Understanding Your Horse’s Behavior

Uncover the nine categories of horse behavior so you’ll better read your horse’s body language in future horseback-riding excursions.

From Junior Master Horseman

Because of the close social relationship most horsemen have with their horses, and because a horse’s behavior is usually modified during training, it’s important to understand “normal” and “abnormal” horse behavior to be a top-notch horseman.

The following nine horse-behavior categories will help you understand your horse in a deeper way:

    • Contactual Behavior: This type of horse behavior is a result of a horse seeking affection or protection, like when horses huddle together during inclement weather.
    • Ingestive behavior: This is consuming food or water into the digestive tract. Chewing bark or tail chewing are not considered normal ingestive behaviors and might be a warning sign of a horse who is lacking roughage or nutrients, is bored or needs exercise.

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    • Eliminative Behavior: Most of the time, a horse will stop whatever he might be doing to urinate or defecate, rather than urinating or defecating while walking, eating or drinking. Additionally, horses establish an elimination area in their environment and won’t graze in that area until there is no other source of food. Nervous moments, such as approaching a trailer to load, might cause a horse to eliminate.
    • Sexual Behavior: Sexual behavior is controlled by both hormonal and neural influences and includes all acts associated with the breeding process and signs of courtship. This type of horse behavior is exhibited by mares, stallions and geldings.
    • Epimeletic Behavior: This affectionate behavior is not common in adult stallions but is commonly seen in mares, geldings and young horses - especially between a mare and her foal. For example, horses will stand head-to-tail and mutually fight flies for each other, or also scratch each other on the neck, withers and back.
    • Et-Epimeletic Behavior: Both young and adult horses signal for attention by calling and movement. Horses typically exhibit this behavior seen when they are separated, placed in a strange environment or at weaning.
    • Allelomimetic Behavior: Also referred to as contagious or infectious behavior, this horse behavior entails the copying or mocking of one horse by another. For example, when one horse in a group breaks out in a buck or run, most of the time, the others will follow. Horses will even copy each other’s bad habits or vices, like chewing, too.
    • Investigative Behavior: Horses have a high level of sensory abilities, such as smell, touch, hearing and sometimes taste. Horses are naturally curious animals, especially around new surroundings, objects, humans and other animals. Because their ability to see detail isn’t as efficient, they are seldom satisfied to investigate something by sight alone. As a result, they often can’t resist smelling, touching, tasting and listening. Before a horse will accept anything new without apprehension, he must complete his investigation thoroughly. It is normal for a horse to overreact to anything out of the ordinary in his environment, including animals, objects, feed and unfamiliar horsemen.

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    • Agonistic Behavior: Agonistic behavior includes all actions that are associated with conflicts or fighting, which include aggression, submission and attempts to escape. Agonistic horse behaviors can cause real problems for horsemen but can be managed in most cases. Awareness is the key to minimizing these negative horse behaviors that can otherwise be harmful or dangerous to other animals and horse handlers. To avoid accidents, always approach a horse with caution and seek expert advice from experienced horsemen, like AQHA Professional Horsemen, before a horse’s behavior becomes a problem.

This great information came from the Junior Master Horseman educational series. Get your copies of these valuable resources today on Quarter Horse Outfitters!

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