What part does heredity play in your horse’s personality?


If you’ve been following my blog posts, most of you know that I like to mix the scientific approach to horses and horse training along with the emotional and spiritual side.

And as a lifelong learner I’m always very curious to see what my horses have to teach me.

For example…

I have been working with two Egyptian Arabians for the past few weeks, Kit and Danny Boy. And amazingly they are exactly opposite in almost every aspect. The more I work with them, the more I see how opposite they really are.

That got me thinking about how and why could two horses of the same breed, about the same age, who have grown up under the care of the same facility/barn manager, be so drastically different?

According to science…”The Principles of Learning and Behavior”, California: Brokes Cole, 1986

Behavioral principles of training are primarily based on two principles; hereditary and environmental influences. It depends on two people; breeder and trainer. Breeder governs the hereditary principles whereas trainer is solely responsible for increasing the performance of horses which largely depends on the environment. The performance of the horse is likely to be heritable in some degree and it varies from breed to breed, for instance, Thoroughbreds have high heritability of racing ability. Training or any sort of learning whether it is human or animal deals with the modification of behavior.

So, basically heredity plays a part as well as training experiences and past traumas.
So with Kit I can see that with his bloodline going back 3,200 years to the original Egyptian Arabians, how his heredity contributes to not only his look, but also his gentle, willing and intelligent personality.

Plus, I can see how his owner/trainer also contributed to his gentle and inquisitive nature now that I have come to know her better as well.

Kit is always willing to think about anything I ask and is very willing to “try” something new. But he is also always thinking, curious, and willing to “talk it over” with me. The thing that stands out about Kit is that he wants to be sociable, loves to cuddle and seems to have a positive outlook towards humans.

And then there is Danny Boy…

I don’t know his background very well, other than that he is an Egyptian Arabian stallion about 23/24 years old.

Danny is extremely sensitive, playful, fearful, curious, intelligent and full of fire. He loves to say “no” in an instant, but quick to then say “maybe”. It seems to me that his heredity gives him the intelligence to see every human as different and the warmth and curiosity to say “maybe”.

But his experience with other humans gives him his fear. The thing that stands out about Danny is that he is extremely timid and distrustful. However, interestingly enough, he seems to really want to give humans another chance and wants to be sociable.

I spoke to his owner today and asked more about his background and found out that his mother was a very sweet, calm, quiet, registered purebred, Egyptian Arabian.

However, his sire was the neighbor’s “crazy” thoroughbred stallion, who was gelded because they didn’t like the high strung, anxious foals he was turning out. However, before he was gelded, he jumped the fence line and hopped into her pasture for one last foal. Which tells me where Danny Boy gets his spookiness and high strung energy… heredity.
Jazz and Apollo
Then I looked at my two boys, Jazz and Apollo, who have been together all their lives (with the exception of a year that Apollo was stolen), had the same owner (with the exception of Jazz’s first year), have the same breed and the same heredity (they are father and son), and I wonder how even these two horses can be different in so many ways.

Here is how Jazz and Apollo are different:

  • Jazz loves water and jumps in every puddle, stream, or lake and plays.
  • Apollo hates water and will jump high into the air over a puddle just to avoid it.
  • Jazz loves Western tack, shakes off English tack, and hates to go over any jump at all. He will actually kick over a one-foot jump if I ask him to go over it just to show me his displeasure.
  • Apollo loves English tack and naturally jumps anything and everything so gracefully, like he was born for it. He will naturally jump 4-feet high even if the jump is only one foot.
  • Jazz loves to play with cows. Like a cat plays with a mouse.
  • Apollo runs from cows and is naturally afraid of them.
  • Jazz has no problem going into tunnels or on bridges, but Apollo won’t do it unless Jazz goes first.
  • Apollo looks at blacktop as if it’s a hole that is going to swallow him up but with Jazz it’s no problem.

Here is how Jazz and Apollo are the same, they both:

  • Have the same gentle, sweet temperament
  • Are very willing to do anything I ask or try something new
  • Are very playful and strong willed
  • Love to interact with humans and horses
  • Are curious and love to explore with me
  • Are very trusting and loving
  • Are intelligent and you can see them thinking and figuring out each new person they encounter
  • Are fearful of men.

I can see how their breeding has brought about the same personality, good nature, intelligence, and willingness. But being that they have had exactly the same experiences and owner, other than one year for each of them when they were with abusive men, it is interesting how they have very different preferences.

So, their differences seem to be only personality preferences. Just like human brothers and sisters can be so similar and different at the same time, horses are individuals as well. All other factors aside, they grow into who they are and what they like on their own – just like we do.

Luckily when we go out riding together if one feels funny about doing or going somewhere, the other is all in. Which means the one who felt uncomfortable will then follow the other, confident one, anywhere. Which is great because there is nothing that we can’t or won’t do as a team (as a herd).

There is a strong trust and a strong bond with all three of us that we feel that we can accomplish anything together. Granted, we have also been together as a team/family/herd for over 28 years!

Now that I’m working with Danny Boy and Kit I see the big difference in trust, willingness, attention, and work ethic. I’m really excited to see the journey unfold for the three of us as well and how they will fit in with Jazz and Apollo when I put them in the pasture next to them.

Got a little work to do before that happens, but it will be fun and interesting to watch it all unfold and I want to take you along for the ride…

Because I am currently working on a (no cost!) video training series which you will get special access to ahead of its public release so make sure you stay tuned.

In the meantime, I would love to hear from you about your horse’s personality so tell me about it in the Comments below. Thanks!

Until next time… Happy Horses!

Please Share

  • My horse Maggie personality, she is calm gentle and willing. Enjoys attention, she like a small group of friends. She is social, but lacks confidents and trust. Not sure of her background, I adopted her from a rescue. She likes food and seems food motivated and learns quicker when food is given for reward. She has her moments of i don’t know let me think about it. She likes quality time with me. She wants to be a mom and treats me like her foal, Is kinda funny. I think Maggie likes me all to her self.

  • Melanie Bennett says:

    13yrs part-bred highland who is a Jekyll and Hyde character. One minute nothing registers with him the next he’s snorting worried and ready to spin and run. He’s very claustrophobic yet is a lovely boy, not a bad bone in his body.
    I believe he has had bad experiences in the past but l think he feels he can’t trust me. Why?
    Because l myself have the same type of problem. Therefore the trust that is needed can fluctuate pending on your mental state at the time. I can happily ride my friend’s horse because l know and trust him but between my pony and my confidence in riding has gone. Groundwork goes a long way, we go walking instead of riding.
    It’s difficult to decide what’s best for him and me

    • Melanie, It sounds like you know exactly what’s wrong and how to fix it. With your personality being just like your horse’s personality you need to check yourself and watch your horse mimic your behavior. You two seem to be very in sync. So when you feel confident and feel your horse is confident you both be ready to go riding. Let me know how it goes. Enjoy!

  • Yes, I have noticed that my horses had many expressions that they showed while either watching them or riding. The look they had at times when asking them to do something was so comical like riding down a trail then becoming stubborn and giving me this turn their head to look at me as if “oh no I carried you this far now get off and lead”. After surveying the steepness I agreed and then led her down the rest of the way with me commenting okay but don’t slip and fall on me. I gave her praise saying how good she was in trusting me a lot of times. I always liked the way they would greet the other horses that were coming back from being out on a ride and the way when the vet came out. They would group together then casually walk the trail and go hide in the brush. Horses bond just like humans and I think that my horses had a trust that was mutual. I hope that possibly I will be able to attend to go to Alturas and adopt a wild horse or two and gentle them to trust me enough to ride. Thank you as I always enjoy your training this way. Sincerely Connie L.

  • I have to Paso Finos. Macey, my mare, is in her mid twenties and her papers were lost somewhere along the way so I have no idea of her pedigree. I believe that someone did not treat her kindly in the past. She has marks on her face where a halter grew into it, is afraid of the sound of a whip popping and very nervous about being cinched up. I bought her after I taken a year of therapeutic riding lessons and she has taken great care of me over the 8 years I’ve had her. She has never done anything to attempt to unseat me. The one time I came off of her, when the trail I was riding on collapsed under her feet, the people riding with me said she did everything except turn somersaults to avoid stepping on me and stood still as a statue when I landed with my head in between her front legs. She is very sweet, smart and obedient. Although she is dominant over the gelding in the field she never invades my space, gets ahead of me while being led or challenges me in any way. I trust her to carry anyone in any environment. She loves kids but is reserved around adults.

    My gelding Capri is completely different! He is 13 and very well bred with Foundation horses in his papers. He lived on the farm where he was bred until I got him and was well loved. I came off of him due to his actions a couple times in the first few months I had him. He may not have been deliberately trying to unseat me but he was being disobedient. Although he is subordinate to my mare in the field he will challenge me by being pushy. He’s come a long way in the 18 months I’ve had him. We’ve resolved the behaviors that unseated me and he has learned that he is not allowed to touch me without being invited. Although, sometimes he needs a reminder for that lesson. He is bright, curious, brave and really likes people.

    They are both wonderful trail horses and will go anywhere I point them. They both like the water and will play and splash in it if I let them. Both horses have learn to do obstacle courses. Capri might rush but he’ll try anything I ask. I have to sometimes convince Macey that she should step through that little box of water even though it’s just as easy to go around it.

  • Millie is an 11-year-old mare and she is a very sweet and gentle horse.

  • Leslie Dresser says:

    My horse, Fabio is as unique as they come. His previous owner acquired him when Fabio retired as a border patrol horse. His breeding was questionable, most agree, mustang? Previous treatment is a mystery before the Border Patrol acquired him in Mexico. That being said. He’s a tough, sturdy little horse with a huge motor and an even bigger heart. He was primarily ridden by men but definitely prefers females. I was definitely chosen by him. He had not had a “mom” to fuss over him and although just as you’d expect a young boy to not appreciate having his nose wiped in public, or his mane in braids, he at first tolerated, now loves having the fuss made over him. Loli swear, if a horse could roll their eyes, he would have, many times over. He’s absolutely the kindest soul. He doesn’t possess a mean bone in his body. I don’t believe he has Ever pinned his ears at a human. He’s the epitome of the word “balanced” and just a joy to share my life with. t the age of approx. 27, he’s still the Energizer bunny.hes’ cautiously curious, not over reactive and seems to intuitively know if another horse is unconfident or frightened. He is a gentle leader with this type of horse. Unruly youngsters have been “shown” the right way to behave. He quick to correct misbehavior but just as quick to forgive and forget. Sorry for the long ramble. There just aren’t enough words for him. I am blessed!!! 😁

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