Understanding horse voice and body language, postures, gestures, and facial expressions of horses say a lot. It’s easy to focus on their words, but what they mean is expressed by how they carry themselves. Like many animals, horses communicate through body language rather than vocal cords.
The ability to read and respond to the horse’s body language is what sets great horse breeders apart from the rest. From a distance, it may look like these experts are “mind reading,” but in reality, they’re noticing and responding to the subtlest of cues from the cat, both on the ground as well as in the basket. In ancient times, various cultures have depicted horses in their arts, showing that their existence has always been important. They have been the subject of worship and mythology. This is because they’ve always symbolized beauty, power, and freedom. But modern horsemanship aims to regain those connections with horses by returning them to their natural selves while still keeping them safe and protected.
How horse sense about you?
In the equestrian world, there are some basic rules that a novice rider learns early on to stay safe. One of the most important lessons is always to watch where the horse’s ears are pointing if you want to get an idea of what he feeling at any has given time.
Underneath are more points:
Turned to the side:
If a horse isn’t looking at you, then he is most likely not paying attention to what you’re doing with him. If you suddenly walk up and pat the horse on the back or try to stick something in his mouth as a treat, chances are he may take off running in one direction or another or bite your hand if he gets startled by your sudden movement. Instead of approaching a horse before he has become aware of your presence, call out to him or make some noise with the use of a clapper; get his attention before going any further.
If your horse’s ears are flat back but not pinned, it often means he’s listening to something behind him — he may be deciding whether to run away or turn around and check out the sound. When combined with a swishing tail or other signs of tension in the body, turned-back ears may be a precursor to pinned ears.
Horses have an uncanny ability to navigate the world with their eyes tightly shut and are capable of finding their way around each day with only their ears as guides. When a horse’s ears start flicking back and forth, this is a sign that he is spotting (or not noticing) something unusual that piques his curiosity. If the sound or smell is unfamiliar, he might be trying to figure out where it or they are coming from — in turn, the horse may respond by moving away from whatever has caught his attention. This means both you AND your horse need to stay alert during even the most mundane tasks!
What His Head Carriage Says
Take a horse’s head. His ears, body, and tail all give you certain clues about what mood he might be in or where he is looking.
Lowered: A lowered head shows that your horse is tired and content. The longer and heavier the horse’s mane, the more gracefully it coils as he lowers his head, typically to eat or drink. A dropped head could also be a sign of something wrong. If your horse is standing in his stall or pasture with a lowered head, he might be asleep (or at least resting); keep an eye on him, so you don’t spook him out of a peaceful state by approaching suddenly or abruptly.
When your horse is in the pastures, he needs to be attentive at all times. Whether at work or in a competition, you need him to concentrate on the matter of hand. If he must become accustomed to or comfortable with something new around him (like another rider, pony, or stall), then you have to make sure he is always paying attention so as not to spook and bolt suddenly at any given moment. You should also try and get yourself in the same frame of mind when training your horse. You will notice situations after situations presenting themselves throughout your training period, and sometimes you may have some emotional turmoil going on during this time – but if you get it out of the way early enough, there should be no problems too big for your horse to deal with later on down the road!
When a horse lowers his head and waves it from side to side, he’s being aggressive. A stallion often does this to ward off an uncooperative mare or any other horse who has wandered into his territory – so if you see this, it’s best to clear out immediately. If you see this or happen to be near one that is doing this in your yard, you should make sure to get him out of the area (if possible) and refocus his attention elsewhere either with another person or else move him away for private time. It may also help if you can make sure to avoid making eye contact with the animal as well – never stare at a horse directly in the eyes as there is no way of telling what he might think of your actions as some horses may be more sensitive than others while still others might take offense to have their space invaded whether deliberately on accident.
What His Forelegs Say
No matter how dangerous a horse’s front legs may look, they can also show a lot of information to the rider. For example, one may notice that the right leg is in front when the horse is trying to turn left; or if it begins to lift the leg off the ground, that might mean whipping is coming up:
Horses are such majestic creatures, and they make us feel a sense of awe when we see one. But the fact is that horses can appear quite imposing depending on how they stand. A horse may often seem scared, which could mean he’s already leaning towards bucking or spooking.
Horses have different reasons for pawing. Sometimes they do it to dig a trench in the ground, especially if they’re bored or impatient with standing around too long, like in the horse trailer or if they’re stressed. Other times horses paw at the ground because it helps relieve stress and make them feel better when done in situations where something can’t be changed, such as when food is about to be given.
Pawing can be a difficult thing to read. Is your horse angry or merely angry at himself? Thankfully, most of the time, it’s immediately apparent because they’re either pawing at themselves in frustration or they’re attacking an object or another animal – like you. And when this happens in front of you, there’s little question that your horse is not happy about something and might be about to attack you. It may sound scary, but it’s true. In this scenario, all one needs to do is make sure he doesn’t hit another animal by positioning yourself between him and the other animal – since some horses attack out of fear when doing so – then startle your horse from its intended target by using a loud “No!” as well as moving away from him quickly before he has the chance to strike.
Unlike pawing, stomping is raising and lowering a foot forcefully in place. Horses stomp to indicate irritation. Usually, it’s something minor, such as a fly they’re trying to dislodge. However, stomping may also show your horse is frustrated with something you are doing or not coming along quickly enough for their comfort level. If you don’t address the situation, he may resort to stronger signals like rearing (another common behavior) when these feelings of frustration enter his mind.
A strike is a forceful, forward kick that can be aggressive or defensive. This action can lead to serious injury if not checked immediately. The leg used will determine the kind of strike you’re dealing with. If you’re very lucky, then you’ll end up with just one bruise, but a strike can break a bone. Some types of strikes come accompanied by many other warning signs like stomping, pawing the ground, wide eyes, an elevated head, or pinned ears. It’s important to listen to these signals so that you know what your horse’s behavior implies; this way, you can change his focus or prepare for worsening action/behavior at hand!
What His Hind Legs Say
Horses are more dangerous when they are frustrated or nervous:
When a horse paws the ground, he rotates his weight onto one leg and leaves the other three legs suspended in the air. When combined with any of these behaviors: lowered head, ears, or tail; flared nostrils; upturned lip; frequent shifting from one foot to another, it could mean that something is wrong, and you should contact your veterinarian immediately.
Like most animals, horses are known for being quite emotional. When a horse is in a state of fear or anxiety, he may raise his head and flail his ears around behind him to better keep an eye on what’s making him feel uncomfortable. In that case, you should do your best to steer clear of his back end and nudge him onward in the desired direction away from whatever has set him off.
When your horse lifts its front legs off the ground and puts them down, that can be a sign that there’s something potentially irritating in the immediate vicinity. The annoyance could be so minor as to be completely unnoticeable by human beings, or it could be that there’s something behind him or around him which he’s annoyed with or is threatening to kick at.
At the more end of the spectrum, many warning signs will resemble a lunged horse: He may elevate his head and pin his ears back in warning. Your goal will be to move him away from whatever is bothering him and refocus his energy by putting him to work.
What His Muzzle Says
A horse’s nose and mouth also play an important role in relaying various messages as well:
Drooping lip and slack mouth:
A horse standing with a loose-hanging lower lip may be settling down for relaxation or maybe even getting some shut-eye. If you approach him, do so casually and calmly by calling his name to avoid startling him. Once he’s awake and moving again, his lip should also return to normal. However, if the slackness in his mouth persists while he’s alert, want your vet to take a closer look at why it might be occurring because something might be amiss underneath the surface that isn’t obvious from the outside.
When you see your horse chewing on his bit although he has not been asked to do so, it will look a little funny, but we want to remind you to take comfort in knowing that this means he’s relaxed, which of course goes hand in hand with means he’s learning during training.
A foal will sometimes raise his neck, push his head forward and curl his lips. In a way, this looks comical to us, but it’s an important behavior for him: This is how the foal tells other horses, “Hey! I’m a baby! Please don’t hurt me!” You’ll often see this in foals and weanlings and occasionally among more submissive yearlings. Normally, they stop by when they’re 2 or 3 years old.
When a horse smells something he’s unsure of, he raises his head, curls his upper lip, breathes in, and blows air back out. This allows him to push the scent particles through a structure in his nose called the vomeronasal organ (VNO).
For short, the vestibular nictitating membrane (or VNO) is a membrane in the horse’s cheek that enables them to detect chemicals in the air better. It is often seen when a stallion gets ‘the flehmen face.’ They do this by sticking out their tongue and throwing back their head because it helps them determine if a mare nearby is ovulating or ready to breed. Horses all do this when they encounter something unusual, as they then try and gather more information.
Horses are my favorite animals. Here’s something interesting about them that I noticed: when they’re exercising and let out a breath, the temperature of their exhaled air decreases by about 25 degrees Fahrenheit on its own! That’s pretty cool, eh? It is, though. I also learned that horses’ nostrils display other signs when feeling scared or nervous such as flickering, twitching, and sometimes even visibly vibrating! They express themselves without saying a word too, so it’s important to pay attention!
Tight, pinched, or pursed mouth or muzzle.
This is a subtle sign which can be easy to miss. Corrugations in the upper lip are a sure-shot way to watch out for your horse being worried, stressed, or scared. When you notice his mouth tighten up, take action immediately by either removing your horse away from the situation that he doesn’t need to be in (like if he’s out of control without you and too pent up with energy that’s causing him to perform dangerously) or help him work through it so as not to resort to “louder” messages like biting or even running away from you!
Gaping mouth with visible teeth.
This gesture can signal different things, depending on the context. If the horse also pins his ears and you can see white around his eyes, he’s angry and probably seconds away from biting you or another horse—move out of his way immediately to avoid being hurt. If the horse displays this gesture while riding it, it might be experiencing pain. This could be a sign of improper bridle fit or dental problems. To ensure your horse’s comfort, go through both the fitting and dental examination stages with your vet! Last but not least, if your horse stops eating and stands with his neck stretched out in front of him and his mouth gaping open, either something escaped its mouth that didn’t agree with it, or else it is at risk of clocking – get your equine medical professional to check on it right away as there may be an obstruction or other problem brewing!
What His Eyes Say
Horses have distinctive ways of showing affection. Here are some examples:
As with a furrowed brow, tightening the forehead muscles around the eyes is a good indicator of stress your horse has. This tension can result from clenching the horse’s jaw too firmly or even from intense concentration. However, the former is more likely to respond to uncomfortable situations and the latter during more pleasurable ones! Once you learn to recognize the horse’s facial expression as representing a discomfort state that requires action, you may be able to relieve it – thus preventing bigger problems like additional wrinkling or other signs of stress.
When your horse’s eyes are flicking from side to side, they are probably too overwhelmed and scared and might try to escape calm down. It can be a very dangerous situation if you happen to be around to avoid any confrontation. At the same time, on the horseback ride, make sure you remove yourself from the case immediately by asking someone else to handle the animal or call it off for that day.
White of the eyes showing:
To correctly interpret this sign, you need to take notice of your horse’s behavior. In some horses, the sclera (the opaque white portion of the eyeball surrounding the cornea) is always exposed, especially in Appaloosas and pintos with lots of white on their faces. Some horses will expose the sclera only when startled or mildly alarmed.
Horses have several ways in which they communicate and understand their surroundings. One of these methods is through body language. Some signs of nervousness or fear include ears pinned back, flaring nostrils, trembling, and overall restlessness. In any case, you’ll need to take quick action to prevent the horse from suddenly bolting, kicking, or otherwise charging forward.
What His Tail Says
Now let us learn how horses’ tails show us signs:
Raised or Flagged:
A tail that is carried above the back can make a horse susceptible to biting and kicking due to its excitement. This behavior is most often seen in equines whose ancestry lies in Arabia, but any breed of horse can exhibit this trait under the right circumstances. By far, the most common example of this behavior occurs when someone has thrown food into a paddock for horses and sometimes even other animals as well (even dogs sometimes join in) who have been on tethers or are wearing halters when they first notice food being used. Suppose the horses are excited enough because it’s new to them. In that case, they will start kicking their legs over each other or perhaps trying to jump over one another or even start jumping up and down while flailing around wildly with their tails raised in an attempt to beg for some food from their human companions.
If your horse is stressed, then he will press his tail downwards. This is a very good time to build the horse’s confidence to proceed further and motivate him. And try to see a veterinarian immediately.
When a horse jerks his tail up and down and left or right very fast, he is angry and not comfortable with anything. You should check your saddle, is fit and not hurting him. And if this is the case, then fix this immediately before riding, and if during a ride it happens, stop and fix this or if nothing is working, then see an animal doctor or expert quickly.
In the above discussion about horses’ body language and signs, we understand that horses feel and react accordingly. Still, unlike humans, they cannot speak about but show the characters, and riders or owner has to think in a way horse is reacting and acting and provide him that specific remedy as you do with your child when they cannot speak, but you understand because you have created with them a bond. The same is with the horse.