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Lets have a little conversation on horse breeds. I receive a lot of emails asking for breed-specific advice and it's one of my pet peeves.

We'll start with people looking for a horse. In this situation, people are often swayed by breed characteristics. I'm not talking about looks. I'm talking here about temperament and trainability. If you want a Haflinger because you've fallen in love with the look of Haflingers, great. That's fine. That's not what I want to discuss. That I understand. Some people love draughts with all their feathers, some love the dishy nose of the Arab, some the big bum on the Quarterhorse. If you know you like one breed above all others because of the way the breed looks, by all means choose the right horse for you within that breed.

No, what I want to talk about is the person who's not so looks oriented, but who is choosing a breed for temperament. The believer of all Arabs are flighty. She'll be bad tempered because she's an Appaloosa. He'll be quiet because he's Standardbred.

Grrr. In my opinion - wrong wrong wrong. Breed temperaments are TENDENCIES, not in any way are they absolute guaranteed characteristics. When choosing a horse, the buyer needs to be looking at the INDIVIDUAL horse. Not it's breed.

Perhaps framing the scenario like this will help: I would like a horse with lots of 'go' and I don't mind what breed. I've heard that Arabs and Thoroughbreds TEND to fit this description, so I'll look at these breeds for an individual that's firey (because I know not all Arabs and all Thoroughbreds are firey), and I'll look at other horses that as individuals fit my criteria.

Or another one: I'm looking for a calm child proof horse. Someone said that Cleveland Bays are really quiet. There's a green four year old Cleveland Bay for sale. Should I buy him for my beginner child? Uh, NO, you should be looking for an older horse (8yo+) who has seen everything and is totally bombproof. That could be anything from a Thoroughbred to a Shetland. TEMPERAMENT of the individual (and in this case training). Not breed.

The other part of the breed peeve goes like this:

Q. My horse is an x (insert breed here). She has terrible ground manners/I'm scared of her/she's wild where do I start?/etc. What do I need to do to train a (insert breed again here - mini horse and pony owners please take particular note!) properly?

A. You own a HORSE. An equine. At this level of training, which is basic horse-human interaction where you are teaching your horse to respect and trust your leadership, all horses are the same.

The differences and challenges will come from:

  • Their experiences of people so far ie the things they have been allowed to get away with and the things people have done to them in the past.
  • The temperament (personality) of both you and your horse.
  • Your experience with horses.

None of this is breed specific. The belief that breed is hugely important in temperament and basic training is - in my opinion - wildly inaccurate. Please remember to look at each horse as an individual with his own past experiences, intelligence and temperament. I find it a far more helpful way to assess and work with a horse.

Picture by genewolf


"(insert breed again here - mini horse and pony owners please take particular note!)"

Oh do NOT get me started! Mini and pony owners take note and big horse people who automatically assume a mini or pony is a born demon in tiny horse hide also please take note!

I'm so tired of seeing the small equines develop the nastiest of habits because they are allowed to get away with murder because they are small and it is "cute". Then the owners excuse it as being a breed characteristic.

Ponies are not born nasty, they are made nasty. Treat them like horses, train them like horses, demand they behave like horses and they won't be obnoxious little terrors.

Can you tell that is one of my pet peeves? lol! (Great post, BTW!)

9:02 AM  

This is a good post and it gets to the heart of many problems I also have seen in the past. Horses are individuals and become the element of their environment.

For example the Canadian is known to be docile yet my mare is as stubborn as a mule. If I had of had her environment growing up, they have had to shoot me.

On the bright note, she has responded well to proper love and attention and has now got thoroughly under my skin and is an extension of me. We work well together but she is still stubborn with other people.

2:19 PM  

sorry, disagree

Don't see many Percherons on the race track. If breed doesn't add to our knowledge of what we can expect from a horse we would see various breeds and crosses winning races.

It's the old nature vs nurture debate. Both sides have merit.

3:18 PM  

Amen and thankyou WarPony. You expanded on my post perfectly.

And to Anonymous, you missed the point entirely! Temperament was the topic, not physical ability for a specific discipline.

4:44 PM  

I'd just like to give the example of the cob mare i have on loan, just because i'm so proud of her.
When most people hear i have a 23 year old cob mare who had 2 major surgerys last year, including a hysterectomy, they assume she's an old plod who is now retired.
Not so - she adores to be hacked out and has just taken part in her first show in 3 years.
Any myth that cobs are dopes on ropes can be dispelled here, although her beautiful temprement means she changes dramatically with a nervous rider and behaves impecably.
I'm so proud of her and the progress she's made,
Contended Loaner

7:29 PM  

p.s. I was going to say, sometimes its all i can do to stop her galloping along the bridepath instead of the gentle walk i intended, as well as her new game of puddle jumping, something not generally associated with the cob mare stereotype. But for me at 19 years old its my ideal way to relax and enjoy life. =]

7:36 PM  

I purchases a medium sized horse from a "fate" dealer. No one could ride, work, or manage him. I am not a horse trainer but I love horses. It took about two years of daily work touching, talking, and building trust. I did not even ride him for the first year, at all. Now he is the best horse I have ever had and I trust him. My grandson has rode him since he was 18 months old. I read and watched videos for months and applied everything I could.

12:04 AM  

Of course it's down to the individual. It's the same for people, dogs, cats, etc. Not everyone from the Westcountry says "ooh, arh" and is thick as pig muck. Some are yes but that's because they were born that way not because of where they were born. Not all Londoners are muggers, not all Scots are misers!!
I have two shetlands. They are brilliant for nervous students to work with just to get used to moving and touching horses as they just stand there. However, Velvet (20+ years) can be an absolute sod to catch and go galloping off across the field as soon as she sees one of them coming to get her. She was difficult to catch when I first got her but now she knows that I will catch her eventually so she may as well come in now and I have no problem. The little minx knows when it's a student though, especially an inexperienced one.
That's just her temperament. The other shetland is her daughter and the total opposite - why trot when you can walk, and why walk when you can stand still!
And they are related!

3:03 AM  

On another topic but related, I disagree with the term "totally bomb-proof". I do not believe that there is such a horse. I think that under certain circumstances a horse will meet a situation that will cause it to revert to its instincts and fight or run. It is misleading to sell a pony to someone as bomb-proof as it is not absolute.

11:28 AM  

An email sent through in response to this post:

I totally agree with your post! Interesting discussion just started on a (mainly) South African website along the same subject. Check it out : and click on the discussion thread. Lots of interesting opinions, advice, chuckles and shared heartache.



11:54 AM  

Might be of interest to you guys chect out quality horse training. Instinctive Horse Training
Melanie Watson has grown up with horses and has been a horse trainer for many years. She has dealt with a range of horses with varying temperaments, as well as providing horse demonstrations and public speaking throughout the UK to help others - both horse trainers and owners- combat their horse training problems.

8:06 PM  

As an animal communicator, dealing with horses is a matter of showing them who the Alpha is. Animals need to know their limits, when they can get away with this, they can get away with anything, leading to bad behavior in horses.

This is a very interesting post! Thanks for sharing!

6:56 AM  

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