horse personality types

Horse Personality Types – Which One Best Describes Your Horse?

I’m sure you’ve noticed that every horse you’ve ever raised or taken care of has had their own unique, distinct and sometimes quirky personality. Yes, just like humans, cats, dogs, and most other pets for that matter, no two horses are the same and each horse has its unique personality.

There are several horse personality types and in this guide, we’ll unpack each of those personalities. We’ll also help you determine which one – or which combination of personalities – can be best used to describe your horse’s temperament.

Horse Personality Types

A horse’s personality type or temperament is, much like humans’, determined by their genetics, upbringing, interactions with people and other horses, individual training and their surroundings and environment.

There are several different horse personalities, and knowing which one your horse belongs to can help a lot when it comes to training or handling your horse. It also helps you to better communicate with the animal and predict their behaviour.

What is Horse Temperament?

A horse’s temperament refers to the basic nature and natural behaviour patterns of a horse. Its temperament directly affects how each horse views and interacts with humans and other horses.

A horse’s temperament is also an important factor when choosing or selecting an animal before buying it. Even though a horse can be a possible prize-winning animal with excellent physical features, a bad or undesired temperament can make you regret your purchase.

The Different Horse Personality Types

The Grand Prix dressage rider and clinician, Yvonne Barteau, in her book, “The Dressage Horse Manifesto” lists four main equine personalities: social, fearful, aloof, and challenging.

While some horses can be categorized into only one of these personality types, it is important to note that most horses would show characteristics of one or more of the different personality types. If horses show more than one, the dominance of each of these personalities will differ from horse to horse.


Social horses love interacting with people and their fellow stable mates.

They thrive on attention and are very observant about what is happening around them. These horses enjoy interacting with their environment and other horses. They are easy to train and ride and maintain a very positive relationship with people.

Aggressively social horses can, however, be easily distracted. Because they are so inquisitive, it may be hard to hold their attention.

Interestingly and sadly, these horses can tolerate abuse and neglect longer than horses of other personality types.

Social horses are notably seen in mostly high-energy breeds such as Thoroughbred or Arabian horses. You’ll often see Miniature horse breeds also display this personality type. Clydesdales are also very sociable, as you can see in the video below, Ally and Edward love to groom each other and are both very curious when I come to say hello. Look closely at Edwards behaviour when they come over (Edward is the brown one). You can clearly see he is the dominant one.


A fearful horse can be characterized by its strong flight instinct or over-reactive personality.

These horses are very aware of their surroundings and are always very watchful, especially when young. Fearful horses need a lot of care and guidance – giving them extra guidance will help build trust between you and your horse.

These horses need a lot of personal space but also need an experienced and patient trainer to build up and win their trust.

Working with fearful horses requires a lot of understanding and nerve as they tend to easily take flight when startled, especially in new and unfamiliar surroundings.

They also tend to be claustrophobic when constrained or confined in small spaces.

Though challenging to work with at first, once they have gained your trust, fearful horses can become extremely attentive with a long-term attention span.

Although horses from all different breeds can be fearful, this personality type is more common among horses of Arabian descent, such as the Welsh Cob or Appaloosa.

We don’t have many fearful horses here at Strathorn. This is because of how we handle them. They are kept in natural groups where they feel safe, we handle them daily and we are a working farm so they get used to tractors and diggers driving around. Any horse can have it’s fears cured if it is kept in a safe enviroment, but don’t be too safe. They need to be exposed to daily life. Taking them out on a walk in their bridle is a good way to de-sensitise them.


Aloof horses, in comparison to social horses, lack interest in their immediate surroundings. They often have a distant look in their eyes and do not easily interact and engage with humans or other horses.

When it comes to training, aloof horses need clear guidance and instructions and need to be rewarded for their efforts. They often will ignore instructions for as long as possible, but when they do respond to instructions they’re mostly prone to overreact.

When training an aloof horse, you should be clear in your intentions and instructions to avoid confusing the animal.

Much like social horses, aloof horses will, unfortunately, also tolerate abuse and neglect for longer.

The aloof personality can occur in about any horse breed and it should be noted that neglect, abuse and bad handling can turn a very social, interactive horse into an aloof type.

Pebbles the Cob likes her “me time”


One can very easily recognise a challenging horse. They’re normally high up in the herd pecking order, have strong personalities, and tend to challenge and confront their trainer and other horses.

Challenging horses are prone to bullying and often bully herd members to show their dominance. They are also very guarded about their personal space and can be confrontational when having to deal with rider’s aids.

These horses will continually test you, but by being firm and setting clear boundaries and using well-timed aids, challenging horses will come to obey your instructions.

If left undisciplined, they can become dangerous to handle. If treated fairly and firmly, a challenging horse will become obedient, respectful and cooperative and, in time, a brave and loyal horse.

Challenging personalities are more commonly found in baroque-type breeds such as the Andalusian, Lusitano, and Friesian.

Young colts rearing and fighting

Other Horse Personality Types

Horse personalities, just like human personalities, are not set in stone and can occur over a wide spectrum of differing characteristics.

Besides the four types of horse personalities mentioned above, equine experts also recognise the following horse personalities:


Distrustful horses are easy to spot – they normally have their ears pinned back as they are approached.

These horses are prone to attacking humans and other horses. Their mistrust stems from being neglected, mishandled or disrespected. They are commonly referred to as being grumpy or miserable and tend to avoid interacting with other members of the herd. It is advised to be cautious around distrustful horses as they can easily kick or bite.

To win over these horses’ trust, it will take a lot of patience, courage and hard work.

What are you looking at?


Sensitive horses are perfect for performing, eager to please, forward in the saddle, and respond easily to aids.

Best ridden by an experienced rider, a sensitive horse can easily be offended if not respected.

To reach their full potential, a sensitive horse should also be given very clear instructions and signals, as they can become flighty, and will try to escape if given unnecessary pressure.

This personality type is most often observed in Thoroughbreds, horses of Arabian descent, and breeds used in sports.


Easy-going horses are perfect for children or beginner riders. They are very easy to handle, are relaxed and calm, and won’t overreact in new situations or under inexperienced riders.

Such horses are very tolerant of the mistakes a rider makes and have a very understanding and kind nature. An easy-going horse will however tend to be slow and unreactive, which might irk more ambitious riders.

Many ponies and small horse breeds (Gypsy Vanner, Haflinger, or Norwegian Fjord) fall into the easy-going category.

Regean our Norwegian Fjord is one of our mose easy going ponies

How to Determine the Personality Type of Your Horse

Knowing your horse’s personality can be very helpful during training and handling. It also gives you a better understanding of your horse and will help you predict its behaviour in certain situations.

Ultimately, it also helps you in setting realistic training goals, while it will improve the communication between you and your four-footed companion.

Determining your horse’s personality traits

  • Observe and objectively assess the horse and make notes on how the horse behaves in a variety of situations and environments.Equine experts advise that it’s best to make these observations without your horse knowing that you’re watching as this can inadvertently affect how they behave.
  • Take a pen and paper and note down all the different behaviours your horse displays, and try to group them into the four major horse personality types.
  • Also, try to do this evaluation under different circumstances – your horse will react differently to, say when it is in a familiar environment like its barn, while it will act completely differently when in another, unfamiliar environment.

Barteau, in her book, advises against being emotional when making these observations and also advises against making excuses for your horse’s reactions.

Which Horse Personality is Best for Me?

I advise that you select a horse, based on its personality, that fits your individual needs and requirements. While some riders prefer horses with strong personalities, other riders prefer obedient, more docile horses.

Also, choose your horse based on what you intend to use it for – horses with strong, outgoing personalities will do great in activities that require them to be active and quick-thinking, while horses with more timid and laid-back personalities will be great for kids or pleasure rides.


How do horses act when they are happy?

Horses show their happiness by snorting. When snorting, horses are displaying a calm and cheerful demeanour, indicating that they are happy and comfortable.

How do horses show anger?

Horses tense up when they are mad. They also flare their nostrils, their muzzles become tight and tense, and they will tense their neck and back. They may also tuck in their hindquarters and flatten their tails when angry.

How do horses show that they are sad?

Unhappy horses show their sadness by holding their neck level with their back in a droopy manner. Sad horses also tend to be immobile for long periods and can become detached from their environment.

How do horses show respect?

When horses come toward you when you are in their vicinity, it means they like and respect you. They will also tend to follow you around and give you all their attention to show that they consider you a friend.

How do horses express their love for you?

Both wild and domesticated horses show affection by sharing breath. They put their noses together and “share their breath”. They also display this habit toward humans they love by putting their muzzle to your face and blowing warm air in your face.

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