Equine Behaviour Basics: Horse Facts

Equine Behaviour Basics: Your Horse’s Body Language

The more time you spend around horses, the more you will realise just how important it is to be able to decipher their body language. As horses are not able to communicate with words, they use their bodies to tell us how they’re feeling and understanding equine body language is critical to building a successful horse-human connection.

The Tail

  • If the horse’s tail is high they are alert or excited.
  • If the horse’s tail is low they are showing signs of exhaustion, fear, pain, or submission.
  • If the horse’s tail is held high over its back – commonly seen in foals – they are feeling playful or are highly alarmed.
  • If a horse is swishing it’s tail it is irritated.

The Legs

  • If the horse’s legs are pawing it means they are frustrated.
  • If the horse is displaying one front leg lifted it may be that they are perceiving a threat, although some horses display this as a normal stance when eating.
  • If the horse is displaying one back leg lifted, it is likely that they are showing a more defensive threat.
  • If the horse is stomping its feet, this generally indicates a mild threat or protest, although it may be that the horse is trying to get rid of insects or flies biting at their legs.

Facial Expressions

  • Snapping of the mouth is often displayed by foals when showing submission to an older horse. This is generally not something to worry about, so you can go back to playing bingo for money. This snapping is an opening of the mouth, drawing back the corners, and opening and closing the jaw.
  • If the horse is displaying open jaws with teeth exposed, they are showing aggression and may attack.
  • The flehmen response is characterised by the horse sticking their nose in the air and curling their upper lip over the nose. This is usually caused by an intense smell and is often displayed by stallions when they sense a mare in heat.
  • If the horse displays flared nostrils it usually means they are excited or alert.
  • If the horse is displaying the white of their eyes it generally means they are angry or scared.

The Ears

  • The neutral position of a horse’s ears is when they are held loosely upwards with ear openings held facing forward or outward.
  • If the horse’s ears are pricked with the ears held stiffly with the openings facing directly forward, it means the horse is alert.
  • If the horse displays ‘airplane ears’ with the ears flopping out laterally with the openings facing down, this usually means the horse is tired or depressed.
  • If the horse displays drooped ears with the ears hanging loosely to the side this generally indicates tiredness or pain.
  • If the horse’s ears are angled backwards with the openings directed back towards the rider, they are usually highly attentive to listen to commands.
  • If the horse ears are pinned flat against the neck you should be very careful as the horse is angry and aggressive and may attack.

About Doreen Cohen