Registered Riding

Evaluating Horse Temperament/Personality
By Molly Sweeney, member of the PATH Intl. Equine Welfare Committee

With 25 year’s experience evaluating horses for equine assisted programs, I have learned there are other factors to consider besides age, size, breed, conformation, gait, weight-carrying ability, soundness, and manners. One of the most elusive and yet most important factors to take into account is their innate temperament/personality, because it affects their mental and psychological responses. Not all horses react the same way to different circumstances or to different training methods, so the more we learn about their individual personalities, the more prepared we can be to understand and deal with their responses.

Fortunately, several highly qualified horsemen and horsewomen have devised systems that describe equine temperaments and generally define how different types of horses respond to different situations.

Linda Tellington-Jones, of T-Touch fame, says you can analyze the shape of your horse’s head, eyes, ears, chin, jowl and profile to learn their innate personality. You can also evaluate facial swirls and their relationship to positive or negative characteristics. She discusses all this in her book “Getting in TTouch: Understand and Influence Your Horse’s Personality.” More on swirls, a horse’s fingerprint, can be found at

Linda Parelli has coined the term Horsenality and how she defines temperament with four main characteristics: Left-Brained (Dominant); Right-Brained (Unconfident); Introvert (More Whoa); and Extrovert (More Go). She has developed a valuable assessment tool with a Horsenality Chart in the Parelli book, “HorseManShip”. More at

For more than 2,000 years, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) has evaluated temperament according to the 5 Elements; Fire, Wood, Earth, Metal, Water. In her book, “Horse Harmony,” Madalyn Ward, DVM, uses this model to define different horse personalities as well as the best training, occupation, diet and management approach for each type.

Copied here with the author’s permission:
“Fire Horse: The Perfect Show Horse
Motto: “Look at me!”
Typical Traits: Friendly, sensitive, affectionate, eager to please, pretty, fine-boned
When Not Balanced: Anxious, over-reactive, nervous
Fire horses love to be at the center of attention and they want to be adored. They make excellent hunters and dressage horses, as well as good pleasure horses. They need to be told that they are loved. They enjoy grooming and bathing because it makes them beautiful.

Earth Horse: The Dependable Lesson Horse
Motto: “Let’s be a team!”
Typical Traits: Easygoing, willing, great with kids, easy keeper, stocky build
When Not Balanced: Lazy, grouchy, apathetic
Earth horses love two things: respect and food. They are solid citizens who want to be appreciated for the good work they do, and food treats often go a long way toward keeping them happy. They make perfect school horses and work well with children. They develop bad habits when their daily routine is upset. Click link to see video "Is Your Horse A Labrador" with characteristics of the Earth Horse.

Metal Horse: The Hard-Working Ranch Horse
Motto: “What’s my job?”
Typical Traits: Hard working, consistent, dependable, tough, aloof
Metal horses enjoy order and control, and can stand up to some of the toughest working conditions. They do their jobs perfectly but otherwise desire very little interaction. They can be found in all disciplines and are often found in working-horse situations like ranching.

Water Horse: The Arab Park Horse
Motto: “Can I trust you?”
Typical Traits: Highly sensitive, strong-willed, athletic
When Not Balanced: Fearful, needy, physically weak
Water horses need safety and a trustworthy rider. They can be brilliant show horses but panic easily. They perform well in events that call for animation and excitement, and are motivated by cheering crowds. They need steady riders to help them through scary situations.

Wood Horse: The Ultimate Competitor
Motto: “I will win!”
Typical Traits: Strong-willed, competitive, athletic, powerful
When Not Balanced: Pushy and aggressive OR apathetic and depressed
Wood horses love physical challenges and must be kept active or they will develop bad habits like kicking and biting. Wood horses make excellent jumpers, barrel racers and cutters so long as they understand the rules of the game. Don’t try to subdue or overpower a Wood horse but instead reason with them.”

There are also six other more complicated combined personalities. Dr. Ward includes a personality test to help you determine your horse’s basic temperament and tips on each type’s best training methods and best jobs. More at and and in her book, “Horse Harmony”.

If you are interested in learning more about evaluating horses and horse temperaments, we will be presenting more information in the morning at the PATH Intl. Equine Welfare Committee Workshop that goes all day Wednesday, November 8th in San Antonio at the PATH International Annual Conference. Hope to see you there!



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