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How to Determine the Temperament of Your Horses

by Judy Knowler

Getting another horse exactly like yours is going to be difficult. Just like humans have individual and distinctive characteristics and personalities, horses also exhibit unique traits with endearing habits and little quirks. Equine experts have extensively studied these traits since they were discovered.

Your horse’s temperament is a product of unique combinations. You can determine your horse’s personality based on training, upbringing, genetics, and living environment. A horse temperament scale will help you know where it places and how best to handle your horse.

Here’s all the essential information about horse temperament and how to determine where your horse lands.

What is Horse Temperament?

Horse temperament is the general behavior a horse exhibits. This behavior is stable with time and in similar conditions. It’s determined by factors such as age, breed, genetics, gender, and environment.

A horse’s temperament is measured using the temperament scale. It measures the horse’s demeanor on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 indicating a serene horse and 10 a hostile one.

A horse’s temperament makes one friendlier than the other, with others needing more time and bonding experiences to build complete trust.

How the Horse Temperament Scale Works

Horse temperament scales are common among sellers. They put it in a box labeled “temperament” with a selected number. This number is often more subjective than objective, albeit serving a vital purpose, especially to novice buyers.

A horse temperament scale often runs from 1 to 10, though some measures use a scale of 1 to 5. For both cases, a rating of 1 indicates an extremely calm and relaxed demeanor, while the highest number represents a “hot” temperament.

On a 10-point scale, a rating between 1 to 4 often indicates a relatively calm horse, while 6-10 indicates a more excitable demeanor. A number 5 means the horse is right in the middle, with a “warm” demeanor. On a five-point scale, this warm demeanor will be at number 3.

Lower temperament scale horses are dependable, calm, and often unflappable. Higher temperament scale horses are more quick, eager, and somewhat unpredictable.

Is The Horse Temperament Scale All You Need?

The horse temperament scale is the most dependable way of determining a horse’s temperament. However, experienced equestrians use other informal tests. These include lightly swinging a jacket close to the horse or looking at some of its features, such as the shape of the head and the gaze on the eyes, to assess the temperament.

For a novice, relying on the provided temperament scale is the best option.

Why is a Horse’s Temperament Important?

A horse’s temperament is a crucial factor when buying a horse. What you’ve destined the horse to do determines the best temperament that will lead to a pleasant horse-owning experience.

Generally, there’s no “good” or “bad” horse temperament. Each temperament is best adapted for a specific usage. Therefore, based on temperament, certain horses will be the best for particular tasks, such as leisure riding. Others will be better suited for specific riders, such as beginners or experts.

For instance, spooky horses are the best for experienced riders looking for a top-quality performer. These horses move quickly and have a higher tactile sensitivity.

Conversely, a beginner’s horse should have lower tactile sensitivity. The horse should also be less impressionable and react slower to sudden or new events. The horse should also not get jumpy when separated from other horses. Horses of this temperament are easier to ride, handle, or harness.

A horse’s temperament also affects its learning. Fearful horses learn differently compared to less fearful ones. When put in a familiar environment and the task at hand is a little frightening, fearful horses learn faster. This form of training is called negative reinforcement.

If put in an unfamiliar environment, these horses will learn much slower.

The Four Main Types of Horse Personalities

According to The Dressage Horse Manifesto, a book by Yvonne Barteau, horses exhibit four main temperaments. Other publications, such as Horses: A Guide to Selection, Care, and Employment, by J. Warrens Evans, cites up to six personalities.

According to Yvonne Barteau, these four prominent personalities can be passive or aggressive. Here’re the four main ones according to her book.


Passively social horses exhibit a quiet interest in their surroundings and people. They’re often entertained by the activities in their environment and by other horses. They’re also appropriately reactive during training, making them easy to train and ride.

Aggressively social horses also have an interest in their environment but can be easily distracted by it. They’re often the jokers and class clowns of the barn, with good spirits and high curiosity. Because of their shorter attention spans, aggressive social horses are harder to train, especially when young.


Passively aloof horses are easily identifiable by what they don’t want to do. They’re often uninterested in other horses, people, or their environment. Therefore, they need appropriate and clear signals and constant practice on how to respond to interactions.

Aggressively aloof horses will studiously ignore stimuli and overreact inappropriately if triggered too much. These horses often have difficulty with aid sequences and must be taught to focus and respond appropriately in real time.


Passively fearful horses are often uncertain and quietly watchful in new environments. They have a shallow comfort zone and are often reactive and attentive during training.

Aggressively fearful horses can be claustrophobic and panicky, with a strong flight instinct. They can make sudden and quick reactions if they receive too many stimuli. You need time, patience, and more patience to train them effectively. However, they bond best with a human who understands them.


Passively challenging horses tend to test authority. However, they can be easily talked out of it with quiet confidence.

Aggressively challenging horses can be contrary and opportunistic, requiring sharpness from the handler or rider to gain respect and get responses. This type responds well to well-timed, clear aids that fit the situation. However, you must use fair means to keep them in line, or they can be dangerous.

Choose the Best Horse for Your Needs and Provide the Best Treatment

Knowing where your horse falls on the temperament scale will require interacting with it and getting clues from its initial reactions. However, this behavior will also depend heavily on its environment and how you treat it. Visit our shop and discover what you can use to treat your horse better for the best temperament.

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