Friday 27 May 2016

Is Your Horse a Rock Star? Preliminary Results

(psst, the answer is no, no she is not)

Karen at Bakersfield Dressage recently did a post on the book "Is Your Horse A Rock Star?" by Dessa Hockley. See Karen's posts here and here.

The Book

The book categorizes horses into 16 different personality types and tries to give some insight into why they do what they do. When I read Karen's post I was immediately intrigued. I had my last horse Ellie for 14 years and I felt like I knew her really well. I immediately knew if she was genuinely afraid or if she was spooking due to boredom. I knew when to push her and when to back off. Then, I got Kachina. Kachina is a very different horse and one that I sometimes have trouble reading. Especially with our groundwork issues, it can be hard to tell if Kachina is afraid, or trying to test me, and the answer is important to know how best to react.

I'm calling this the Preliminary Results, because I just got the book last night, read all about the eight personality traits, and then read the resulting personality type for Kachina. My plan is to now go back and read all the rest of the personality types plus the tools section and see if I gain any additional insights. 

This book is written by someone with a lifetime of experience with horses and her interpretation of how different horses act and respond, not an in depth quantitative analysis. I think that the confirmation of her ideas comes from readers who find the same truths in their horses. The fact that Karen, and many of her friends, have found that the descriptions of the personality types fit their horses, gives the book more weight and credence in my mind. Although, I'm going to give it a few weeks to see if Kachina seems to fit the mould or not.  

Reading the introduction, a couple things immediately jumped out at me: driving through Saskatchewan, showing at Spruce Meadows, the author must be from near my area! Just goes to show how small the world is, that a book recommended by a blogger in California is written by a horsewoman living in Alberta :-)

The 8 Personality Traits

Dominant or Submissive: Submissive

Energetic or Lazy: Energetic

Curious or Afraid: Afraid

Friendly or Aloof: Aloof

Categorizing Kachina was actually really easy. Even just reading the headings I could pretty much guess which she was in each category. Reading the detailed sections and doing the quiz at the back of the book just confirmed my initial guesses. It wasn't even a close call for any of them, which I take to mean that she expresses each of her traits pretty strongly (she's not close to the center).

Kachina and Norm, two very different personalities sharing the same pen

So what Personality Type does that make Kachina?

SEAA The Perfectionist

The book has an illustration for each personality type,
this is the one for The Perfectionist. I think it's hilarious
because I'm an engineer, so it totally fits me


Let's break down some of what the book says about The Perfectionist:

 "Ideally they would be born to a confident, caring mother. Their first interaction with people would be imprinting to help them cope with all that life is going to throw at them. They would be handled regularly as babies, weanlings and yearlings. Their education would have a solid base that is built on trust. Their training would be started when they are young and malleable; they would be ridden regularly;... They would find a job that they attach to at an early age, that they can do well and that brings them satisfaction and a sense of confidence."
Well, that's sure not the upbringing Kachina got! Almost the opposite in fact. She had very little training and wasn't started under saddle until the ripe age of 8. She was then started as a trail horse, but didn't get ridden with any regularity or consistency. She was mostly a pasture ornament and went on occasional trail rides with generally a different rider each time. Then, at the age of 12, she came to me and started a whole new career as a dressage horse.

So, Kachina got a bad start in life based on her personality type, what problems could that cause?

"...the Perfectionist gets frustrated and angry and afraid in changing situations. They can decide that they would rather not participate at all. Running away can become their evasion of choice whether out in the field or with you riding them."
"In the negative they may be nervous, suspicious, high strung, worried, fearful, or anxious. Their insecurities abound. They appear to be timid, frightened, even abused."
"Their emotional coping mechanisms are limited. You may pour your heart and soul into them without a lot of warmth coming back."
"...if they have been damaged, the Energetic/Afraid/Aloof says that their evasion of choice is running away from everything. They can be calculating, smart and unforgiving, even holding grudges if offended. They wear their "issues" like badges. The negative ones have been described in such unsavory terms as "paranoid" or "psycho". They have been voted "most likely to leave the relationship," because that is often the only solution that they see available and they often have an unlimited amount of energy with which to do it."
"They do not make friends easily and appear at times to be caught in a conflict of being Afraid and therefore needing the herd while at the same time wanting to be Aloof and alone. They resent their dependence on the herd and on you." 
Well that all sounds just awesome (not). If the above is true, then I should count myself very lucky that Kachina has not developed a serious bolting problem. I think it helps that, to my knowledge, Kachina has never been mistreated. Even though she hasn't been on a regular training program, people haven't taught her to be afraid of them, so she is still willing to trust. Kachina has only ran away with me a couple times, and both times, when I finally got her stopped, she seemed as relieved as I was, like "Mom, why did you let me run away? that was scary".

If you manage to avoid the worst of the negative, what are the advantages of this type of horse? Well, the positive section is a lot shorter than the negative, but here's what it says:
 "In the positive, this horse will want to listen to you and want your support and encouragement with the job. It will be about the job, and they will have ample energy to throw at it. This horse does not tire. He will be happy to repeat patterns and school frequently. As long as you are there for him in the performance, they will give you 120 percent. They like to be good at what they do and will have the work ethic to make it so."
Yep, that fits Kachina. She knows her job on the trail and there her confidence comes out. She is learning her job with dressage and as long as you repeat an exercise enough times, she will understand what she is supposed to do and do it gladly. She doesn't tire, the longer the ride the better.


"As with all Submissive horses, SEAA's will need you to tell them what to do.... You need to prove to them again and again that you will keep them safe and not expect more of them than what they can deliver. They need a linear program with very few deviations or distractions."
"With this horse you walk in a circle until he can relax. Once the walk is established then you move up through the paces. As you venture out of the safety circle, if he becomes upset, you return to it and back to where they can find a quiet place to be."
I had already discovered that Kachina does best starting with slow paces and simple exercises.
"As a rider you will need to be quiet and not bombard them with too much information. You will need to be confident in what you present to them as they will pick up every slight shift of emotion or doubt."
She is certainly sensitive. I need to be on top of my own emotions and position, but it also means I can control Kachina with very subtle aids which is a good thing, especially in dressage.
"A job that requires them to be constantly learning and challenged will leave them in constant anxiety. They are Perfectionists, so they need to do well at whatever they are learning. In the beginning stages this can be difficult. That is where the repetition comes in: they need to not just understand a piece of the training program but to have it repeated often enough that they are excellent at it, even if it is something simple like a leg yield."
I have certainly found that repetition is our friend. The more we do the same exercise, the more she figures it out and is happy to do it. I do want to continue to have her learn though as I want to move through the dressage levels and not be stuck at Training forever.
"Triple your time and then be patient."
Our progress since I got Kachina has been very slow but pretty steady. I knew she needed to take things slowly to start as her job description had changed completely, but I had hopes that we'd be able to speed up the program once she had the basics down. I guess we'll have to see. I feel like patience is my best attribute as a rider though, so if she needs time I can deal with that.
"This horse will need to be protected by the rider and should be able to listen and perform if they are competing or working at something they like. They will have endless energy to put into your sport. If you are dominant, bold, and confident with a nurturing side, you could have a successful partnership with this horse. If the romantic notion of having a one-man horse appeals to you, this horse could be the one for you." 
I'm not sure that really describes me as a rider, but maybe I can be that.


Apparently, the best job for a Perfectionist is something like endurance riding. The book actually doesn't really give any other options. Most of the personality types list multiple sports that the horse could do well at, but not the Perfectionist.
"It is doubtful if this horse would perform well in any arena sport, unless they have that ideal, perfect upbringing." 
Well s***, there go my dressage dreams! No, I'm not serious. I think this book is interesting and I may use it to tweak my training approach, but Kachina is doing well in general with dressage so I'm not going to throw that away completely just because of this. :-)

Arena work isn't so bad


  1. I love these posts! It's fun to get insight into personalities and how it directs the training.

    1. You should do one on Stinker!

      I like reading these posts as well. There's rarely a one-size fits all approach to training.

  2. I am so glad you found the book useful. I think the author's purpose was to help us interact better with our horses no matter which personality type they have, When we understand why they do what they do, we can be more effective riders. And like you said, just because the author says certain personalities are going to be better at this or that, it doesn't mean we can't work a little harder to show them all what we want. And dressage is good for all horses!

    1. Thanks for the recommendation!

      It's true, anything that gets us thinking about how we can best treat and train our horses as individuals is good. I've already used it to help me a bit: yesterday Kachina was amped up and was not being very good at standing to be groomed. I made her stand long enough to clean out her feet, but then I respected her giant E and let her loose in the arena to run so she could get the wiggles out before I got to work scraping off all the mud.