Blog Theory

What Horses Want

In Psychology, Maslow developed a theory on basic human needs. This is displayed in the form of a pyramid, with the most intrinsic needs forming the base. The theory is that each level is a need which has to be fulfilled in order for an individual to achieve the next step in their journey towards self-actualization (the final goal). The illustration below (by FireflySixtySeven – Using Inkscape, based on Maslow’s paper, A Theory of Human Motivation., CC BY-SA 4.0, shows Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. How does this relate to horses?


Equine needs are known, but misinterpreted in the equine community. Physiological needs for horses include food, water and companionship. Being social in nature, it is more important for them to have friends than it is to be safe accourding to human standards. Safety for horses involves feeling secure in their environment, knowing their territory and being able to see far into the distance. As a prey animal, it is always in a horse’s best interest to be able to run freely at a whim and to be able to survey their surroundings from a vantage point. If you have a look at how various stable yards are constructed, some have paddocks surrounded by trees and shrubs, or surrounded by buildings (in very urban areas). In an environment like this, horses can feel unsafe, as they are surrounded by shrouded areas. As for a horse’s need for esteem or self-actualization, in my personal experience, both of these manifest more in a need to express themselves and be heard. I have found that the more attuned a handler is to the equine’s needs and moods, the more they are willing to express themselves and engage in the activities presented by the handler.

In conclusion, I believe that we can present the horse’s needs as follows:

How are we stifling the horse’s ability to become the best they can be…the happiest versions of themselves? What can we do to make them more authentically content in their everyday environment?

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