Get to know your horse with Equusology
Image courtesy of Jody Hall.

What are your horse’s preferences? Does her personality fit with yours, and with what you want for her? Equusology can help answer these questions.

“Why does my horse behave that way?” you may sometimes ask yourself. “Would she excel at a new discipline?” Horses, just like humans, have innate traits that make up their personalities and preferences. Just because a horse is bred for a specific job doesn’t mean she will enjoy it or perform well. On the other hand, if a horse isn’t bred for a specific discipline that doesn’t mean she won’t love it and excel at it! Using typology or “Equusology”, you can gain insight, understanding and knowledge about your horse’s personality and inherent characteristics, as well as your own.

The history of Equusology

Melisa Pearce has been a psychotherapist for close to 30 years. In her therapy, she relies heavily on a condensed version of the Myers-Briggs personality type indicator developed by David Keirsey. In the 1980s, she began to use her horses in her psychotherapy sessions, and soon began to have better breakthroughs with her patients, who seemed to become more open to her as a therapist.

As her skill at typing her patients’ personalities advanced, she also began to observe different personalities in her horses. For fun, she would type them as well. Her good friend Carolyn Fitzpatrick approached her about writing a book to help people better understand themselves and their horses’ personalities. Together, they wrote the book Equusology: Deciphering Human and Horse Typology. The book consists of three different segments: a personality questionnaire designed for humans, a unique typology for horses created by the authors, and exercises to help you understand your horse on an even deeper level.

Understanding yourself using the Keirsey Temperament Sorter

Before you can attempt to understand your horse, you have to first gain a better understanding of yourself. The 70-question Keirsey Temperament Sorter in Melisa and Carolyn’s book helps you indicate which of 16 different personality combinations you fit into. Each of these combinations is made up of the following categories:

E or I (Extrovert or Introvert): This indicates how individuals operate socially. “In my practice, I began to see it also as a difference in distilling thought,” writes Melisa. “The E needs to process orally with another person. By contrast, the I needs time to process, preferably without interruption or distraction.”

S or N (Sensing or Intuition): This category indicates learning style. The S is a detail-oriented person who has a no-nonsense approach. They don’t put much value or faith in hunches. The N person looks forward to the future. They are interested in what is possible. They follow hunches.

T or F (Thinking or Feeling): This category is about how we make decisions and choices. The T person uses logic, research and fact when making decisions. They prefer policy and procedure. The F tries to discern how they feel about a situation and bases their decision on what the heart tells them. An F does consult the mind — to see if it feels calm about the decision.

J or P (Judging or Perceiving): This category deals with how organized we are, along with our orientation to time, space and our environment. The J person is highly organized with a strong work ethic. The P person is spontaneous and likes to keep their options open.

These four categories are combined to create 16 different personality types: ESTJ, ISTP, ESTP, ESTJ, ISFJ, ISFP, ESFP, ESFJ, INFJ, INFP, ENFP, ENFJ, INTJ, INTP, ENTP, ENTJ.

Every personality type is unique. Understanding the particular traits and idiosyncrasies of each is designed to help you know yourself, and the way you function in life, with greater insight.

Once you know yourself, it’s time to figure out your horse!

Equine personality types

E or I (Extrovert or Introvert): The extroverted horse is vocal. She needs to be with other horses and does not do well when isolated from the herd. The introverted horse needs time alone. This horse can often be spotted wandering away from the herd, perfectly content.

S or N (Sensing or Intuition): The sensing horse is down to earth and likes routine. The N horse might have a hard time focusing on the job at hand and seems to have her head in the clouds.

T or F (Thinking or Feeling): Thinking horses can appear aloof; they are firm in the herd and want their boundaries respected. Feeling horses are sensitive; harmony is important to them. They love to be touched.

J or P (Judging or Perceiving): Judging horses have a routine – they keep their stalls and blankets in order and like to be fed at the same time every day. The perceiving horse is in no great hurry; she likes to hang out. Her blankets are often askew or torn off.

What job would your horse enjoy?

  • SP (Sensing and Perceiving) horses are all about freedom. The first SP-type horse that comes to mind is a racehorse that is given extreme freedom on the track. Cutting would also be a good job for an SP horse, since she would be given the freedom to follow her instincts.
  • SJ (Sensing and Judging) horses are responsible and like detail. They do well with repetitive tasks, making them perfect for barrel racing or the plow or harness.
  • NF (Intuition and Feeling) horses are good at hippotherapy because they can make loving connections and seem to be innately drawn to a person in need of emotional support.
  • NT (Intuition and Thinking) horses have a desire to master their jobs with expertise and precision. A great example is the Western pleasure horse or a hunter-jumper.

If you come from a long line of accountants but are not good at math, then you would probably be miserable following your family’s legacy. Horses are the same. They will usually try to get along and do what we want them to do, but they have innate aptitudes that make them excel and enjoy certain jobs more than others. Playing to their strengths will make them happier and better-adjusted. “How can I get my horse to do something easier, faster, better and with less argument?” asks Melisa. “We leave ourselves out of the equation. We have to listen to the horse as well.”

2 fun exercises

1. Determine your horse’s social preference (E or I)

Approximate time: 15-20 minutes

What you’ll need:

  1. Round pen or mid-sized enclosed space
  2. The horse you’re testing and three to five other horses (a few your horse knows and others he does not)
  3. A flake of hay

What to do:

Place one flake of hay on the ground in the center of the round pen. Put your horse in the round pen at liberty and move away from the pen. Have someone lead a horse (not a stallion) near the outside edge of the round pen and watch your horse’s reaction. Is it “a” or “b”?

a) Your horse nickers when he sees the other horse approaching.

He approaches the corral fence whether he knows the horse or not.

You see his energy level increase when the horse approaches the fence.

b) Your horse only approaches the corral fence when he knows the horse being led nearby.

He continues eating and shows little interest in the horse being led.

He turns away from the horse being led past the fence.

Results: The behaviors in “a” suggest an E (Extrovert), while those in “b” suggest an I (Introvert).

2. Determine your horse’s learning style (S or N)

Approximate time: 20 minutes

What you’ll need:

  1. Enclosed arena
  2. Two large objects your horse has never seen before, such as a large ball and a barrel.

What to do:

Place the objects in an enclosed arena. Spread them apart. Turn your horse into the arena at liberty. Now observe from a distance.

a) Your horse appears wary of the new objects.

He slows to show interest in the objects.

He appears to show interest but from a distance.

b) Your horse shows almost immediate interest in an object and wants to investigate it.

He stays near an object and wants to touch, smell or lick it.

He quickly figures out how to manipulate the objects (such as moving the ball or turning over the barrel).

Results: The behavior in “a” suggests an N (Intuition). Example “b” suggests an S (Sensing).

These exercises are taken from Equusology: Deciphering Human and Horse Typology. For complete testing and scoring refer to the book.

Understanding your horse’s preferences – and your own! – will help you better relate to her in the barn and in competition. Take the time to figure out her personality and the unique gifts she has to offer, and you’ll soon find you’re both happier and more fulfilled!

This is a very brief and concise look at a very complex and fascinating subject. Visit for more information.