What Type is Your Horse? A Symposium with Dr. Ina G

Thursday, December 21, 2006

By Lynndee Kemmet

Next time someone asks what type of horse you own, the question may refer to character not breed, especially if the questioner attended this year’s U.S. Dressage Federation National Convention and Symposium.

That’s because Dr. Ina Gösmeier, a leading expert in the use of acupuncture and herbal remedies for horses, teamed up with Ingrid Klimke, daughter of the late Reiner Klimke, for the symposium portion of the 2006 convention, held in Kansas City the first weekend of December. Gösmeier had little trouble holding the attention of hundreds of symposium attendees as she explained the five different personality types, each of which corresponds to one of the five types of elements commonly used in Oriental philosophy.

“Knowing the personality types helps you find the right partner,” she said.

The personality types are derived from a study of traditional Chinese medicine, which differentiates between the zang and fu organs. The types discussed by Gösmeier are connected to the zang organs – xin (heart), gan (liver), pi (spleen), fei (lung) and shen (kidney). While horses can be a mix of types, one type usually dominates. And Gösmeier said horses are what they are – you can’t change a horse’s type so knowing it and understanding it can be extremely useful for riders.

What fascinated those attended the USDF symposium was her explanation of how personality type impacts the approach that should be used to training and how these types are related to the approaches used in the healing of horses, whether that healing refers to physical or mental.

“For example, you should never let the shen get cold because it makes him prone to illness. The gan horse you educate, but don’t berate. The pi should be ridden in short intervals with lots of breaks. And with the pi you should work on conditioning because it tends to have weaker muscles,” Gösmeier said.

The first type discussed by Gösmeier was the gan, related to the element of wood. The gan horse is the herd leader. He’s a dominant personality who often dislikes his neighbors in the barn. He’s loaded with self-confidence and while that serves him well in the show ring, it doesn’t always serve the rider well. Gösmeier said the gan horse is quick to take advantage of rider errors.

“If you don’t give the right aid, you won’t get it,” she said.

Gösmeier also warned that gans are fighters and if you take them on, they’ll fight back. In training, it’s best to avoid battles.

By Lynndee Kemmet

Next is the pi type. His element is the earth and like the earth, the pi is a bit slow and steady – lazy is the word Gösmeier used.

“The pi type is a slow learner, but once he knows it, he’ll do it even if the aids aren’t good,” she said. “He’s a great beginner horse.”

Because the pi horse likes to eat, food is a great motivator for him. It also helps to explain why pis are a bit larger – they shove their way into the food. Physically, this type of horse is prone to stocking up in the hind legs, but once forced to move, it goes away. Unlike the gan, the pi horse won’t fight back when forced is used on him during training, but he will turn inward and become depressed.

The third type discussed by Gösmeier was the shen, which is linked to the element of water. The shen horse is timid and lacking in self-confidence. You can pick him out in a herd because he’s low on the pecking order and will have a more baby-like voice. The shen also tends to be a bit smaller because unlike the pi, he won’t force his way to the food in a herd. Healthwise, shen horses are prone to illness during winter and when they do get sick, they need more recovery time.

The shen does have some positive aspects. For one, he’s a quick learner. And second, he’ll try his heart out for you. This aspect of his personality led Gösmeier to warn that not recognizing the shen personality could cause riders to unknowingly mistreat the shen. Shens sometimes “misbehave” not out of resistance but out of over-effort. Because shens learn quick and want to please, they’ll often act before being given the aids.

“Don’t discipline him for this,” Gösmeier said. “He just tries so hard for you. What he needs is lots of praise to build his self-confidence.”

Then comes the xin horse, whose element is fire. With this horse type, Gösmeier pulled no punches.

“This horse is not for a beginner. He’s explosive,” she said.

Xin horses are indifferent and unpredictable. When placed in stressful situations – like the show ring – they won’t calm down. They’ll be normal one minute, then see something distracting and explode. They attach to friends in the field and have panic attacks when the friend leaves.

There are various herbal remedies, such as the use of Bach flowers – flower remedies discovered by Dr. Edward Bach and widely used in human and animal health – that can help in the control of xin horses for training, but simple acupressure won’t work, Gösmeier said. These horses need something much stronger, like acupuncture. But most important, they need patient, experienced riders.

Last comes the type Gösmeier said we should all hope to own – the fei type, whose element is metal. The fei horse is intelligent, has a positive outlook on every situation and is capable of being a great performer. Unfortunately, many riders overlook the fei types because they are often not the most impressive looking. Gösmeier also warned that the fei’s eagerness to please puts it at risk from unknowing riders.

“The fei tries to do everything the rider wants. If he’s tired or worn out, he’ll keep going and you won’t notice that there’s a problem until it’s too late. So riders need to be really careful,” she said.

For those who read German, Gösmeier provides much more explanation in her books of the horse types and how she uses this knowledge to treat horses with acupuncture and herbal remedies. For those who don’t English translations of her books are in the works through Half Halt Press, but it’ll probably be a year or so before they’re out.

And now we go back to the original question – what type is your horse?