The Book Stall
Ride the Right Horse

Ride the Right Horse
Understanding the Core Equine Personalities and How to Work with Them
by Yvonne Barteau
Storey Publishing, 2007

Rags to Riches was bred for Belmont. The filly who captured the third leg of this year's Triple Crown against a field of proud colts was no ordinary thoroughbred. Her sire, A.P. Indy, won the 1992 Belmont Stakes, and that horse's sire was Seattle Slew, the 10th winner of the Triple Crown.

Most horse racing tracks in America are virtually identical. Run around them once and you will have run one mile, but run around Belmont and you'll run a mile and a half.  The backstretch is more than 500 feet longer than most tracks -- nearly a furlong -- and so the stretch run to the finish line can seem interminable.

The Belmont Stakes isn't just about funny hats and mint juleps. It is truly a "Test of Champions" and winning the race takes stamina and tractability. A horse must be able to run for a mile and a half and keep its wits the whole way round. Not every horse's temperament is right for the challenge.

What's most distinctive about the personality of Rags to Riches, according to her trainers, is her professionalism. The colts who ran against her at Belmont were strong and wonderful horses, but not necessarily dependable. Rags to Riches goes into the gate, runs her race and almost always wins. "She will give you 100 percent without asking," said her jockey, Garret Gomez.

The right equine personality is key to winning races, but also for dressage or steeplechase or pleasure riding. "Understanding the temperament of the horse is what sets true horsemen apart from the rest of the riders that make up the horse world," writes Yvonne Barteau in her book, "Ride the Right Horse" (Storey Publishing, 2007).

A professional horse trainer for the U.S. Equestrian Team, Barteau is an expert at identifying equine personalities. She has devised a system of personality types for horses similar to thye Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) for human personalities. She describes four basic types of horses -- social, fearful, aloof, and challenging -- and identify secondary traits that help to define their behaviors, such as "aloof-challenging" or "fearful-social."

"There is no one type (either human or equine) that is better than the others," she points out. "Different strengths, different weaknesses, certainly, but not better and worse. I have learned over the years that some horses are more suited to certain activities than others and that certain individuals will be more skillful at handling and presenting them."

Barteau advises riders and trainers to assess their own personality type, using the MBTI or some other analysis tool, and carefully consider what kind of horse they will work best with and feel most comfortable astride. Are you looking for a challenging mount that will negotiate the hunt field without missing a step, or a lovable lap dog of a horse? Will you feel most comfortable with a fearful mount that relies on your confidence with every step or a very business-like ride, proud and adept?

"Although some people do get lucky making emotional decisions, in equine matters logical, practical choices are the safest and surest bet," she says.

There are specific clues to identifying a horse's primary personality, which Barteau details in her book. By paying close attention to the horse's actions and interactions with his environment, people (both new and familiar), and others horses, most folks will be able to categorize and better understand the animal.

Whether the horse is destined for cutting, roping, trail rides or a run at Belmont, by figuring out how to work with -- and not against -- the animal's temperament, trainers and riders will be rewarded with a happier and more successful mount.

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Ride the Right Horse
Ride the Right Horse

Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 2007  All rights reserved.

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