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Liz Hanson Investigates Horse Personalities

December 5, 2017

Psychology Major Liz Hanson is combining her love of horses with her field of study to create a senior project that examines the validity of horse personality questionnaires.

Liz Hanson

Hanson grew up in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. Although her mid-western accent is nearly imperceptible, she said “it can be triggered by niceties and habitual greetings.” She discovered the University of Montana Western while researching degree offerings in equine studies.

She switched her major from natural horsemanship to psychology after deciding she wanted to focus on academic research. She now plans to pursue a career in social work, specifically focusing on sexual assault prevention in schools, but her passion for horses remains strong.

“I’ve just always found them really curious. They always keep you on your toes. Horses are not property. They’re not commodities you trade like beans and rice,” Hanson said.

She cites Psychology Professor Mark Krank as an inspiration, and the person who helped her most in setting up the parameters for her research.

On her senior project, Hanson said, “There’s a trend in the horse world to take a questionnaire to find the personality of a horse. I feel people put a lot of emphasis on horse personality when it might not be valid.”

To test her theory, Hanson travelled to five different facilities in Bozeman, Dillon, and Helena, Mont. For 52 different horses, she asked the primary owner to fill out a questionnaire describing the horse’s personality. She then recorded video footage of the horse and had a group of experts rate their personality. By comparing the two results, she hopes to scientifically measure the effectiveness of these questionnaires.

Hanson is enthusiastic about her research, supported by the unique hands-on learning focus of Montana Western’s Experience One Program. She said, “It gave me confidence about the things I’ve learned because I’ve done it. I’ve seen what my capabilities are and can be in the future.”

On choosing psychology as her major, she said, “It’s very applicable knowledge. No matter what field you go into, you’ll be working with people, and psychology is the study of people.”

The faculty and staff at Montana Western want to ensure that each student focuses on their passion, and the Experience One program creates an environment where students can combine their interests with their future goals while they take a single course at a time and learn by doing.

For more information about how Experience One can help you achieve your goals, or to schedule a visit to the University of Montana Western, visit or call 877-683-7331.