Posts tagged Dr. Madalyn Ward

Quick Tips On Your Horse’s Personality Type

“A horse is a horse, of course, of course…,” Mr. Ed sang for his theme song, but did he fit the average horse mold? Not on your life!

Horses have as diverse personalities as we humans do, and being able to identify them can really help you find your horse-match made in Heaven. One ingenious personality typing system, devised by equine veterinarian, Dr. Madalyn Ward, can be studied in her book, Horse Harmony – Understanding Horse Types & Temperaments. And you can test your horse (and yourself) for free on her site in order to see if the two of you are a good match. Dr. Ward’s system is based on ancient Traditional Chinese Medicine, which breaks down constitutional types into 11 different groups, each of which is unique in terms of what kind of nutrition, activity, training/learning methods, etc. suit it best.

Intrigued? Here are a few quick clues on identifying the personality type that best fits your horse. These are excerpted from Dr. Ward’s most recent newsletter, with permission. If you like what you see here, visit the site, take the test, and, better yet, buy the book to read about your horse’s type in depth.

Horse Temperament: 11 Quirks for 11 Types
We list 11 quirks below, one associated with each horse temperament type. Scan through the list and see if any of these quirks rings a bell. This will help you determine your horse’s temperament type, especially if you are straddling the fence between two types!
Fire: Often rolls the tongue or flaps the lips, especially when younger or under stress.
Earth: When happy, often gives a contented sigh and carries an air of calm and peace.
Water: When balanced, has the keen look of the eagle and is one of the most regal-looking types.
Metal: Thrilled to do his job as soon as he learns it. Does a trademark grimace with his mouth when he can’t figure out his job.
Wood: Loves to break things. If every gate, post, and horse toy on your place is busted or bent, you’re horse is a Wood!
Shao Yang (Fire/Wood): Dislikes being touched, especially on the feet or toward the hind end.
Jue Yin (Wood/Fire): Causes trouble in a playful way … loves to mess with you!
Tai Yang (Water/Fire): Exuberant and loves to move … the happier he is, the faster he moves, ears pricked and exuberant! Why walk when you can trot? Why trot when you can canter?
Shao Yin (Fire/Water): The most affectionate type, likely to nudge you, loving, innocent.
Yang Ming (Metal/Earth): Willing to please, not very spontaneous (will give lots of warning before bucking or shying or causing trouble).
Tai Yin (Earth/Metal): Very dedicated to one person, to the point of happily doing just about anything for the person they love, even if the task is difficult. Will perform for others, but not eagerly.
Horse Temperament: Quirks Ring a Bell?
Hopefully the above list of quirks will help you more easily determine your horse’s temperament type. Sometimes it’s the little things that our horses do that make them stand out as one horse temperament type or another.

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The Polite Way to Colic (If You Are a Horse)

1.  At dinner, eat very slowly — very. And do not lick your plate like you usually do. This should give them the first hint that something is not as it should be.

2.  At breakfast, eat a couple of bites … very slowly, then leave the rest. This should definitely get some attention.

3.  Maintain a somewhat worried look in your eye. This should also help tip someone off that you are feeling kind of puny.

4.  After breakfast do not rush off to the pasture after your herd-mates. Instead, walk very slowly with your head down. Don’t get worked up. Don’t breathe faster than normal or act weird.

5.  Stand around in the pasture and act like you’re trying to eat hay, but you’re really not.

6.  Try to cooperate and move only a little bit when your person pokes you in the butt with something small and hard and holds it there for 2 or 3 minutes. The good thing about this is that it allows you to pass a little gas, which feels really good so you lick and chew a little. And you know she always likes to see you lick and chew, so you are happy this pleases her.

7.  Stand very, very still while she attaches the side of her head to the side of your body for a long time, and then does the same thing on the other side of your body. Even if you don’t know what she’s doing, be very careful not to move. And your stomach is VERY still and quiet, so you know that won’t disturb her.

8.  Go very quietly with your person into whatever area she wants to put you in for “observation” and “treatment.”

9.  Be cooperative and stand still while she administers things in your mouth. One of them sounds like “vomit,” one like “chami…” something, one tastes like liquid grass, and one is gummy and pasty and not quite as nice as the others.

10.  Also try to stand still while your person pulls on your ears, kind of hard, and does funny little massage things all around them and also back by your rump, AND, ahem, RIGHT under your tail, which apparently is a spot that has something to do with making you feel better.

11.  Ignore your roomies who are standing around staring at you, wondering what is going on. Do not act panicky because you are not with them or try to rush over to be let out with them.

12.  Be patient. Your person may come and go for a while and you may be left to your own devices for a few minutes at a time. Do not get upset. Do not get dramatic. And Heaven forbid and above all, do NOT throw yourself down on the ground and start rolling!

13.  Always mind your manners. Be a lady. Or a gentleman.

14.  Lastly, deposit a very small pile of dry manure in your confinement area. This seems to signify some major milestone. Your person acts thrilled and loves you up, and since you always like to please her, this makes you happy. And you feel better now too!


My new mare, Corazon, colicked today and, in all my years of observing and treating colic, her manner and mode of doing so were completely new to me. I would never have suspected colic except that I knew her stoic personality so proceeded through my usual steps. Using homeopathics (Nux vomica and Chamomile), along with probiotics and body work on helpful acupressure points (including, ahem, the anus) has always done the trick for me for mild gas or impaction colic. But the lesson learned today: Certain horse personality types may not show you they’re colicking in the way most horses will. Check out how different they can be at my friend Dr. Madalyn Ward’s horse personality website.  I am grateful to my dear Corazon for teaching me yet another new lesson in the horsey realm. She is indeed the equine epitome of a lady!

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A Metal Horse Gets a New Job … and a New Lease On Life!

Lopeh the day I brought her home, November 1, 2009. She was so mistrusting I had to keep a light 'catch string' around her neck for weeks in order to get a hold of her.

If you’ve read this blog in the past, you may remember a bit about the little Quarter Horse mare I rescued back last November. We called her Lopeh. She came out of years of running pretty wild in a breeding herd, and she was only 8 years old. She had had at least 3 babies and supposedly had been ridden somewhere in her distant past. She was the only horse in her herd nobody wanted, and if I hadn’t taken her she probably would have ended up at the slaughter house in Mexico. You can read more about Lopeh HERE and HERE.

Lopeh had a nice soft eye, and she always seemed to want attention, but for at least the first few weeks she just couldn’t let herself relax or trust enough to really fit in and often turned her butt to us, flattened her ears,  and let us know she didn’t want to have anything to do with us. She was pissy with the other horses, kicked my mare Bella who is twice her size hard in the stifle once, and was horribly bossy and intimidating to our 34-year-old gelding, Copper.

I was eager to get some insight into Lopeh’s personality so applied Dr. Madalyn Ward’s Horse Harmony typing system — a test by which one can pretty much nail their horse’s temperament and therefore his dietary and training needs, plus much, much more. But I didn’t really know Lopeh well enough to take the test. The only thing I knew was that she would stand on her head for food, a typical Earth Horse trait, so I thought she was an Earth type. (In hindsight, I figure Lopeh’s fixation on food was probably because she had had to fight for her share in the herd, plus from being depleted from cranking out one baby after another.)

So I contacted Madalyn. From all I told her, Madalyn kept saying she thought Lopeh was a Metal. Metals are very tough horses who love to have a job and a routine. They like to know what to expect. They are not the fastest learners so need patient repetition during training, but once they get it they will perform consistently and well. They aren’t cuddlebugs so don’t crave affection or attention like some other types. Because of all these traits, you find a lot of Metals among good ranch horses.

Sure enough, Lopeh was of the best old King Ranch cow horse stock you can get — bred and built for working on the ranch. You can’t get a finer horse, but they are of a certain type and are definitley tough.

To make a long story kind of short: after six months with me, Lopeh had

Lopeh and me in January. With a slow, gentle approach, she loved learning and working.

softened tremendously.  She became much easier to catch and handle and was at her best any time I really worked with her. But I didn’t have much time for that and certainly not in the way she needed.  Plus she had shown signs that she might buck under saddle, and I’m too old to go flying!

In May I took Lopeh to a trainer for two weeks. Someone I trusted to get her attention and really test her out . . .  because I had decided to go ahead and sell her. I had finally figured out that she was not cut out to be the low-key pleasure horse I needed for myself and my friends, many of whom are horse novices. I still wasn’t sure what personality type she was, but she sure wasn’t a mellow, laid-back Earth horse.

She did well at the trainer’s and I lucked out, I thought, and sold her to an experienced young horse-woman who had wanted her for months. It sounded like a good fit but turned out to be a disaster. Lopeh basically got NO attention (OR decent nutrition) there due to difficulties the family was having, so she took out her frustrations and unhappiness by beating up the other two horses on the property.

When I was informed she wasn’t working out in her new home, I momentarily panicked. But then I remembered that Carlos LoPopolo had wanted her a while back for his non-profit New Mexico Wild Horse Project. Unfortunately, I had just sold Lopeh when I found that out, but I contacted him again and he was still in need of an additional work horse to help manage the Mustangs he oversees on several preserves, ride the fences, and do whatever’s needed via horseback.

The transfer was made, and the very first day Lopeh was ponied out to get the lay of the land and was then ridden bareback every day for the first few days. She never even offered to buck. Carlos was so thrilled with her temperament, her sturdy and cowey conformation, and her progress that he chose her for his personal horse, and within a week they were already at work together.

Carlos and Lopeh out on the range. After just one week, I'd say this looks like one solid Metal horse happy to be doing her job with someone who finally understands her.

Apparently Lopeh is now as happy as can be, has a daily job she was custom-built for,  is no longer bored, and no longer has to take out her emotional frustrations via irritability and general pissiness. Her story is an example of the success that can be achieved when a horse’s personality is perfectly matched with his or her home and job.

I just KNEW Lopeh had it in her and never gave up on her, even though the ranch hands had warned me as I was leading her to the trailer last November: “You better watch that one. You better do some goooood ground work with her before you try anything.”

I wanted to say, Oh go fly a kite!!!! I knew we could make a good horse out of Lopeh. It was just a matter of figuring out who she was and what she needed.


Thanks to Carlos and his wrangler Donna for providing the perfect home for this throwaway horse. Carlos manages the largest herd of wild Spanish Mustangs in the United States, all DNA-proven to be direct descendants of the original Spanish stock. It is Carlos’ mission not to let this line die out, as it represents one of the finest traditions and bloodlines in horse history.  Check out his project at Wild Horses of the West.

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The More, ahem, “Robust” Type Mustang

This pose shows off Bella's Percheron'esque derriere quite nicely, I think.

This pose shows off Bella's Percheron'esque derriere quite nicely, I think.

I bought my very first piece of original art when I was in college — a French lithograph of a teeny, tiny boy standing behind a huge Percheron draft horse, holding her lead rope and yelling at her in French to “move her butt!” Which was literally the only part of her anatomy visible in the sketch. Her name was Bijou, which means jewel in French.

The piece was totally irresistible for me. I had to have it. Maybe I had a premonition that a very similar equine jewel would come into my life one day and become my pride and joy.

That would be my Mustang mare, Bella, above.

Eight years old now, Bella came to me as a 4-year-old from my friend Stephanie, the Mustang Mama of all time. Bella was the first of the many Mustangs  Stephanie has adopted over the years, and I have heard Stephanie express more than once that she was real lucky to make her acquaintance with Mustangs with a horse like Bella! (If you’ve read the recent posts, you know what some of Stephanie’s other Mustangs are like, and what challenges they’ve posed.)

Bella came from a Wyoming herd of Mustangs that has lots of Percheron draft horse blood mixed in, and she typifies what is called a Tai Yin constitution in Traditional Chinese Medicine. This stands for a combination of the elements Earth and Metal. In Horse Harmony — Understanding Horse Types and Temperaments, by Dr. Madalyn Ward, D.V.M., here are some of the passages she uses to describe the Tai Yin horse:

  • …the Tai Yin type tends to have a heavy body and move fairly slowly.
  • The Tai Yin horse is like an iceberg. If you don’t get to know him you may only see the tip of his deep, solid, stable character.
  • …tough physically, and he tends to be a dependable hard worker.
  • He is not overly ambitious, but once he learns a skill he will perform consistently.
  • …often a one-person horse who will not be happy performing for just anyone.
  • He makes a good stock horse but tends not to be quick enough for cutting or reining competition.
  • He is a dependable and competitive trail horse but is not really suited for endurance riding.

Are you getting the picture? Stout, slow, devoted, calm, steady. Likes routine. Likes his person. Doesn’t show a lot of emotion. Isn’t too flashy. Etc.

Nice attributes for a 6-month-old wild filly brought in off the range, wouldn’t you say?

Bella was a dream to work with and raise. Stephanie got up on her and never looked back — just rode her on down the road. In the 3 years she had Bella, Stephanie put hundreds of miles on her, took her camping, taught her to jump (well, after a fashion), to herd cows (also after a fashion), and to be a generally dependable mount.

Bella was a large colt, and she grew, and grew, . . . . . and grew. It became clear  early on that this was not a horse built for speed events or competitive jumping, or for the agility required in moving cattle. And, being rather lazy by nature, Bella often turned her back when it was time to be caught . . . because she knew what was coming and simply didn’t want to have to go to work that day — like some of us.

Stephanie knew I was considering taking another riding horse as a gift to myself for my 60th birthday and felt the match might be a good one. That is putting it mildly. I didn’t want to quit riding, but I wanted a horse I could trust, who wasn’t “hot-blooded” or hard to handle. Obviously, Bella and I were meant for each other and are very much alike. I don’t want to have to work too hard either, and would much rather take a 30-minute amble in the hills or a low-level dressage lesson than a 20-mile trail ride or gallop. Bella likes the same things I do, plus she loves all the extra time I spend fawning over her. The easier-going lifestyle has suited her constitution well too, as she continued to grow until she was 7 years old so now stands 16 hands and weighs in at about 1400 lbs.

If you want a steady pleasure mount, and like to bond with your horse, a Tai Yin might just be your best bet. Sure was for me!!!!


This is the end of this week’s series on Mustang types and temperaments, but we’ve only covered five out of the eleven types. And of course they apply to all horses, not just Mustangs. If you’re curious to learn about the other six types, or want to take an online test to find out the type of your own horse, check out the resources at Horse Harmony. There’s tons of fun stuff to do there, and the book is fantastic!

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Mustang Gal, Val — A Horse of a Different Color … AND Personality

"Valentine" - A Beautiful Pewter Grulla

"Valentine" - A Beautiful Pewter Grulla

Today let’s take a look at the Wood horse personality type. The element Wood in Traditional Chinese Medicine relates to, among other things, the liver and gallbladder, the eyes, connective tissue and, emotionally … anger (uh oh).

Interesting implications there for a horse, huh?

Valentine (Val for short) is a 7-year-old Mustang mare owned by, yep you guessed it, my friend Stephanie. Val was Stephanie’s second Mustang and was adopted as a baby. She is, as this blog’s title implies, a unique color, which one doesn’t really see in domesticated horses and which isn’t so common in the wild either. She’s what’s called a “grulla,” a gorgeous pewter-like color that sometimes gleams grey, sometimes bronze’ish, and she has a dark dorsal stripe running down her back. She is also very large for a Mustang, and quite talented (when she wants to be), so attracts a lot of attention and admiration at the jumping  shows she competes in. And she usually wins. That is if she doesn’t decide to dump Stephanie first.

But back  to the attributes of the Wood horse. Here are a few of Dr. Madalyn Ward’s comments about same in her book, Horse Harmony–Understanding Horse Types and Temperaments:

Personality: “The Ultimate Competitor”

Motto: “I WILL Win!”

… tremendous presence … naturally bold and often has a strong, muscular conformation …

You can feel the power of a Wood horse when you ride him. He loves to be physically active and challenged … On the ground [his] competitive nature will cause him to push you just to see if he can get away with a particular behavior, and if you do not handle this right away he might literally walk right over you. The same is true under saddle, as he is constantly testing the limits, and he will begin to pay attention only when you step up and set boundaries. With a Wood horse a boundary is a dynamic phenomenon that is open to discussion, but once you set it firmly it will only take a quick reminder to convince him that you mean now, tomorrow, and always.

These horses are tremendously athletic and have a mind of their own. They are not particularly eager to please or responsive to affection, so gaining their respect is key. They get bored easily so need to be worked consistently, and they are often very alpha in the herd — and not always a kind alpha.

Valentine demonstrated all of these traits early on when as a yearling she kicked Stephanie in the stomach at feeding time. After chasing her around the paddock and throwing feed buckets at her for a while, and then taking two or three days to recover, Stephanie asked me to talk to Val to make sure she understood there were lines never to be crossed, ever again.

Val listened, rather indifferently, showing me clearly how wild-at-heart she still was, and how alpha, but she “got” it and more or less agreed. And she has never laid hoof or tooth on Stephanie again. Because of her talent and size and yes, her independent nature, she is  well suited to be one of Stephanie’s favorites, Stephanie being rather a maverick type herself. But they still go round and round not infrequently, and Stephanie really has to lay down the law and beef up her aids when she rides in order to remind Val of her job and who’s boss.

Even then, as happened not long ago, for some off-the-wall reason known only to Val, she will head out into the show ring and dump Stephanie before the first jump, thereby disqualifying them of course. Go figure!

Most of the time Valentine flies, and Stephanie sails, and they win, and it is all worthwhile!

Valentine at her best, with Stephanie aboard!

The moral of this blog?

Don’t get a Wood horse, especially a Mustang Wood horse, unless you are up to an ongoing, supreme challenge!

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