SmartPak Monday Morning Feed: Is Your Horse an Introvert or an Extravert?

Have you even mapped your horse’s personality? If not, what you find may be interesting. SmartPaker Dr. Lydia Gray discusses what she discovered when she mapped her horses’ personalities.

Originally published in the SmartPak blog. Written by Dr. Lydia Gray.

I’m an introvert. That surprises a lot of people because they see me in Ask the Vet videos or speaking at an equine event and assume I’m naturally outgoing, talkative, and high energy. But interacting with people drains my “battery.” To recharge, I need to leave the event early and be by myself with a good book and a nice warm cup of Earl Grey tea.

Extraverts, on the other hand (can also be spelled “extrovert”) get their energy from being around other people – in fact they thrive on it. Being alone is what drains their energy while interactions restore it or “refill the tank.” Extraverts also seem to do their best thinking by talking out loud as they come up with ideas or work things out.

So when our country went on lockdown over a year ago in March of 2020 due to COVID-19, I did not have as tough a time of it as others in terms of needing human interaction. While I am neither shy nor reclusive (neither of which has anything to do with Introversion), my basic preference or comfort zone is to have a few, close friends and work mostly on my own as I am reflective and reserved.

Okay, but what does this have to do with horses? One of the reasons people take personality tests is to understand what makes themselves and others — like co-workers, significant others, students — “tick.” When we understand our own preferences as well as the preferences (default mode) of others, we can adapt our personal style to better align with others and interact more successfully.

It’s the same with horses. Of course, there are some hard-wired equine characteristics – e.g. they’re a prey animal with a strong “fight or flight” response — but anyone who’s ever been around horses can see that they each have their own individual personalities.

Now, there’s not been nearly as much (any?) scientific research around the personalities of horses like there’s been around the personalities of people. And the top trainers just seem to intuitively “know” how to get along with all the different horses in their barn. They also tend to select for themselves horses with the personality they prefer. For the rest of us who may not be as skilled at reading horses, I say “thank you” to those trainers who have set down on paper some basic horse personalities and how to work best with them.

Photo courtesy of SmartPaker Dr. Lydia Gray

This lovely horse is my Newman, a Trakehner gelding who, at the time of this photo shoot, was 10 years old and competing at Third Level. A friend of mine who was working her way up the Parelli Levels introduced me to their Horsenality™ chart and I had a lot of fun plotting him on it. I’m sharing this picture because I’m trying to convey that he was a Left-brained Introvert. Confident, disinterested, unmotivated, and stubborn to the point of being defiant, he thrived on variety and was a safe, reliable partner. He was low energy and quiet, and I joked that his favorite gait was the halt, or “whoa.”

As Newman entered retirement, I purchased a 2-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding to be my next partner. According to this chart and another source I was using — Horse Harmony: Understanding horse types and temperaments, by Madalyn Ward, DVM – “Stan Lee” seemed to have the right personality for me and for what I wanted to do with him (dressage, carriage driving, maybe even jumping, side saddle, and other disciplines). Now however, his profile has become a Left-brained Extravert. As I’ve come to find out, it’s not unusual for horses to slide along the scale, especially in different environments and situations.

Photo courtesy of SmartPaker Dr. Lydia Gray

Extraverted horses are high energy, have more “go” than “whoa,” and therefore find standing still to be a real challenge. To help me find a pathway to partnership with 17 hands of confident, friendly, exuberant, mouthy, and playful, I turned to Gabi Neurohr and her book: Understanding is the Key: A comprehensive guide to creating a partnership for life with your young horse.

I found her way with horses and her explanations to owners to be so on-target with what I need at this time in our relationship that I bought two of her online courses and follow her on Facebook. From haltering and leading, to saddling and bridling, and from trailer loading and clipping to administering dewormer and vaccinations, Gabi’s advice on how to interact with the Confident Extravert has kept us both safe, happy, and progressing.

Have you ever personality-typed YOUR horse? Do you know what your own personality preferences are? Do you think this is all so much hooey? Tell us about you and your horse in the Facebook comments as well as the tips, trainers, and tools that have helped you!

You can find this and more on the SmartPak blog. Go SmartPak and go riding!