The Study of Horse Psychology

The Study of Horse Psychology

Practical equine psychology refers to the practical study of horse psychology. Because horses, unlike domestic animals like cats and dogs, have never formed a voluntary symbiotic relationship with their human keepers their study is specialized.

Horses are prey animals that run in herds, and have a highly developed flight instinct in order to avoid becoming food for predators. Nonetheless, because their physiology is peculiarly suited to the accomplishment of a number of human-related jobs and entertainments, humans have domesticated horses and pressed them into service for centuries.

The clearest and most fundamental pecking-order relationship in horse herds is that between mare and foal. Foals and young horses display subservience and a “don’t hurt me – I’m harmless” message to other members of the herd by drawing the corners of their mouth back and open – creating an almost “keyhole” effect at the corners of the mouth, chewing dramatically, and lowering their head. Mares exhibit this same behavior (among others) to signal acquiescence to a breeding stallion.

In mature horses, a less dramatic chewing motion, lowered head, and cautious approaching walk signals simple acquiescence. A mare will discipline and reassert her dominance over a misbehaving foal by raising her head and tail, and moving aggressively toward it. If it fails to retreat, she may make eye contact as a further threat, bite it at the rump or withers, or even resort to a mild kick. She will keep the foal at a distance and keep it moving away with these actions until it offers to return meekly with lowered head and chewing motions, indicating submission. She will in turn accept the contrite foal with her own lowered head, turning sideways, and perhaps engaging in mutual grooming. The pecking order is firmly established when she moves slowly away and the foal follows at her shoulder no matter which way she turns. Monty Roberts calls this point in the relationship “join up.”

A senior mare or “herd mare” will assert her dominance over the other mares in the herd in much the same way.


The history of domestication of the horse

The history of domestication of the horse

There are a number of theories regarding the domestication of the horse. Although horses began appearing in cave art as early as 30,000 BCE, these were truly wild horses, and were probably hunted for meat; how and when they became domesticated is less clear.

Older theories (pre-1999)

Before the common use of DNA in such research, anthropologists and evolutionary biologists had to content themselves with studying features of existing animals and comparing them to preserved specimens from the past–frozen remains, other preserved remains, and fossils. For horses, the data led to the hypothesis that horses were domesticated in one small area, perhaps around 4600 BCE on the grassland steppes of Eurasia.

Theories from DNA evidence

More recently, a comparative study of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) from living and fossil horses suggests that horses were domesticated in many places, at many times.

Evolutionary biologists at Uppsala University in Sweden studied mtDNA from 191 pedigree horses (Vil et al., 2001), including primitive English and Swedish animals and one breed derived from animals imported to Iceland by the Vikings. They also obtained DNA samples from a Przewalski’s horse, a small Mongolian equine thought by some to be a sister species to the original wild horses. They compared these samples with fossil DNA from leg bones of horses that have been preserved in the Alaskan permafrost for more than 12,000 years, and with other samples from 1000- to 2000-year-old archaeological sites in southern Sweden and Estonia.

The mtDMA analysis showed that the modern horses had almost as much genetic variation as samples of fossil horses. By contrast, similar mtDNA analyses had shown that modern individuals from cattle, sheep, water buffalo, and pig breeds are much less genetically diverse than their ancient forbears. This would suggest that horses, unlike the other domestic animals studied, had ancestors in many places, implying that domestication occurred in many areas.

Investigations by professor Hans Ellegren et al., Sweden, publicated i Nature Genetics 2004 has revealed that all horses, Big and small, probably descend from one single stallion. These investigations were performed on chromosome Y. On the other hand similar investigations showed that there are at least a hundred different maternal ancestors. The conclusion ought to be that mankind early understood the importance of breeding good stallions since they can produce much more foals than a mare can. This fact is even today of big importance in breeding.

The Equivocal evidence: When and Where domestication occurred

The when is also difficult to establish, and here again there seem to be several camps. One claim is that evidence at several sites shows equine tooth wear that only could appear from the friction of a bit against the molars. Sites incluke Dereivka, a Ukrainian settlement site (circa 4500-3500 BCE), and the Botai culture, dated 3500-3000 BCE in the northern steppes of Kazkhstan, east of the Ishim River. One idea is that the horses with bit wear were part of the religion, and were kept as objects of veneration; this is clearly the beginning of domestication. Another idea is that there would be a large population of equines in the area; some would be domesticated and others would be still-wild. The domesticated individuals would be used to hunt the wild individuals; only the domesticated individuals would show bit wear.

Another camp resists this evidence because there’s no proof that the horses were actually domesticated, as opposed to merely tamed. Marsha A. Levine, one of the foremost researchers in this field, points out that traditional peoples (aboriginal hunter-gatherers and horticulturists) world-wide tame individuals from wild species, typically by hand-rearing infants whose parents have been killed. A species cannot be said to be truly domesticated until it will reliably breed in captivity.

Levine’s model of horse domestication starts with individual near-infant horses (foals) being captured as their mothers were slaughtered for meat. Foals are relatively small and easy to handle. Horses, being herd animals, need companionship to thrive, and the modern data show that foals can and will bond to other domestic animals to meet their intimacy needs. Levine envisions horses being made into pets happening repeatedly over time, until the great discovery that these pets could be put to work.

The horse may have been domesticated in one isolated locale 4500 BCE. But as Levine points out, the unequivocal date of domestication and use as a means of transport is circa 2000 BC, the Sintashta chariot burials. However, shortly thereafter the expansion of the domestic horse throughout Europe was little short of explosive. In the space of possibly 500 years, there is evidence of horse-pulled chariots in Greece, Egypt, and Mesopotamia. By another 500 years, the horse-pulled chariot had spread to China.

What came first, riding or driving?

The real question for a given time and locale is: which came first, domestication of the horse or the invention of the wheel?

Ancient or early-domesticated horses were relatively small by modern standards, perhaps 12.2 to 14.2 hands high (see horse for explanation of hands) or 1.27 to 1.47 meters, measured at the shoulder. The small stature of these horses, compared to modern riding horses of 15.2 to 17.2 hh (1.6 to 1.8 meters), lead theorists to believe the ancient horses were too small to be ridden and so must have been driven.

However, this does not necessarily tarry with the strength of equivalent modern breeds; for example Fell ponies, believed to be descended from Roman cavalry horses, are comfortably able to carry fully grown adults (although with rather limited ground clearance) at an average height of 13.2 hands.

Undoubtedly, our understanding of early horse domestication will continue to evolve, and continue to be hotly debated.

Horses bred and raised in South Texas

Horses bred and raised in South Texas

My family settled along the Texas border to Mexico in 1883.  I grew up in Del Rio, Texas, where my dad’s family ranched in Val Verde and Edwards counties and my mom’s family ranched in Kinney county.  Ranching in this part of the country calls for tough, athletic, and physically capable horses.  I have been horseback my whole life, and that is all I have ever known.

Some of our bloodlines trace back to the original bloodlines used by my grandfather, Dink Wardlaw.  He and his brother, Walt, began their own horse breeding operation to stock the family ranches.  They were pioneers in the Quarter Horse industry, starting Wardlaw Brothers Quarter Horses in the late 1940’s.  They were known for producing top-quality ranch and performance horses.  They bred athletic performance horses, from racehorses, to roping horses, to great horses for ranch use.  Their horses raced at all the Texas tracks, and also raced in California and Florida.  Riding a Wardlaw Bros. horse at the NFR, Jim Bob Altizer won the World Champion Calf Roping in 1959.  The Wardlaw Brothers Quarter Horse operation was the 2nd largest Quarter Horse operation in the U.S. during the 1950’s!

Both sides of my family have horses in their blood.  My other grandfather, Joe Kerr, enjoyed showing horses as a hobby, especially cutting.  He was fortunate to land upon a young mare named Annie Glo, which he loved dearly.  He eventually sold her because he knew he couldn’t show her to her full potential, while running the family ranch in West Texas, so far from the big shows.  Annie Glo went on to become the first mare inducted in the Cutting Horse Hall of Fame.

I’m very proud of my heritage, and like both of my grandfathers, really enjoy seeing my horses excelling in the events for which they were bred.  Since my husband team ropes, I see the most progress in that field.  He is presently roping at the PRCA rodeos on two of my colts.  It is so exciting for me to see them being successful.  He obviously loves roping on them, because he has more of my babies in training!

My herd of horses include some of the top foundation bloodlines with exceptional ability to perform for any event.  You will find our horses are athletic, great minded, cow smart, good looking, and built to hold up physically.  As a young girl, I was always lucky to be mounted on well-bred, talented horses.  I have made every effort to go back to the bloodlines I knew were dependable.

  • Mr Pretty Poco is our primary stud.  His nickname is “Buck” and he has a very sweet demeanor.  He is the most gelding-like stud I’ve ever seen!   His beauty and demeanor are definitely bred into his babies!
  • Claytons Yellow Bear is our “Romeo!”  We might call him Romeo, but he is one tough stud.  Not only is he pretty, but he will go forever and a day!
  • Haidas Hillbilly, our newest stud, is presently being shown.  We will have colts out of him next year.
  • My Broodmares:  Doc O’Lena, Dual Pep, Freckles Playboy, War Bond Leo, Doc Bar, and many more.

Our breeding program here at Alacrán Quarter Horses is producing exceptional foals that will make the perfect horse for you, for any event and any level!

Select Sale Horses

Select Sale Horses

This is a little bit of a wild card for me, but I like this horse so much that I feel he needs the benefit of our representation. This is a well bred Quarter Horse that is an absolute blast to ride. I learned about him through a great woman who owns him but just wants a quiet trail horse. Zuni is not quite that, but he is all business when it comes to the gaming world.

He is broke to barrel race, do reining, and cut cattle. He can be a bit sharp out of the barn when he is out of a program, giving the occasional buck at first, but for the rider with experience, this sensitive, extremely athletic and intelligent horse is for you. Once going, he is the kind of horse that you will need to be pried off of. He stands quietly and loves to work and play. Auto lead changes and auto-pilot gaming moves make him all that more attractive. He has a great mind when it comes to his job and doesn’t get hyped while he is gaming. This horse is going to be someone’s trophy winner and best friend.


Mountain Horses Past Sales

Mountain Horses Past Sales

We are offering Little Lulu – a finer built 3 yr old filly.  She’s up to date on shots, etc.  She was  traded in last fall by a lady that had purchased her as a youngster, but realized she is not going to be large enough for her to ride.  Lulu will probably be around 14’3 hands and is of a slender smaller boned build.  She’s real stylish, loves people, easy to catch and handle.  Prior to coming to us last fall, she was ridden numerous times in an arena, but had a person on the lead line.  Her gait just loose in the field is a thing of beauty!

When she came here, we  turned her out to the large pasture with the herd to have an extra winter to grow up and socialize with the herd, she is very good socially.  She has been pleasant to work with and handle.  Is not a jumpy nervous horse, I tied her for the picture and drove the car past her several times and she was totally unconcerned. Left her tied several hours and the  knot was not pulled tightly at
all, although the first time I tied her up, I was not careful to do a good knot and she released her self, went back to the barn and climbed into the stall she had been in before I started to work with her.

As she sheds out I’ll get some more photos, she’s a lovely deep red with nice blaze and 4 stockings.  I’ll also get a video up of her.  She has not been reg. but has the papers to do her registration.  If you want a flashy, well gaited smaller filly – Lulu would perfect! We will be breaking her to trail this summer, but if you purchase her before we put the time into her – we’ll sell her for only $900.

Psyches Shadron

Psyches Shadron

Shadron is 14.1 1/4 barefoot and freshly trimmed.  He has size in his background and throws bigger foals when bred to bigger mares.  Have only bred him to one small mare and the foal exceeded both sire and dam in height.  His 18 month old filly out of a 15.1 hand mare stands 14.1 already and she is not anywhere close to being full grown.  I do not know the mature height of his other foals, but have been told they are not as small as him.

Vetgen tested SCID clear. His metallic sheen is enhanced by his high tail carriage as he floats across the corral and struts his stuff.  Don’t you think you would like to add those names to the pedigree of your very own foal!  He thinks he is very cool and if I would give him a pair of sunglasses, Oakleys of course,  he would love to strut his stuff for the ladies.

Padrons Psyche is *Padrons best-siring and most look alike son.  He was US Reserve National Champion at the tender age of 3.  From the Arabian Legends book: “……….out of a daughter of the Tersk-bred *Tamerlan(Arax x Trapecia).  Psyche is somewhat line-bred, with three lines to Aswan, two to Arax and four to Priboj–but he carries a most unusual and extremely rare tail female dam, Dafina, a desert-bred mare– imported in England from Saudi Arabia by Lady Wentworth in 927.”  The book goes on to say “……….When he was just a baby, Psyche was “discovered” at a small Midwestern horse show by highly-regarded trainer Gene Reichardt.  The colt’s amazing presence and excellent conformation impressed even Reichardt (who has seen it all!), and he rushed to a telephone to call Walter Mishek, owner of many national winning Arabians and publisher of the “Arabian Horse Times” magazine. Reichardt convinced Mishek to buy the youngster sight unseen, right on the spot.  Although somewhat reluctant, Mishek did so.  It was like winning the lottery.”  In 1997 Padrons Psyche was the leading halter sire for both the US and Canadian national shows.

*Aladdinn is the only stallion to win a European championship and then go on to win US National Champion (unanimously) and Scottsdale Champion Stallion.  From the Arabian Legends book: “The enchanted smoke from *Aladdinns lamp seems to envelop all who descend from the dapper little bay.  Both get and grandget tend to inherit many of the same fine characteristics that make *Aladdinn himself such an outstanding individual: large eyes set in clean heads, excellent necks and shoulders, sound straight legs supporting good, tight backs, especially strong hindquarters that promote balance and athleticism, and an overall smoothness that draws all the parts together.  Many are bay.  Perhaps best of al, they often possess his
willing, sensible, quiet demeanor, a personality particularly well suited to the stresses of the horse show world.



This page is for the horses that are not yet in our breeding program, but are being considered.  To make it to the breeding stage of our program a mare or stallion must pass our criteria.  They must be sane and not overly reactive.  They must show sense and a gentle soul.  If they do not pass the tests, they will not be in our program.  The following horses are being evaluated for their future in our program.

This Chestnut

Flaxen Morab colt is from the breeding program of Morability Ranch in TX. Born in 2006.  He is kind and good looking all rolled into one.  He has a bit of chrome, but we won’t hold that against his gentle demeanor   Will take photos as he continues to mature.  I expect him to mature at between 15.1 and 15.2
hands.  He is 62.5% Arabian and 37.5% Morgan.  He is registered with the International Morab Registry.

Red Rock Dazzelina

Dazzelina is out of my mare Halima Rabi and the stallion Jazz Reata Hondo.  She is Ryans favorite and
he is hers as well.  She was born in 2005.  She is pictured on the 2005 foals page on the home page.  She is dark chestnut and friendly. has matured to 15.3 1/2 with a fresh trim.  16 hands grown out.