KBR Horse Training Information

Exercising Body AND Mind

Dominance-to-Flight Ratio
in Horses

Horses will generally respond to stress or stimulation in one of two ways. They will either attempt to assert dominance over a situation, such as when another horse (or animal) disturbs or upsets them, or they will take flight. Each individual horse will display some level of dominance and flight characteristics. How this behavior is exhibited depends on the horse's horsenality and learned experiences. Different stimuli may also prompt differences in a horse's response, with the horse challinging one situation while making an immediate and hasty retreat in another.

Since we humans are number oriented, I have placed a numerical value on each horse's response to remind us as to what level of animal we are working and to better enable us to communicate with other humans about the horses we are collectively handling.


  THE DOMINANCE / FLIGHT SCALE


DOMINANCE
1

Seldom if ever attempts to assert dominance

5

Will assert dominance when conditions are right

10

First response is to try to take charge

FLIGHT RESPONSE
1

Prefers to size up a situation than run from it

5

Stays to a point but builds up anxiety until he/she leaves

10

First response is to leave and tends to self-generate continuous flight

Some horses tend to dominate
stressful encounters
This mare would run at the
slightest provocation
Horses can exhibit
multiple simultaneous behaviors.
The grey gelding is submissive
to the rider (no bridle) while
at the same time testing his position
with the larger bay gelding

The numbers 1, 5 and 10 described above are merely waypoints and horses can be scored anywhere in the range of 1 to 10. How you would assign a score to a horse is a judgement call based on your observations of the horse's behavior and his/her response to stimuli.

For example, an alpha driven mare with low confidence may score out as a 5/9. She wants to be in control and may be very aggressive over the paddock fence, but when confronting another horse in the open where she may pay a price for her actions, she will beat a hasty retreat in response to the slightest provocation by the other horse.

Another mare may have a very low flight response but also may not be assertively dominant so she scores low on both sides of the scale. This is the mare that doesn't look for trouble, but if challenged will generally stand her ground.

The handler should always remember that a horse's response is based on both its genetic heritage and its experiences. Thus how a horse scores can be modified (improved or worsened) over time through the training methods employed and as the horse's confidence level improves or erodes. How you handle a particular horse should be guided in part by the horse's dominance / flight ratio. Furthermore, the way you handle that horse will likely have an effect on that horse's ratio in the future - a situation that in turn can make the horse easier or more difficult to work with as training progresses.

Continue to
Why Horses "Blow Up"


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