People have personalities. Do horses have “horsenalities”? Clinician/educators Linda and Pat Parelli say, absolutely.
Pat, a pioneer in the field of natural horsemanship, has always connected intuitively with a horse’s inner character as part of “reading” that animal.
Linda, who studied human personality theory in the 1980s under Australian researcher Glynn Braddy, has now adapted his personality model for use with horses. The goal is to enable average horse owners to gain a fuller understanding of their own animals—a shortcut of sorts to the intuitive connection that experienced horsemen automatically make.
The Parelli Horsenality Model makes use of a chart with which an owner plots a horse’s unique characteristics and behaviors (see “How Does Your Horse Type Out,” below). By interpreting the completed chart, you learn whether your horse tends to be an introvert or an extrovert, and whether he’s right-brain (fear) or left-brain (dominance) oriented.
This information, in turn, provides valuable insights into how best to approach, handle, train, and bond with that horse.
From the Parelli Ranch in Pagosa Springs, Colorado, Linda recently spoke with H&R to tell us more about her groundbreaking work.
H&R: What does it mean for a horse to be introverted or extroverted, or right- or left-brained?
LINDA: Extroverted horses are like extroverted people, energetic and active. Their feet move a lot. Introverted horses tend to have lower energy and to be quieter by nature. Extroverts have more “go.” Introverts have more “whoa.”
Right-brained horses tend to be fearful and defensive, while left-brained ones are more confident and dominant. Right-brained horses are generally spookier; left-brained ones are generally pushier.
In simplest terms, the four basic categories of horsenality are:
- right-brained extrovert (high fear/ high energy);
- right-brained introvert (high fear/low energy);
- left-brained introvert (high dominance/low energy); and
- left-brained extrovert (high dominance/high energy).
H&R: Why go to the bother of plotting all this out—after all, horses will always be horses, right? Don’t we already know enough about their prey-species mentality to know how best to deal with them?
LINDA: Most people are unaware of just how different horses can be from each other, yet we’re quick to blame them for what we think are behavioral issues or vices. For example, we’ll say he’s just lazy, or she’s crazy. He’s stubborn, she’s unfocused, whatever.
But the most important thing is that each horsenality responds to stress in a different way—a right-brained extrovert, for example, will get panicky and tend to “go.” A left-brained introvert, by contrast, will tend to get balky and defiant. You can see some of the other differences by looking at the chart. Knowing all this helps you figure out the best way to approach your horse, given his horsenality.
What’s interesting is that people who’re talented with horses often know intuitively how to modify their approach to accommodate different horsenalities; they may not even be aware they’re doing it. Often they discover they get along with a particular kind of horse better than others—because their own personality matches with that particular horsenality.
Our goal is to help the average horse owner learn to get along better with every type of horsenality. When you know what makes this horse or that horse “tick,” you hold the key to unlocking the heart of every horse you come into contact with.
And the horses appreciate this so much. “She really gets me!”
H&R: Isn’t there a danger of anthropomorphizing horses by considering horsenalities? Don’t we just project our own preferences or preconceived notions onto them?
LINDA: Yes and no. The anthropomorphic part is when people are wrong about the cause of a horse’s feeling, rather than the actual feeling. For example, your horse might be dreadful on trail rides—hot-headed, won’t walk, jigs and jogs, wants to bolt. You might think it’s because he’s competitive and wants to be at the front, but that’s using a human rationale. Equine behavior is based on a prey-animal rationale, which is all about survival.
This extreme nervousness on the trail would be classic right-brained extrovert behavior, and it’s entirely fear-based. Once you realize that, you’ll understand that holding the horse back and punishing him are the worst things you could do. You need to calm and reassure him, instead. The horsenality model helps you figure that out, and the more you understand horse behavior, the less anthropomorphic you become.