Horse body language
Published 02-22-2011 10:33 AM | Fernanda Camargo
Horses use body language to communicate their intentions to other horses and to people. They often give lots of signs before acting.
Ears: The ears are used in different ways to signal the horse's intentions or state of mind. For example, a relaxed horse may drop or flop the ears sideways. This can happen when they are dozing off or when they are having a relaxed ride. When approaching a horse that id dozing off, make sure he is aware of your location before touching him, or he may be startled. Talk to him and wait for one ear to turn toward you before getting any closer. Alert horses will have their ears pointed toward whatever they are looking at or investigating. Very pricked ears may mean that the horse is not listening to the handler anymore and care should be taken to ensure safety of the handler or rider. Both ears pressed flat back is a threat. This can be accompanied with wrinkled nostrils. A horse can threaten another horse that way, or even a person. If you are going to get a horse out of a paddock with several other horses, be watching the herd dynamics, because other horses may be threatening your horse or even you, and many times, after the ears go down, some kicks can come out as well. Be careful not to be caught in between.
Tail: A horse can swish his tail in irritation. They can tuck their tail in when they feel uncomfortable with something you are doing, such as saddling or grooming. Generally, if a horse thinks you are taking liberties with him, he will clamp his tail to his rump. A relaxed horse will carry his tail slightly lifted, without swishing. The tail can move from side to side with the horse's stride, but that does not constitute swishing. An excited playful horse will carry his tail up and sometimes over his back, like a flag.
Mouth: When a horse is tense, he will tighten his chin and lips. When he is relaxed or dozing off, the lower lip may be droopy. A younger horse will clap his lips in submission to older horses.
Head: A horse will move his head in a forward motion to drive other horses away. Some horses turn their heads in a complete circle, especially when they are running free and feeling good.
Leg/Foot: When a horse is planning to kick, he will raise a back foot off the ground. This is generally accompanied by other body language, such as ears back. A horse can also swing his buttocks toward the object he is planning to kick. Be careful when entering a stall, if the horse goes to a corner and turns his buttocks toward you. He is not very happy to see you. A horse can also lift a leg when he is resting, but that is different from the stance of threatening to kick.
Body: A horse's body can be relaxed or tense. When the horse is tense, he will tuck his belly up, round his back, lift his neck and head, tuck his tail in, or it can simply freeze. When a horse freezes, and is encouraged to move forward, you need to be careful, because generally, the first step will be a leap forward, so stay out of his way.
These are all body languages that people handling horses need to learn so they can act appropriately, by either moving to a safe place, or handling the horse in a way to change his behavior. Take full advantage of this early-warning system so you can be safe.