The 5 F's of
Instinctive Equine Behavior
So, now that you have read about the 3 Reasons
Your Horse Might "Misbehave", I think it would
be a good time to explain the 5 F's of instinctive
What are the 5 F's?
Well, I am glad you asked. They are the instinctive
behaviors that a horse will exhibit during his
moments of fear and insecurity.
These behaviors have been professionally
researched by universities and professionals. In
fact, Texas A & M University has recently
recognized the 5th F on the list.
So, let's get started.
Most of you probably recognize the signs of a horse about to
flee. Their head goes up, their back goes down, their heart
starts beating hard in their chest and they are standing as still
as a statue - staring unwaveringly at whatever the problem is.
Quite often these horses will spook and bolt the second
anything moves. Some horses will actually be more upset
because it won't move. Either way, the problem is that your
horse is experiencing fear, stress, or insecurity. This fear is part
of their instinct. It is an inborn part of a horse to want to run
away from danger.
Horses - What are you gonna do?
As I have already stated, the horse is first and foremost a flight animal. He would much rather run away from the
problem than face it.
This is not the horse's first choice. He would rather flee than fight. But if he is prevented from being able to run
away, he may be "forced" to bite, kick, rear, or exhibit some other unwanted behavior.Bronco Buster
Another reason a horse may "fight" is if he is forced to do
something that is painful. This takes us back to the poorly
fitting saddle and bucking, as one example. Or possibly just
being extremely resistant to do whatever is being asked in
an attempt to avoid the pain.
Sometimes it is an emotional or mental anxiety that the
horse is trying to flee from. Maybe he had a bad experience
the last time some one tried to load him in a trailer. Or
something scary happened the last time he went by a
certain place on a trail ride. He may simply be afraid of a
scary object or situation because he has never experienced
And, honestly, would you want to do something that is causing you pain or anxiety with a smile on your face, or
would you complain? Being "naughty" is your horse's way of complaining. Please think about that next time he
is doing something you consider bad behavior. Give him the benefit of the doubt.
Freeze is what can come if the flight or fight does not work for the horse. Or, some horses may just go directly
to freeze. This is what happens when the horse does not know what to do about the situation he finds himself
in. He just shuts down. They may stand completely still and may even hold their breath.
It is sad to say, but I once saw an extremely well known trainer at a horse expo working with a mare. (if I said
his name, I think you would all know who he is)
She was (from my perspective) obviously short stepping on the hind leg. He watched the owner ride her first and
didn't even acknowledge - or see it.
He then mounted the horse to work with her. She
was trying to figure out what he wanted, but he
kept pushing her harder and harder. She
eventually stopped in the middle of the arena and
stood completely still as if defeated. She seemed
to be begging him to leave her alone.
She was behaving very well and never once
refused to do anything he asked. But, there came
the point when she just froze. As if to say, "I am
trying, but I don't know what you want."
He didn't even recognize this as the "freeze"
response. He actually started kicking her -
repeatedly - as hard as he could. He told the
crowd that she needed to be "obedient" and do
whatever he asked.
I was embarrassed for him. I actually came to the expo thinking he was a good trainer, but I left feeling like he
really didn't understand anything about a horse's instinctive behavior. The poor girl was overwhelmed, in pain,
After he was done and the horse was taken back to her stall, I asked the owner if she minded if I examined her
horse - who was dripping sweat from every inch of her body. She looked exhausted and quite honestly, sad.
After checking her over, I found she did have a problem in her back right where I suspected. I asked the owner if
she knew her horse had a problem in her back. She answered that she had suspected it, but didn't know what
to do about it. I gave her some advice and then continued to look around the expo.
My opinion of this trainer has totally changed since that day. And, if that had been my horse he was working
with, I would have told him to get off!!! The ride would be over. I don't care who he is. Horses don't easily forget
traumatic experiences and that poor horse could actually have acquired some new issues after him working with
I know these stories can be long. But I am hoping that by giving examples of what I am teaching, it will help you
to better understand and to apply the information to your own situation easier.
Faint is not as common as the other F's in horses, but it is an instinctive behavior. It happens in extreme cases.
A horse under extreme pressure will just collapse. It is the nervous system's reaction that can happen after they
freeze. It can happen when a horse is being forced or beaten, when using training devices to force a behavior, or
even from girthing a horse too quickly.
I have not seen a horse faint. I am just passing this information along. But, I have seen it on Animal Planet on
the shows where animals are being hunted by other animals. They just fall over, like they are playing dead.
Unfortunately, it happens when the animal has given up and realizes it can't get away from the predator. Makes
you think, doesn't it?
Fidgeting and Fooling Around:
This is the behavior that has been recently recognized by Texas A & M University. They have found that this
behavior is also stress related and not just your horse being "naughty". The horse may just fidget, lip or nip at
something, etc. It is a more subtle reaction a horse may have, but it may also be a sign that your horse is getting
stressed about something that could need to be investigated.
I believe that some horses are just naturally "lippy" or oral. My horse, Traveller, seems to like to put things in his
mouth and nibble at us to play. But, I have noticed that when he gets stressed or is unsure about something - the
lips come out. I take this as a sign that he needs to be reassured about something. Maybe I need to work with him
to get him used to a scary object, or slow down the training of whatever I am asking him to do. I think that because
nibbling on things is something he is already predisposed to, that he also uses this as his communication to let me
know he is getting worried.
Information presented is for educational purposes only and is not intended
to replace professional opinions or recommendations.
Consult your veterinarian for advice about any medical condition or
treatment needed for your horse
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