Equine Hierarchy of Needs

November 15, 2022

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a widely-understood visual model that breaks down the psychology of human motivation.

Problems or difficult circumstances at one point in a person's life can cause them to focus on a particular set of needs, and this in turn can affect their future happiness.

For example, a person who lived through a period of extreme poverty and lack of food security in early childhood may fixate on Physiological and Safety needs. These remain even if they are satisfied. So even if this person later has everything they need, they may nonetheless obsess over money or keeping enough food in the fridge.

In my short time as a horse owner, I have found horses to be the same.

All horses have 3 basic needs that must be met in order to physically survive: adequate access to food, shelter, and water. Until those basic needs are met, they are unable to move up to another section. However, a horse that has experienced a lack of one or more needs will have the ability to revert back to “survival mode” even after those needs are met.

For example, my 4 year old mare polishes off any food within her sight rapidly, as there was a time she had to quite literally fight for access to food. Now, not only are her basic Physiological needs being met, but so are her Safety and Love & Belonging needs. Yet, that constant need to chow down to avoid hunger will likely always linger.

Our 17 year old mare spent the last decade of her life turned out in a field in upstate New York. Unfortunately, we don’t know much of what she endured there; however, we do know that she likely did not receive routine vet, farrier, or dental care. Our wonderful team has been working together over the last 6 months and there has been immense progress. However, there are some pieces of her body that will never fully heal.

Like humans, horses can travel between the different need sections throughout their lifespan, and the rate at which they do is unique to each individual. Some may fluctuate more than others.

Where does your horse fall in the Equine Hierarchy of Needs?

With H.O.P.E.

Diana Bezdedeanu