January 28, 2010

The character of a horse, part two

I would like to continue this discussion guys, thanks for participating!

Today’s question:
Do we have different character traits depending on what horse rase we are looking at?

Compare a thoroughbred with a pony.
Are there differences?
How much comes from handling, and how much comes from the breed?

Some pony breeds (Shetland, New Forest and the Swedish Gotlandruss being three examples) have roamed about in the wild, and have had to mend for themselves up to rather recently.
They are often both very food motivated and easily kept, as scarcity of food has been a strong selector in survival.
They are smart - as in testing things out.
If you have an escape artist in the yard, who would that be?

The smart and the sturdy ones survived. The others did not.

Ponies can be challenging to handle.
In my experience, they often test people out, and are very good at it too.
Let me give you two bright examples:

This is Maigutten.
He is one of the riding school horses at the stable.
I suspect his owner gave him to the riding school because she found him difficult to handle.
What breed he is I do not know, but that there is some native pony of some sort in the mix I do not doubt when looking at him.

Now, Maigutten won’t take a “No” for a No unless he has tested it out.
Guess who's got an extra chain on the door to his box/stall?
In spite of this, Maigutten often escapes.
He is a good dressage pony, and a very good jumper. With an experienced rider.
And for the rest?....He reads the rider in exactly 15 sec, and then either refuses to go, or starts doing funny exercises.
The entrance to the arena has to be closed to keep him in.

Is he a butthead?
Yes, definitely. But a smart and talented butthead.

My other example is the Shetlands pony May-Lis, now diseased, but used for pony riding in the riding school 15 years ago.
If the parents that were leading the child were used to horses, she was good as gold.
If the parents were not used to horses (quick assertion) she snapped at them, which made the parent let go of the rein.
Then she ran over to the nearest turf of grass, and turned her butt to the approaching parent and kicked loose at them when they came close enough.
Terrified child screaming, of course.

These are two horror examples, but I am sure that you guys can find similar (but perhaps less extreme) examples, at least of riding school horses that are used to quickly assess people and adjust their behavior accordingly.

My daughter's first pony was a cross Shetlandspony-Gotlandsruss, Felix.
I could tell you some stories about him too.
But he behaved *most* of the time, and was much loved.

All horses differ between people, but I do believe ponies make more out of it than other breeds.
Some people blame it on the fact that they are mostly handled by children.
To a degree.
But is that the only explanation?

Another example: The Norwegian Fjord.
I would say that what we have here is a Pony In Disguise.
I am sure that anyone that has had anything to do with a Fjord will agree with me when I say that they are wilful, sturdy, food loving and smart. I have never seen a skinny Fjord.
And they walk all over you if you let them.
Again, tough conditions and survival of the fittest.
But they are normally not handled by children, so I'd say we are speaking genetics here.

In my opinion you will find more "personalities" with native breeds than you will find in Warmbloods (or thoroughbreds) where many of the survival instincts are bred away.
But they might have other issues.

Our neighbour who runs the yard is a racehorse trainer, so we have thoroughbreds in the stable too.
My husband has had many of them up through the years as he litterally was bred into the sport. Below you see Fair Flair.

Have you seen the panic button on a Thoroughbred?
I hope you haven't, because it is not funny.
They just lock out the world and RUN.
A couple of years ago one of them (not one of ours, TG) got scared and galloped full speed (with rider) along a road for 9 km (5.6 miles), and litterally run its hoof off. Box rest for half a year. Unfortunately never recovered after that either.
The young rider got out of it unharmed, but that was only luck.

I have never seen that happen with a pony.

So what do you think?
Does breed count?
Can we say that a breed has certain traits?
And if so, in what way?

(and thanks to my daughter for the first and last picture)


Anne i Hannover said...

This reminded me of my old horse. He really was a gentleman, but whenever my father tried to lead him, they gradually and almost unnoticably went around in smaller and smaller circles until they were parked in the middle of the arena :D

I agree that there's generally a difference between breeds, more than just types of character. Recently I've begun to ride some Lusitanos, and it's interesting to see how they behave in comparison to the warmbloods, both in handling and riding.

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

First off, I love the clouds in those sky photos. I'm a bit oversensitive about breed characteristics. I get tired of people saying that my horses are spooky because they are Arabians. I'm 100% sure that I could buy myself a Percheron and it would turn into a spooky horse in no time, simply because I'm a spooky person.

Are there breed characteristics? Yes, but we have to be careful not to get prejudiced about horse breeds as we do about human races. There are always exceptions, and there really are too many other factors beside breed influencing personality traits.

Kate said...

I think breeds each have a spectrum of characteristics - which are pretty broad and overlap with other breeds. I think ponies by and large tend to be very smart and planners - they figure out ways to get what they want. TBs seem to often be very reactive - instant flight when alarmed. But each horse is very much an individual, and there is no way to generalize.

stilllearning said...

I think that there are characteristics and tendencies specific to each breed, but that each horse has his own personality layered onto that broad base.

After owning and knowing many Thoroughbreds, each with a distinct personality, I now own an Appendix Quarterhorse. Since he's got a lot of tb blood in him I didn't expect a big difference, but am discovering a huge difference in his basic nature, as compared to my OTTBs. It's not just a difference in experience, although that's part of it. At age 3 OTTBs have had many more life experiences than this guy, who was still living on the farm where he was bred.

Thoroughbreds are bred to run. Their reaction time and responses tend to be quick, even if they don't actually run. The hardest part of training a TB is getting relaxation, IMO.

My QH has a slower reaction time. His muscles seem "heavier"; he needs a longer warm up time than a tb, time to just get things moving. Relaxation is seldom an issue.

I'd guess that the Appendix QH is more similar to a Warmblood than to a cutting/reining QH, from what I've read on mugwump's blog.

His personality is then layered on top of this breeding.

I would definitely take into consideration the breed characteristics when taking on a new horse.

TCavanaugh said...

I think there are inherant traits to each breed. Character, while being one of those traits, is also evolved with the experiences of the animal. I don't want to generalize any specific breed, but some breeds are more "instinctive" than others. It has been my experience that ponies fit that mold. :)

Grey Horse Matters said...

I don't like to generalize certain characteristics when it comes to breeds. Over the years I've had so many different breeds of horses and although some generalizations do fit certain breeds I feel that in the end a horse is a horse with his own personality. I've always thought that their training and handling has a lot to do with how they interact with humans,

On the other hand I find ponies hilarious. They have that certain thread of mischief running through them and if they get a chance to take advantage of some poor unsuspecting soul they surely will.

Shanster said...

Seems like there is a big difference between horses and ponies in relation to sturdiness and stubborness and mischeiviousness... and it sounds like all horses and ponies have their own individual traits as well. ? I haven't ever had ponies so I don't know!

I would think horses sort of fit into their breed and each breed has a bell curve - some are not typey - some are and there are many who fall in between with outliers who seem to be from another breed completely?

Are there super sensitive large draft horses - sensitive in a similar way like a TB, Arab or another hot blooded horse? (I'm thinking outloud.. I don't know)

I've watched pulling contests and those giants sure get geared up to pull but once done, they stand very quietly - it would be hard to imagine them running away with someone like described in your post. But probably it has happened!

I have 2 TBs - one is more sensible and takes the world more in stride, the other I've seen completely check out, loose his mind and run through 2 fences before finding it again.

Luckily he was uninjured and no one was on him. I can see similar traits in them. Just at different ends of the spectrum. They are very similar but one is much less reactive.

The more sensible one never did race and the more reactive one raced about 8 times before being re-homed. Is that the difference or is he just more reactive cuz it's his personality and he was born that way??

I don't see the traits my TB's share in the gypsy vanners down the road or in the belgian drafts on the other side of the road... but maybe cuz I don't live WITH them, I don't see it?

I really don't know. Interesting question.

And especially with so many crosses now... maybe the TB side takes over in a moment of fear where the QH or the Warmblood side of the horse would show up in different situations. ??

HorseOfCourse said...

Thanks for your comments all!

I agree that there are many other factors that influence. Each horse has its own personality of course, and the environment also play a large part.

But selection also plays a role, doesn't it?
And if a breed has a dominant selection factor, maybe we over time can see some traits being dominant?

Now take the thoroughbred as an example, as that studbook is closed. The main purpose for that breed has been to be fast.
So you have a flight animal, where you actually enhance that instinct. There are all kinds of TB, also pluggy ones, but if I am allowed to generalize I would say that you have a fast horse with quick reactions.
You don't breed the pluggy ones.

Now look at the dressage warmblood horse. If you go back 20-30 years, the horses were much heavier than they are now.
The breeding of dressage horses has turned the WB into a lighter and more reactive, "electric" horse, by using TBs and selective breeding.
The result has been a horse that is moving better, but also a horse that is prone to be hotter and more tense.
Which is not always easy to ride, and thus we get rollkur-riders...

Another example.
My horse Fame is a Sportspony.
This is a breed where one has used TB and Arabs to get a lighter and more WB type of pony.
Which you have got.
If you look at European pony dressage, the Sportsponies take it all. But you have also got a horse that is more reactive, a bit "hotter" than many native bred pony races - again, if I am allowed to generalize.

We do not need to be prejudiced, but sometimes it is an advantage also to evaluate what kind of breed a horse is, or, if you are familiar with the breed - what line it is.
If you are to buy, in the end it comes down to what individual the horse is. But sometimes, and in particular if it is a youngster, breed can also be of interest, don't you think?

Rising Rainbow said...

sqThe hard part about this discussion is that the behavior of the horse or pony is always influenced by the people each comes in contact with. If the person is not exact in what it expects from the equine, the equine will learn to manipulate the person.

Since most people who interact with horses and/or ponies allow them to do things the equine reads as putting them(horse/pony) in charge, you end up with what some call willful animals, no matter what the breed.

Equines are so affected by their environment it is hard to seperate breeding from learned behavior. I think in the hands of certain people even the most compliant horse would turn into a "willful" creature.

With that being said it only makes sense that ponies would have to be more determined and probably smarter to survive in the wild. Because they are smaller than horses they would be more susceptible to attack by prey animals......just as the Arabian horse had to have great heart and acute senses to survive the ravages of the desert. Each would carry those characteristics forward into any relationship with humans or others equines.

stilllearning said...

Totally off topic here...

I tacked up and rode my horse this past weekend despite the *gasp* temperature hovering near
20F (and I ride in an indoor). When my sanity was questioned I mentioned Scandivavian race horses, etc...which may have led to further questioning of my sanity :)

But we had good rides and it was fun. Winter will be much less frustrating now!

manker said...

albeit in my short horse riding life.. .here we have among others a tb mare, an arabian and a quarter horse... and yup... they are TOTALLY horses of a different color :) great teachers are they

happy trails

HorseOfCourse said...

Thanks for your comments!

Rising Rainbow - welcome! I do agree that it might be difficult to decide what is caused by handling/environment and what is genetic.

Lets take another look at riding school horses.
I find that interesting, since we here have horses that have to handle different persons every day, with different experience in horses and riding.
I grew up in a riding school. And since there has been one in almost all stables where I have had horses, I see how they behave almost daily.
Riding school horses get quite good in assessing people. But the reaction you get is different from horse to horse.

Some horses take care of unskilled riders and beginners.
They might cut some corners, and save some energy in the work, but that's it.

And then you have the other sort like the two ones I have described above.
They behave well with more experienced riders, but take advantage of the less experienced ones.

The settings in which the horses work are very much the same. And in the mentioned two examples in the post the horses does not constantly misbehave.
So - are some races more prone to one behaviour than other?

stillearning - Yeah! I am happy to hear that. I bet your horse was happy to do some work too. Did you keep yourself warm?

Manker - welcome, and thanks for participating!

trudi said...

arrggh I missed this post HofC...too tired to read now but I'll be back