Understanding Your Horse’s Body Language

It is easier to communicate with some animals than with others. Take dogs, for example, they are very expressive creatures.

A dog will let you know exactly how they feel. They will show distress if you leave them alone or display pleasure clearly by acting excited. If you play their favorite game or massage their fur, they will let you know just how happy they are. 

Non-verbal cues are important indicators of emotions and feelings. While dogs use these cues very well, some other animals might not be so expressive. 

Figuring out what your horse is feeling can be challenging. If, however, you study your horse’s body language closely, you can usually know what is on their mind.

Horses and Their Body Language

Horses are highly expressive. They also happen to be very sensitive. Even though they have a limited range of vocal impressions, they are still effective communicators.

Much like verbal language, body language is interactive. Research shows that humans and horses co-create a language which makes interactions more personalized over time. 

This means that as time goes by, you not only get to understand your horse better but also get to develop your methods of communication with them.

Understanding Your Horse through Body Language

Even though it is quite useful, the subtlety of body language can make it hard to interpret.

Here are some basic body language cues and the meanings behind them:

Physical Cues

1. The Head and Neck

Let us start with the top. A horse’s neck and head can tell you a lot about the state in which they are. If your horse’s neck is upright and the head is held up high, it means they are alert. Many horses adopt this posture when they are performing an activity.

However, alertness could also be due to stress. If you notice your horse has tensed neck muscles and the head is high, it could mean they are nervous and stressed. You can message their head with a slicker brush, you can even use the slicker brush for dogs to brush your horse’s hair.

Alternatively, if the head is low and neck muscles are relaxed it is mostly because your horse is relaxed and at ease. Still, you must take into consideration the context of the situation. Horses may also hang their heads if they are not feeling well.

2. The Ears

Horses can move their ears in many different directions and can communicate with one other with the movement of their ears.

Ears in a normal position, slightly upwards, and pointing forwards is a good sign. It means they are at ease. Horses turn their ears in the direction of where the sound is coming from. Therefore, if their ears are facing backwards, it shows that they are listening to you.

In some cases, ears turned backwards can be a sign of fear. Horses who fear the rider are cautious and keep their ears positioned to stay alert.

Drooped ears indicate a lack of attention. There are different reasons why your horse’s ears may droop down. They may be sleepy or in pain. This is why it is important to take into consideration other aspects of body language to know what your horse is feeling.

Flickering ears are concerning. If you notice that your horse’s ears keep on flickering and moving, it may be a sign of anxiety and stress. It shows they are insecure and need to be on their guard. Try comforting your horse if you notice their ears are flickering.

Ears pinned back are also a bad sign, especially if your horse’s ears are lying completely flat. These are indicators of aggression and a signal of the fight response in horses if they feel threatened.

3. Position of the Legs

It is normal for horses to rest on their hind legs. It shows they are relaxed and at ease. If, however, you notice the weight of the body is mostly on the front legs it may be a sign of stress. Your horse may be feeling threatened.

Pointing forward of the front feet or only touching the ground with the toes of the feet is also not normal. It is time to see why your horse is behaving in this manner if you witness this.

4. The Tale of the Tail

Horses have great control of their tail. They regularly use their tail to display stress or pleasure. If your horse is carelessly swishing its tail, there is no need to worry.

When the tail is tucked between the legs, it shows fear and nervousness. On the other hand, if the tail is high, it shows your horse is on high alert and is ready to show a flight or fight response.

The best way to judge your horse’s body language is to combine the various aspects. Combining information from different parts of the body provides a more complete picture.

Verbal Clues

Another way to know your horse’s emotions is to use body language in combination with verbal cues. Your horse may not be able to talk but they can make sounds.

Horses commonly make three types of sounds. They commonly neigh which is a way of telling others that they are present. It is also a way of acknowledging the presence of others. There is no cause for concern if your horse is neighing.

While neighing is displayed towards familiar horses and humans. For unfamiliar faces horses usually squeal.

The most alarming sound your horse can make is a snorting noise. Horses snort as means to warn if they think they are under threat.

Using Body Language Effectively

Horses are very sensitive creatures. They, unlike dogs, prefer security to food. Horses are usually calm and docile, however, can react aggressively if they feel threatened. The body language of a horse provides a lot of information about its feelings and emotions.

Experts can pick up on clues provided by body language and combine them with vocal cues to accurately assess how a horse is feeling. You too can figure out whether your horse is relaxed, worried, anxious, sick, or angry based on body language alone.