As horse temperament typing has become more popular, and as more people become interested in being in better “Horse Harmony,” I am being asked some pretty tough questions.
And I am so pleased! The fact that tough questions are being thrown my way means that people truly want to learn more about horse temperament typing, and are really questioning the validity of being able understand, manage, feed, and train their horses based on temperament.
One of the most common questions that people ask me is, “Does temperament typing a horse limit him by putting him in a box?” That’s a great question, and I’d like to take that opportunity to answer it here.
Does Temperament Typing Put a Horse “In a Box”?
At first blush the answer would seem to be “Yes!” After all, we are talking about taking a horse and pigeon-holing him in a particular type, which would seem to put him “in a box,” so to speak.
But the true answer to the question is, “No.” In fact, correctly temperament typing a horse actually gives the horse the freedom to be who he truly is rather than limiting his expression.
Let me give you an example. I recently typed a Warmblood gelding destined to be a dressage horse as a Wood temperament type. If you have any experience with Wood-type horses, then you know that the Wood horse likes challenge, variety, and, most of all, winning. Wood temperament horses can also be rough, tough, and ready-to-go.
Thus making a Wood type horse a dressage horse can be a challenge. Impossible? Nope. Difficult? Maybe. Actually, probably. Because the Wood personality isn’t a natural match for the refinement and controlled movement of dressage, this gelding’s rider may need to introduce dressage moves in between more challenging activities, like jumping or chasing cows. Another option would be to jump the Wood horse around a course a few times until he feels fulfilled, and then practice a few 20 meter circles and shoulder-in moves.
At a show, this gelding’s rider may need to jump a few jumps to keep the horse happy, then dash into the dressage arena and do the test before the horse loses focus and attention. As a reward, the rider can then take the horse around a few more jumps after the dressage test is complete, hopefully without any bucking or other Wood-type protestations.
Taking Breed into Consideration
In this same example, one of the “saving graces” of this Wood gelding is that he is a Warmblood. Because Warmbloods tend to be less energetic than some other breeds, such as Arabians or Thoroughbreds, this gelding is likely to be a less challenging Wood temperament. Compared to other Warmbloods of different temperaments, he will still be more of natural-born thrill-seeker and more energetic, but his laid-back Warmblood nature will allow him to fight less and accept more.
Temperament Typing = Freedom
Handled correctly and given enough freedom to express his desire for action and challenge, this Warmblood gelding can certainly compete successfully as a dressage horse.
However, if you try to stifle his natural energetic impulses by confining him to the dressage ring, this gelding will end up a real handful. He may entertain ideas of bucking, rearing, dumping his rider at regular intervals, and avoiding being caught at any or all times.
This gelding needs a firm hand with regard to discipline, as well as plenty of room to play rough during his off hours. He needs to see a variety of challenging work, and be ridden regularly. Given these, he will happily do some dressage tests, and do them well.
By temperament typing this gelding as a Wood and by giving him the freedom to “blow off steam” at regular intervals, this horse gets to be free. Rather than being pigeon-holed by his temperament type as “aggressive” or “uncooperative,” this gelding gets the proper handling he needs to be who he is … and to be in harmony with his human’s desire to show in the dressage ring.
As you can see, temperament typing isn’t an attempt to short-cut training time or put a horse in a box. What temperament typing does is allow a person to look at a horse and predict the factors that will allow a horse to be most successful in a chosen discipline. Typing also allows a person to see when a horse is simply not a match for a selected discipline. Some Wood type horses, especially in the more energetic breeds, will not do well in the dressage arena unless a person is willing to go to extraordinary measures way above the norm. In those cases, you have to ask yourself,
“How far am I willing to go to make this work for us?”
Know what I mean?