communication, they will often challenge each another and sometimes attempt to fight.
Therefore, stallions are often kept isolated from each other to reduce the risk of injury and disruption to the rest of the stable. In some cases, stallions are released for exercise at different times of the day to ensure they do not see or hear each another.
To avoid stable vices associated with isolation, some stallions are provided with a non-horse companion, such as a castrated donkey or a goat (the Go dolphin Arabian was particularly fond of a barn cat ). One example of this was the racehorse Sea biscuit, who lived with a gelding companion named “Pumpkin”.
Stallions live peacefully in bachelor herds in the wild and in natural management settings. For example, the stallions in the New Forest (U.K.) live in bachelor herds on their winter grazing pastures.
An example of this is the stallions of the Spanish Riding School, which travel, train and are stabled in proximity. There are also studies suggesting that a foal will “inherit” or perhaps imprint dominance behavior from its dam, and at maturity seek to obtain the same rank in a later herd that its mother held when the horse was young.
Horses communicate in various ways, including vocalizations such as nickering, squealing or whinnying; touch, through mutual grooming or nuzzling; smell; and body language. Horses use a combination of ear position, neck and head height, movement, and foot stomping or tail swishing to communicate.
Discipline is maintained in a horse herd first through body language and gestures, then, if needed, through physical contact such as biting, kicking, nudging, or other means of forcing a misbehaving herd member to move. In most cases, the animal that successfully causes another to move is dominant, whether it uses only body language or adds physical reinforcement.
Horses can interpret the body language of other creatures, including humans, whom they view as predators. Humans do not always understand this, however, and may behave in a way, particularly if using aggressive discipline, that resembles an attacking predator and triggers the horse's fight-or-flight response.
Human handlers are more successful if they learn to properly interpret a horse's body language and temper their own responses accordingly. Other methods encourage operant conditioning to teach the horse to respond in a desired way to human body language, but also teach handlers to recognize the meaning of horse body language.
The sclera of this horse's eye shows a bit of white, but it is not rolled back in fear or anger. Tense, backward ear position indicating apprehension. Mouth and lips are also tense, which may indicate an increased tendency to bite.
Ear position is often one of the most obvious behaviors that humans notice when interpreting horse body language. In general, a horse will direct the Penna of an ear toward the source of input it is also looking at.
Similarly, when a horse turns both ears forward, the degree of tension in the horse's Penna suggests if the animal is calmly attentive to its surroundings or tensely observing a potential danger. However, because horses have strong monocular vision, it is possible for a horse to position one ear forward and one ear back, indicative of similar divided visual attention.
This behavior is often observed in horses while working with humans, where they need to simultaneously focus attention on both their handler and their surroundings. Due to the nature of a horse's vision, head position may indicate where the animal is focusing attention.
To focus on a distant object, a horse will raise its head. To focus on an object close by, and especially on the ground, the horse will lower its nose and carry its head in a near-vertical position.
Ear position, head height, and body language may change to reflect emotional status as well. For example, the clearest signal a horse sends is when both ears are flattened tightly back against the head, sometimes with eyes rolled so that the white of the eye shows, often indicative of pain or anger, frequently foreshadowing aggressive behavior that will soon follow.
Sometimes ears laid back, especially when accompanied by a strongly swishing tail or stomping or pawing with the feet are signals used by the horse to express discomfort, irritation, impatience, or anxiety. However, horses with ears slightly turned back but in a loose position, may be drowsing, bored, fatigued, or simply relaxed.
When a horse raises its head and neck, the animal is alert and often tense. A lowered head and neck may be a sign of relaxation, but depending on other behaviors may also indicate fatigue or illness.
Slight tail swishing is often a tool to dislodge biting insects or other skin irritants. The tail tucked tightly against the body may indicate discomfort due to cold or, in some cases, pain.
The horse may demonstrate tension or excitement by raising its tail, but also by flaring its nostrils, snorting, and intently focusing its eyes and ears on the source of concern. Bared teeth, as noted above, are an expression of anger and an imminent attempt to bite.
Horses, particularly foals, sometimes indicate appeasement of a more aggressive herd member by extending their necks and clacking their teeth. Horses making a chewing motion with no food in the mouth do so as a soothing mechanism, possibly linked to a release of tension, though some horse trainers view it as an expression of submission.
Horses will sometimes extend their upper lip when scratched in a wonderful spot, and if their mouth touches something at the time, their lip and teeth may move in a mutual grooming gesture. They can doze and enter light sleep while standing, an adaptation from life as a prey animal in the wild.
Horses are able to sleep standing up because a stay apparatus in their legs allows them to relax their muscles and doze without collapsing. In the front legs, their equine forelimb anatomy automatically engages the stay apparatus when their muscles relax.
The horse engages the stay apparatus in the hind legs by shifting its hip position to lock the patella in place. At the stifle joint, a “hook” structure on the inside bottom end of the femur cups the patella and the medial patella ligament, preventing the leg from bending.
Horses obtain needed sleep by many short periods of rest. This is to be expected of a prey animal, that needs to be ready on a moment's notice to flee from predators.
Horses require approximately two and a half hours of sleep, on average, in a 24-hour period. Horses need to lie down occasionally, and prefer soft ground for a nap.
They only have to lie down for an hour or two every few days to meet their minimum REM sleep requirements. However, if a horse is never allowed to lie down, after several days it will become sleep-deprived, and in rare cases may suddenly collapse as it involuntarily slips into REM sleep while still standing.
A horse kept entirely alone may not sleep well because its instincts are to keep a constant eye out for danger. Horses have a strong grazing instinct, preferring to spend most hours of the day eating forage.
Horses and other equips evolved as grazing animals, adapted to eating small amounts of the same kind of food all day long. In the wild, the horse adapted to eating prairie grasses in semi-arid regions and traveling significant distances each day in order to obtain adequate nutrition.
Thus, they are “trickle eaters,” meaning they have to have an almost constant supply of food to keep their digestive system working properly. Horses can become anxious or stressed if there are long periods of time between meals.
When stabled, they do best when they are fed on a regular schedule; they are creatures of habit and easily upset by changes in routine. When confined with insufficient companionship, exercise or stimulation, horses may develop stable vices, an assortment of compulsive stereotypes considered bad habits, mostly psychological in origin, that include wood chewing, stall walking (walking in circles stress fully in the stall), wall kicking, “weaving” (rocking back and forth) and other problems.
These have been linked to a number of possible causal factors, including a lack of environmental stimulation and early weaning practices. Research is ongoing to investigate the neurological changes involved in the performance of these behaviors.
“The 5 F's –Flight, Fight, Freeze, Fidget, Faint, Team Connections, vol 3 (no issue given)”. Doi: http://doi.org/10.1016/j.beproc.2006.05.004 Paper R, Receiver H (1992) Social interactions of free-ranging Przewalski horses in semi-reserves in the Netherlands.
Doi: http://doi.org/10.1016/S0168-1591(05)80068-1 ^ Paper RR (1988) Social interactions of the Przewalski horse (Equus przewalskii Polio, 1881) herd at the Munich Zoo. Doi: http://doi.org/10.1016/0168-1591(88)90102-5 “VanDierendonck MC, DE Tries H, Schiller Mph (1995) An Analysis of Dominance, Its Behavioral Parameters and Possible Determinants in a Herd of Icelandic horses in Captivity.
“Instability of Harems of Feral Horses in Relation to Season and Presence of Subordinate Stallions”. Historical and biological consideration of free roaming horses (FRS) 6" (PDF).
Reproduced with permission from the Proceedings of the Beta Specialist Days on Behavior and Nutrition. “We have the technology...” originally published in Daily Racing Form, March 12, 2002.
Website, accessed March 23, 2007, Archived November 14, 2007, at the Payback Machine ^ Belling Jr, T.H. Archived 2007-04-08 at the Payback Machine Website accessed February 9, 2007 ^ Williams, Carey A. Ph.D., Extension Specialist.
Archived 2007-04-07 at the Payback Machine Website accessed February 14, 2007 If you can predict when a horse is about to be aggressive or spook at something, you are better able to respond and either avoid a dangerous situation, or prevent that behavior.
Carey A. Williams, Ph.D., Extension Specialist in Equine Management, Rutgers University The horse, a prey animal, depends on flight as its primary means of survival.
A stimulus unnoticed by humans is often cause for alarm for horses ; as riders and trainers we commonly mistake this reaction for “spookiness” or bad behavior. A prey animal must react instantly to a perceived predator to be able to survive.
This is why it is critical to make the horse’s first training experience a positive one. The horse is a herd animal where a dominance hierarchy is always established.
If done correctly, human dominance can easily be established during training without causing the horse to become excessively fearful. Horses exert dominance by controlling the movement of their peers.
The body language of a horse is unique to the equine species. As a highly social animal, the horse communicates its emotions and intentions to its herd mates through both vocalization and body language.
The horse is a precocity species, meaning that the newborn foals are neurologically mature at birth. Even though they have poor color vision, they can differentiate blue and red from gray hues.
They can’t tell a trailer from an endless tunnel, or a mud puddle from a bottomless lagoon. This is why horses cock their head in different ways to see close vs. distant objects.
This is why a horse is much flightier on windy days; things that are normally stationary are now moving and perceived as a potential threat. Never approach a horse without talking to them in these areas; if frightened they will use one of their defense mechanisms, e.g., kick or run.
The expression in a horse’s eye is often thought to be a good indicator of their behavior, e.g., wide open with white showing (and not an Appaloosa), scared; half closed, sleepy, etc. They use their hearing for three primary functions: to detect sounds, to determine the location of the sound, and to provide sensory information that allows the horse to recognize the identity of these sources.
Horses tactile sensation or touch is extremely sensitive. High: they are alert or excited Low: it is a sign of exhaustion, fear, pain or submission Held high over its back: (as seen in most foals) they are playful or are very alarmed Swishing: they are irritated.
Jaws open with teeth exposed: this shows aggression or possible attack. The Freshmen response: This is caused by an intense or unusual smell, usually in stallions when they sense a mare in heat.
Neutral: is when the ears are held loosely upward, openings facing forward or outward. Pricked: ears held stiff with openings pointed directly forward means the horse is alert.
Vocal noises include a squeal or scream which usually denotes a threat by a stallion or mare. Neighs or whinnies are the most familiar: high-pitched, drawn out sounds that can carry over distances.
Blowing is a strong, rapid expulsion of air resulting in a high-pitched whooshing” sound, which usually is a sign of alarm used to warn others. Snorting is a more passive, shorter lower pitched version of blowing and is usually just a result of objects entering the nasal passage.
Mares and foals nudge and nuzzle each other during nursing or for comfort, and mutual grooming, when two horses nibble at each other, is often seen. A herd of wild horses consists of one or two stallions, a group of mares, and their foals.
The older mare has had more experiences, more close encounters, and survived more threats than any other horse in the herd. Dominance is established not only through aggression but also through attitudes that let the other horses know she expects to be obeyed.
The stallion’s job is to be the herd’s guardian and protector, while maintaining reproductive viability. The stallion’s harem usually consists of 2 to 21 horses, with up to 8 of those being mares and the rest their offspring.
So, when a horse is being submissive, it will simulate eating by lowering its head, chewing, and licking its lips (similar to snapping mentioned above). Vices are negative activities that occur due to various causes, including stress, boredom, fear, excess energy, and nervousness.
When kept in stalls we prevent them from engaging in many natural activities such as grazing, walking, or playing with other horses. Cribbing occurs when the horse bites onto a fixed surface (e.g., stall door edge, grain bin, fence rail), arches his neck and sucks in air, making a grunting noise.
Cribbing can lead to weight loss, poor performance, gastric colic, and excessive tooth wear. Weaving occurs when the horse stands by the stall door and rhythmically shifts its weight back and forth on its front legs while swinging its head.
This is also caused by boredom or excess energy, and can lead to weight loss, poor performance and weakened tendons. To decrease the frequency of this behavior, you might try adding another mealtime, placing toys in the stall, or providing more roughage or turn out time.
Wood chewing, eating bedding, or dirt, and self-mutilation are caused by lack of exercise or boredom. To eliminate this as a cause, provide more roughage in the diet, and free choice salt or minerals.
In other words, horses can recognize human faces and their emotional expressions, something that they then used to discern whether the person is a threat or not. This latest study was done by researchers at the universities of Sussex and Portsmouth and was published in the journal Current Biology.
“We know that horses are socially intelligent animals, but this is the first time any mammal has been shown to have this particular ability,” Portsmouth research Leanne Troops said. The researchers came to this conclusion after a series of experiments where they showed domestic horses photographs of humans with either a happy or angry facial expression.
Horses are social animals that under feral conditions (or on pasture) live in bands (harems) that consist of several mares, their offspring up to 2–3 yr of age, and at least 1 and as many as 6 adult males. Groups are not limited to a specific geographic area and will travel in search of resources.
Some colts may form a “bachelor band” with up to 16 males, and later join other groups in which the stallion has died or been chased away. Hierarchy in horses appears to be linear (with occasional triangular relationships) and not necessarily based on age, weight, height, gender, or time in the group.
Offspring of high-ranking mares appear to be high-ranking later in life, which might indicate both genetic and experience components. Hierarchical rank in females is determined by observing group behavior (e.g., seeking out resources such as water holes).
Females make the decision about whether to leave or to stay within a band based on factors such as assessment of food resources or number of stallions in the group. In the absence of conception, horses cycle every 21 days during the spring and summer.
During courtship the stallion will approach the mare, prance, sniff her, nuzzle her, and groom her. During the first month of life, foals show maximal dependence on their dams and have minimal contact with other horses.
This is a behavior shown by foals toward adult horses, presumably to reduce aggression. From 4 mo of age, the foal starts developing independent relationships and spends more time in adult maintenance behaviors such as grazing and resting while standing.
There are sex differences in play; colts mount more and fight more than fillies, who focus on grooming and running. Arabians have a kind and calm temperament as compared to other hot-blooded horse breeds.
In this article, we’ll discuss in detail the general Arabian Horse traits, the variations in their temperament and what might cause them to become aggressive. Arabian Horses are originally from the Middle Eastern deserts and that’s where they get their buoyant personality from.
This horse was considered the most prized possession of a Bedouin, and so they were kept close with the family in the same tent. This arrangement has cultivated strong bonding between Arabian Horses and humans.
Here are a few Arabian Horse facts and traits that make this breed perfect for domestication. Hundreds of years ago, the Bedouins would let their prized Arabian mares in their tents during the nights.
That means that Arabians were always composed, gentle, and comfortable around smaller kids. The modern Arabian Horses carry this characteristic in their genes and tend to react normally to children.
Arabian horses can go to any lengths to please their owners and have excellent work ethics. It’s almost as if they like taking responsibility and doing an excellent job in exchange for a small treat and appreciation.
Arabians are highly intelligent and sensitive horses, and that is why they don’t accept inept training methods or blatant use of force. Being intelligent horses, Arabians are great at picking commands and learning new habits.
Arabian Horses have a long history of being in proximity with humans which has made their temperament mild. Like any other horse, they don’t appreciate the use of force against them, but they tend to forgive with time.
Because of their sensitive nature, the Arabian horses can pick up on the riders’ feelings. Arabian horses are amazing as therapy animals for children and the elderly with mental disorders or developmental delays.
Just like humans, there are good and bad horses, and you cannot generalize a whole breed based on individual characteristics. In fact, most Arabian horses are kind, patient, and develop a strong rapport with humans, making great companions.
They are especially gentle with children and it has also been noted that Arabian horses are extra careful with young riders. Not only children but Arabian horses are also great mounts for people with disabilities.
They could be hot-headed and difficult to handle for adults, but they become a loving family pet with children. The term “bombproof” refers to a horse that doesn’t get spooked easily.
Years of warfare training has made Arabian horses deadly quiet and almost nothing can spook them. The career they were bred and trained for also plays a huge role in their personality development.
Some diseases such as Cerebellar Biography can affect the coordination and balance of a horse. A disease or a sickness can significantly affect the temperament of a horse because there is always some discomfort attached to the illness.
Therefore, it’s highly likely that a horse feels agitated because of pain induced as a result of a disease. A negative change in the temperament of an otherwise calm horse is a strong indication of an underlying problem and a vet should immediately be called for a checkup.
They are best suited as a family horse as they tend to enjoy human company and create strong bonds. Arabian horses make great mounts for children and beginner riders because they stay calm, listen to commands promptly.
Written by Katherine Blockader There's no doubt about the mystique of horses. They seem to capture our imagination and are a symbol of strength and freedom.
There are a lot of traditions and lore around horses, and some information we hold onto may no longer be true. It's fun to think that your horse or pony likes doing the same thing you do.
When have you ever seen a horse run barrels, jump a course of jumps, or execute a perfect 20-meter circle spontaneously with no human prompting? A horse may have qualities that make them more suitable for a certain sport but that doesn't mean it likes it more.
You both like a warm bed, the same kinds of food (to an extent), humans and dogs can survive by hunting, and both humans and dogs live in 'packs'. Horses are prey that hunters might like to eat, but they are herbivores and their social structure is quite different from dogs (and humans).
Although many people believe their horses are companion animals, they are not the same as dogs. Horses quickly sense which riders are clear communicators and make their cues irresistible.
But they don't carry on a conversation the way you sometimes see in the movies, with the constant stream of screams, squeals, and nickers. But it is really a complex structure of different materials including keratin, blood-rich tissue, and bone.
Wonderful riders make riding look easy. Watch racers or dressage riders and it seems the horse is going through the patterns on its own accord.
It may look like sitting but riders use their legs, arms, weight, hands, balance, and brains to ride. Even in a small domestic group, horses can show behaviors that we humans don’t always understand.
While most horses will work out their differences without human intervention, it’s still important to be aware of what’s going on. And having an enlightened view of our horses social interactions helps us appreciate them more, understand them better, and communicate with them more effectively.
Horses can also convey information through vocal sounds, such as whinnies, nickers, snorts, and blows, as well as hoof noises, like pawing and stomping. Researchers suggest that the strongest positive social signs that horses give are probably rather anticlimactic.
Standing close to each other likely tops the list, says Line Peerstrup Arndt, PhD, researcher in the department of animal science at Aarhus University, in Denmark. A close second is mutual grooming, where horses nibble at each other’s withers, neck, or back.
But handlers should understand that these negative behaviors don’t necessarily mean the horses aren’t getting along, Arndt says. Such communication serves the purpose of setting up and maintaining social hierarchies, which is a perfectly normal phenomenon among herds.
“This is especially the case with a truly confident, dominant animal directing truly submissive, respectful, deferential herd mates,” she says. It’s just part of equine nature, stemming from wild herd days, that domestic groups of horses create social hierarchies.
These rankings work to safeguard the herd, maintain family groups, and determine priority access to resources (food, water, and shelter). “We like to think of our horses as being nice and generous, but the thing is that what they’re really looking out for is themselves,” says Else Hartmann, PhD, of the Department of Animal Environment and Health at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, in Appeal.
“You’ll see them hovering in entryways into shelters without actually going in, or keeping their heads over a shared water source,” Hartmann says. In fact, Hartmann adds, there isn’t necessarily one horse that’s the constant leader.
Fortunately, she and her fellow researchers developed a faster method: their “limited resource” test. By placing three bins of food in a herd’s pasture, they studied the interactions among 25 geldings for as few as 80 minutes over a four-day period.
“The results suggested that the less-time-consuming limited resource test can provide the same information regarding hierarchy based on aggressive encounters as when determined by field observations,” she says. Intermittent checks on your horses once or twice a day won’t give you an accurate picture, says Hartmann.
“What we do know is that they form close relationships with the horses in their subgroups, something similar to what we see in human friendships.” Each is stuck with the partner that we’ve chosen, and he will have to make do with that horse to meet his social needs.
), as Swiss researcher Sabrina Briefer-Freymond, PhD, observed in up to eight of her country’s National Stud stallions living peacefully together for two years (for the full study see TheHorse.com/31929). But while we strive to respect horses natural rhythms and behaviors, we do still have a “responsibility” to step in when things go wrong, Hartmann says.
Tie the horses up during mealtimes, or separate the slow eater until he’s finished. “But if you see that the aggression level is unnecessarily high, and if the other horse isn’t walking away to protect itself, then you may need to intervene and perhaps change out the members of the group.” Still, time might fix the problem, as horses learn from their experiences, Hartmann adds.