What’s Your Horse Trying To Tell You? Reading Their Body Language

Whether you own a stable full of horses or simply enjoy the occasional ride, it is important to understand the animal that you rely on to carry you. Failing to recognize when a horse is agitated, scared, or upset can result in injury to you or the horse.

While horses do make audible sounds to communicate such as nickering happily when you bring food or a treat, the majority of a horse’s communication is through their body language. How their ears are positioned, the placement and movement of their tail and stamping feet can all give great insight into what a horse is thinking and feeling.

Most people are aware of so-called “horse whisperers,” people who have an uncanny ability to understand and reach even the most difficult horses. In reality, this is not some mystical art. It’s the ability to read and respond to a horse’s subtle cues.

Horses are prey animals. As such, they are hard-wired to be constantly wary of the threat of predators. Startling a horse can result in a panicked reaction such as bolting, bucking, and kicking. For this reason, it is always important to make sure a horse is aware of your presence. If a horse is facing away from you or seems to be relaxed or asleep, don’t approach quietly from behind. Instead, call their name, make a little noise, and wait for the horse to notice your presence before you attempt to come up and touch the horse.

Watch the horses ears. Ears that are turned to a specific direction but are otherwise still usually mean the horse is listening to something in that direction. Be extra aware if the horse’s ears are facing backward. Otherwise relaxed body language could just mean that the horse is listening to the area behind him, however, if it is accompanied by a swishing tail, stamping feet, or other signs of agitation, the horse may be preparing to bolt.

Ears that are swiveling rapidly mean that the horse is in a state of heightened alert. It could be simply trying to locate the source of a particular sound, or could be feeling overwhelmed by too much stimuli in the environment.

Watch the positioning of the horses head. A raised head can mean a couple of different things. The horse could be simply trying to get a better view of his surroundings. However, a raised head while being ridden could be indicative of pain. A lowered head that is moving back and forth is known as “snaking.” This behavior is usually an act of aggression, usually used by stallions beginning to fight or a mare who is uncooperative. Take caution if you see this behavior. Try to learn why the horse is behaving aggressively and remedy the situation. This could be as simple as moving the horse out of the location.

A horse’s legs can also show you how he is feeling. If the horse is pawing the ground, it could indicate that it is bored or impatient, especially when tied or otherwise confined. Stress can also cause this behavior. If it progresses to more aggressive stomping, exercise caution as the horse is beginning to become irritated.

Understanding horse body language is key to becoming a successful handler or rider. When you master this skill, you will achieve a new level of understanding when working with these beautiful creatures.

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