How To Understand Horse Language

Have you ever wondered what a horse is trying to tell you or another horse? Horses use their body language and sound to communicate with each other and with humans. Good training requires extensive knowledge of horse behavior in order to be successful. Understanding your horse’s behavior and language will help you better understand your horse and strengthen the bond.

Understand your horse’s ear and eye movements and facial expressions

Look your horse in the eye. If you look into your horse’s eyes, you will see how your horse is feeling (e.g. alert, tired, etc.). Note that horse vision is different from that of humans. For example, horses have a panoramic view of their surroundings (like a panoramic camera); Horses are prey animals in the wild, so it’s important that they can see a wide angle of your surroundings. Horses can also have poor depth vision, meaning they can’t always tell how deep or low something is. What we see as a small shallow puddle can appear as a bottomless void to a horse.

  • When your horse’s eyes are bright and wide open, it means he is alert and aware of his surroundings.
  • Eyes that are only half open indicate a sleepy horse.
  • When your horse has both eyes closed, it is asleep.
  • If only one eye is open, it’s possible that something is wrong with the other eye. You may need to call your vet to find out why the other eye is closed.
  • Sometimes your horse will move his head in different directions to get a better view of his surroundings.
  • Observe the position of your horse’s ears. Horses have their ears in different positions to hear different signals from their environment and to show how they are feeling. Horses can move both ears simultaneously or independently.
  • Ears that point slightly forward mean the horse is relaxed. When your horse’s ears are pricked forward, it is either very interested in its surroundings or feels threatened. When the horse feels threatened, its nostrils flare and its eyes open wide.
  • Flat ears are a clear sign that your horse is upset. If you are near your horse when you observe this, you should keep your distance to prevent injury.
  • If one ear is put back, then your horse is likely listening for a noise behind him.
  • When your horse’s ears are to the side, it means he’s quiet.

Observe your horse’s facial expression

Horses have a wide range of facial expressions depending on the circumstances of their environment. In most cases, the posture changes with the facial expression.

Your horse will drop his chin or mouth when he is calm or sleepy

  • The rolling up of the upper lip is called flehmen. Although this looks funny to humans, it is a way for horses to pick up unfamiliar smells. Flehming consists of the horse lengthening its neck, raising its head and inhaling, and then curling up its upper lip. This makes the upper teeth visible.
  • Foals and yearlings chatter their teeth to make sure the older horses don’t harm them. They stretch their necks and tilt their heads forward. Then they curl up their upper and lower lips and show all their teeth and repeatedly chatter your teeth together. You will hear a faint click when your horse does this.

Understand your horse’s legs, posture, and voice

Observe what your horse is doing with its legs. Horses use their front and back legs in different ways to show their mood. Horses can cause serious injuries with their legs, so understanding how your horse communicates with its legs is very important for your own safety.

  • Your horse will scrape or stomp its front legs when it is impatient, frustrated, or uncomfortable.
    Splayed front legs indicate that your horse is about to run. It can also mean that your horse has a medical problem that prevents him from standing normally; You need your vet to diagnose the problem.
  • If your horse lifts a front or hind leg, it is a threat. If your horse does this, you should keep a safe distance; a kick can cause serious injury.
  • Your horse can rest its hind leg by planting the front of its hoof on the ground and lowering its hips. The horse is so relaxed.
  • Your horse will buck from time to time by throwing its hind legs in the air. This is mostly a playful behavior sometimes accompanied by grunts and squeaks, but it can also indicate discomfort and fear, especially when being ridden for the first time.
  • Climbing is another ambiguous behavior. It can be playful in foals in the field, but if it is an angry stallion in a pugnacious mood it can be a sign of fear if the horse cannot escape the situation.

Pay attention to your horse’s general posture. You can tell how your horse is feeling by seeing it as a whole, moving or standing. For example, if the back of his back is arching upwards, he may be sore from the saddle.

  • Stiff muscles and movements can mean your horse is nervous, stressed, or in pain. If you’re not sure why your horse is stiff, your vet can run a variety of tests, both behavioral and medical (dental exams or lameness tests) to find the cause.
  • Trembling is a sign of fear. Your horse may tremble to the point of wanting to run away or fight. If he does this, give him space and time to calm down. It should also be desensitized to take away its fear; a professional animal behaviorist can help the horse overcome its fear.
  • Your horse may rotate its hindquarters to show it is ready to kick; get to safety quickly if it does. If your horse is a mare, she may rotate her hindquarters while in heat to get a stallion’s attention.

Listen to the noises your horse makes. Horses use different sounds to communicate different things. Understanding what these sounds mean will help you understand what they mean.

  • Your horse whinnies for a variety of reasons. It may be excited or distressed; this is then a very high-pitched whinny and may be accompanied by a drooping tail and flapping ears. It may also be that he just wants to make his presence known. A confident whinny sounds like a horn and is accompanied by a slightly raised tail and ears that point forward.
  • A nod is a soft, harsh sound. To make this sound, your horse will keep its mouth closed while the sound comes from its vocal cords. A mare sometimes makes this sound in the presence of her foal. Your horse will also make this sound when it knows it’s time to feed. It’s usually a friendly sound.
  • Squeaking can mean a warning. Two horses meeting for the first time squeak at each other. It can also be a playful sign, such as when the horse bucks.
  • Your horse snorts by quickly inhaling and then exhaling through his nose. With this sound, it can indicate that it is alarmed when another animal gets too close to it. It can also mean that he is excited about something. Be aware that snorting can make horses super nervous; You may need to reassure them.
  • Just like a human, your horse will sigh to show relief and relaxation. The sigh varies, depending on mood: relief – deep breath in, then slowly breath out through nose or mouth; Relaxation – head down with an exhalation that produces a fluttering sound.
  • Groaning can mean different things. For example, your horse may groan while riding when it is in pain (a hard landing after a jump, its rider falling heavily on his back). It can also moan while riding without pain. Moaning can also mean they have serious medical problems, such as constipation or stomach pains caused by stomach ulcers. If you can’t figure out why your horse is moaning, consult an expert.

Understand the head, neck, and tail

Observe the position of your horse’s head. As with other parts of your horse’s body, it will move its head differently depending on its mood. The position of the head signals a different set of moods.

  • When your horse holds its head up, it shows that it is alert and curious.
  • A bowed head can mean different things. It can mean that your horse has accepted a certain situation or command. So it may indicate that your horse is depressed and this should be confirmed by your veterinarian.
  • When your horse wiggles its head (lowers its head and moves its neck from side to side) it is a sign of aggression. If possible, get your horse away from the source that is upsetting him. If you cannot do this safely, wait at a safe distance until your horse has calmed down.
    Your horse may turn his head toward his flank, which may mean he has abdominal pain.

Watch your horse wag its tail. Your horse will flick its tail to scare away flies and other insects. While not all tails are the same for all breeds, there are some similarities.

  • Tail flicking is not only used to shoo away insects, it can mean the horse is agitated and can be a warning to other horses to keep their distance.
  • When your horse is excited, it will flick its tail faster and more aggressively than when chasing insects.
  • Your horse will often lift his tail when happy or alert. In foals, a tail high over the back can be either playful or alarming.
  • If your horse’s tail is caught, your horse will be uncomfortable.

Observe how your horse’s neck looks and feels. Your horse holds his neck in different positions depending on whether he feels good or bad. Knowing the different positions will help you better understand your horse.

  • When your horse’s neck is stretched out and muscles feel loose, it means they are relaxed and happy.
  • If muscles feel stiff, chances are your horse is stressed and unhappy.
Mary Allen

Written by Mary Allen

Hello, I'm Mary! I've cared for many pet species including dogs, cats, guinea pigs, fish, and bearded dragons. I also have ten pets of my own currently. I've written many topics in this space including how-tos, informational articles, care guides, breed guides, and more.

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