Study: Match Personalities for Strong Horse, Woman Bond

Editor's note: This article is part of's ongoing coverage of topics presented at the 2012 International Society of Equitation Science conference, held July 18-20 in Edinburgh, Scotland.

All right ladies, this one's for you. Do you think personalities matter when it comes to getting the right horse-rider relationship? According to a recently completed equitation science study, they certainly seem to. Research shows that women who "match up" their horses' personality traits to those of their own are more likely to have a better relationship with their animals.

Inga Wolframm, PhD, senior lecturer of equine leisure and sports at the University of Applied Science Van Hall Larenstein in Wageningen, The Netherlands, presented her research at the 8th International Society of Equitation Science conference, held July 18-20 in Edinburgh, Scotland.

"We know from studies on humans that personality traits affect the way people cooperate and communicate with each other," Wolframm said. "Coaches and athletes who share personality traits seem to have better relationships than those who do not, and the same is true with marriage partners. Research has also shown this applies to dogs and their masters. So what I wanted to know was: what about horses and their riders?"

Wolframm's study was based on a Facebook questionnaire that spread "like a virus" in The Netherlands among equestrians between the ages of 18 and 70. The women were asked to rate 15 of their own personality traits (such as excitability, liveliness, consideration, and leadership). And--"as horses can't fill out questionnaires," Wolframm added--respondents were also asked to rate 15 of their horses' corresponding personality traits (such as emotional reactivity, ability to learn, how affectionate and sociable ["gregarious"] they are, and how easily riders felt their horses cooperated). Finally, they were asked to rate how they viewed their relationship with their horse, as low, medium, or high quality.

Narrowed down to 2,525 responses based on scientific reliability, the returned questionnaires showed a general trend, Wolframm said. Statistical analyses indicated that when the personality traits matched up, the relationship between horse and rider was stronger.

For example, in good relationships a rider's "liveliness" tended to match up well with her horse's "ability to learn" and level of "gregariousness," Wolframm said. And a rider's "excitability" level tended to match up with the horse's "emotional reactivity."

"Mediocre relationships had some correlations, but nowhere near as many as good relationships had," Wolframm said. "And in poor relationships there were actually no correlations at all. So there really seems to be something to the saying, 'birds of a feather flock together,' even if the 'birds' are of different species."

It is important to note that the study was not based on a professional, objective evaluation of personality traits. Rather, it relied entirely on self-evaluation: the way women see themselves, their horses, and their relationships with their horses, according to Wolframm. Thus, it's possible that a good match could affect the way women perceive the personalities of their horses or themselves. Or the way they perceive themselves could affect the way they interpret their horses and their relationships to them.

The study was also "self-selecting," she added, since it was an internet-based study and therefore only applied to women riders who use social media (and probably have equestrian friends in that media).

"Personality isn't the end-all criteria for good relationships, of course," Wolframm concluded. "They also depend on the rider's skills and the horse's physical abilities, for example. But personality certainly appears to be at least one important factor in matching up horses to riders, and women should take that into consideration when buying a horse for themselves."

About the Author

Christa Lesté-Lasserre, MA

Christa Lesté-Lasserre is a freelance writer based in France. A native of Dallas, Texas, Lesté-Lasserre grew up riding Quarter Horses, Appaloosas, and Shetland Ponies. She holds a master’s degree in English, specializing in creative writing, from the University of Mississippi in Oxford and earned a bachelor's in journalism and creative writing with a minor in sciences from Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She currently keeps her two Trakehners at home near Paris. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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