I am sometimes asked the difference between horse temperament and horse personality. In many cases a horse’s temperament and personality are basically the same so it is not wrong to use the terms interchangeably but in some cases they can be very different. The temperament is what the horse is born with and this is his default pattern of behavior. The horse’s personality, on the other hand is what develops in him from his life experiences. If a horse has a challenging temperament such as an aggressive Wood proper training can mold that horse’s personality into a well behaved, useful individual. He will still have his underlying Wood horse temperament so a lapse in proper handling could allow him to revert to his default aggressiveness. A horse with an easy going temperament can keep that natural behavior if handled consistently and fairly but this same horse could also develop some difficult personality issues if mishandled.
For example, Remi, has a Yang Ming(Metal/Earth) horse temperament. Like most Yang Ming’s he is friendly and easy going when everything is calm but he has developed some challenging personality traits if he feels stressed. His history is being started as a roping horse and from the way he looked when I first met him I feel he had seen some very rough days which had lessened his trust in himself and people. I have spent years working to rebuild his trust in himself and people so he can again be the easy going horse that is his temperament but I always keep in mind the personality issues he has as well.
This mornings ride was a good example of paying attention to personality even in a naturally good tempered horse. Remi was feeling great as we have a front blowing in and the wind was gusty. When I went to catch him he playfully took off into the field and was bucking and kicking up his heels with the other horses. After a little run he let me catch him easily. I noticed though while I was tacking him up that he seemed a bit tense even though he was behaving perfectly. This sent some alarm bells off for me and I said a little pray asking for protection and guidance on our ride. No more had I finished this thought than I got the message to do some flag work. I had not worked Remi with the flag for some time so I got it out and waved it gently. He walked off a little but did not seem to concerned so I reached up and touched the saddle with the flag. Well, Remi lost it. He put his head between his legs and started bucking. The good news was he never panicked. If a troubled horse could buck politely, he did. He never tried to pull free and he never bucked into my space. After a pretty short time, Remi settled down and looked at me as if he did not know what just happened. I petted him, grabbed a few treats and went right back to flagging him. This time he did not mind and all and happily munched the offered treats for staying relaxed.
Once out on the trail, Remi settled back into his Yang Ming temperament but when the neighbors horse came running up on the other side of the fence he bolted. I pulled his head around and got him stopped pretty easily and he again relaxed for the rest of the ride. If I did not recognize Remi’s underlying horse temperament his brief anxiety attacks might cause me to incorrectly label him as another Five Element type but as I work with him I see fewer and fewer personality issues and more of his solid easy going temperament.
So in many cases horse temperament and personality are the same but being able to recognize when they are different can help you work with more complicated horses. Madalyn