Reading Equine Body Language


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Horses communicate through body language, an entirely different language than the one that we speak. With time and careful observation, though, you can learn how to interpret your horse’s body language. Understanding your horse’s body language will let you communicate with him more safely and effectively, and will make training your horse easier.

Ear Position

Your horse’s ears provide many clues about his comfort level and possible next movements or reactions. Horses are highly dependent on their hearing for safety; in the wild a horse’s hearing alerts him to predators and possible danger. In domesticity, you will find that your horse is constantly listening to sounds from different directions.

A horse’s ears are largely indicative of where his focus is at the moment. He can swivel his ears both at once or independently, which allows him to listen to sounds coming from different directions. Pricked ears standing up straight identify an attentive horse who has focused on a sound. Flattened ears pinned back along your horse’s neck signal discomfort and a threat; your horse is unpleased and could potentially charge forward.

Head and Neck Position

Just how your horse holds his head and neck will give you clues about his intentions. If your horse stands with his head and neck raised tall, looking towards something, he is investigating a strange sight or sound, and he is alert and focused. Be careful, though, because a horse that is highly alert can quickly become scared; give the horse distance and let him inspect whatever is worrying him.

A lowered head with the neck stretched out long and low generally means that a horse is comfortable and relaxed. This can be an optimum position for your horse when you are warming up or cooling down after a ride; your horse can breathe easily and stretch well when he is relaxed and content.

Leg Position

The position of the horse’s legs, particularly his hind legs, tells you a lot about his demeanor. Many horses stand with one hind leg cocked slightly, the toe resting on the ground. This stance indicates relaxation and comfort; usually the horse will cock whichever hind leg is on the same side that you are standing on.

When a horse is standing squarely on all four legs, it can mean that he is uncomfortable or tense. But standing squarely is not indicative of a tense horse in itself – you need to use other body language clues to decide what your horse is feeling at the time.

Learning to observe and interpret your horse’s body language can make training your horse and communicating with your horse easier and more effective. Spend some time observing your horse in the field to see how he communicates with other horses.

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