Variation in personality between horse breeds
Some horse owners believe that the personality of their horse shows characteristics typical to the breed. This has partly been supported by research on the heritability of personality characteristics in a range of species, which shows that certain personality traits are can be genetically transferred from parents to offspring.
In an earlier study a personality test for horses was created, which was proven to be reliable. This test revealed six underlying personality components in horses: dominance, anxiousness, excitability, protection, sociability and inquisitiveness.
In this study the previously mentioned test was applied on 1223 horses of eight different breeds to explore differences across the six personality components. The breeds were: Irish draught horses, Shetland ponies, Arabians, Highland ponies, Welsh ponies, American quarter horses and Appaloosas. The questionnaires were distributed to owners or pure-bred horses and also included questions about the person completing the questionnaire to make sure they met certain criteria. All horses were over 1 year old, owned by the person for at least six months and regularly handled.
The most variance between breeds was observed for anxiousness and excitability. The Thoroughbred, Arabian and Welsh ponies were ranked highest for both traits. These three breeds also received the highest scores for sociability and inquisitiveness, however between breed variability was moderately low. Dominance and protection showed little variance between breeds and on average all scores were negative.
Expert opinion by Anouk van Breukelen
The results of this study provide evidence for the presence of breed typical personalities, which raises further questions about the heritability of personality and behaviour in horses. This information may help in selecting a suitable breed when buying a horse for sport, recreation or other areas in equation. However, individual personalities within breeds can always deviate and should therefore be individually assessed.
> From: Lloyd et al., Applied Animal Behaviour Science 112 (2008) 369-383. All rights reserved to Elsevier B.V.. Click here for the online summary.