Horse Talk

The following information is brought to you by Debbie Stevens as part of the 2020 Brownsboro Alliance Virtual Adventures.

To become better versed in equine body language, one must pay attention any time you are around horses.  Here are some basic expressions and behaviors you can easily observe:

  • Horses change their facial expressions just as people do, so watch their ears, eyes and mouth. Watch the shoulders and hindquarters.  If your horse respects you, then he will yield them to you.  If he’s pushy and even bumps into you, it means he doesn’t see you as the leader.
  • Notice what your horse is doing with his tail. Is it hanging relaxed or gently swishing at flies?  This is normal.  However, if he is wringing his tail or swishing it rapidly, then he is annoyed or irritated. Is the tail clenched tightly against his hindquarters?  This is a sign of fear or nervousness.  An elevated tail means high spirits.
  • In a horse that is Afraid/Anxious/Nervous, one will observe his head and neck are typically held high, and the muscles are tensed. The whites of the eyes may be showing, and the horse may be quivering or trembling.  The tail may be tucked tightly against the hindquarters.  The horse often can’t stand still and may try to bolt.  He may also grind his teeth.
  • In a horse that is Alert/Focused, one will observe his ears are pointed in the direction of where the horse is looking. The ears my flick back and forth if a lot is happening in his surroundings.  The head and neck are held up; there is a bright attentive look to the eyes and the tail may be elevated.
  • In a horse that is Content/Accepting, there is a soft look to the eye (normal blinking, not staring) and his muscles are relaxed overall. A horse will slightly lower his head, the ears may be forward or neutral (not focused in any particular direction), the mouth relaxed, and he may sigh and lick his lips. One hind leg might be cocked in relaxation if the horse is standing still.  A basic, happy attitude.
  • In a horse that is Annoyed/Sour/Stressed, he may pin his ears, wring or swish his tail and have a hard look to his eyes. He may grind his teeth, toss or fling his head, and open his mouth or elevate his head to avoid a rider’s hands or the bit when under saddle.  There is usually an overall stiffness to the body.
  • In a horse that is Relaxed, he is completely at ease. The eyes may be partially or totally closed, head lowered and muscles relaxed.
  • In a horse that is Dominate/Aggressive, he will pin his ears and may curl his upper lip. He may swing his hindquarters toward whomever he’s trying to control and have a hard, staring look to his eyes.  Everything about his expression says, “Get out of my way!”