Understanding your horse's body language
Just like you, your horse can experience a range of emotions including happiness, anxiety, fear and anger. It's important to understand how your horse is feeling so that you can make sure they're happy and healthy.
Your horse's body language can give you signals about how they're feeling. All horses have their own unique personalities, so they all behave differently. That means it's really important to spend time watching your horse so that you learn what's normal behaviour for them.
How is your horse feeling?
Learn to recognise and understand your horse's behaviour with our top tips.
A happy, relaxed, horse
The horse is standing with a relaxed body posture, resting one hind leg, alert with ears up and facing forward, eyes open showing no white, muzzle is relaxed with oval nostrils and closed mouth.
A dozing, resting horse
The horse is standing with a relaxed, long and low head, neck and body posture, resting one hind leg, ears held low and pointing sideways, eyes open, half-closed or closed, muzzle relaxed with oval nostrils, the lower lip may be hanging low. The horse is dozing or resting and may be startled if you approach suddenly.
A horse that doesn't react on being approached when awake, or which shows little interest in its surroundings, may be showing learned helplessness - a response to long-term poor welfare.
A worried horse
This horse is telling you they're uncomfortable and don't want you near them.
The horse is standing with raised head, ears held back or pointing in different directions, eyes open with tense muscles above the eye making an upside-down V-shape (see inset), tense muzzle with square nostrils, tense cheek muscles; they may also be sweating. The horse may be anxious or in pain.
This frightened horse is leaning back with head raised and turned to face an alarming object, ready to flee, ears held back, whites of eyes showing with tense muscles above, tense muzzle with square nostrils. The horse is about to run away.
An angry or very unhappy horse
This horse is not happy and wants you to stay away or go away.
A horse may give a series of warnings if they're angry and want you to stay away or go away. If you ignore these, they may bite.
A mildly annoyed horse may have wrinkled, elongated nostrils and their ears held slightly back.
If you don't go away...
For a mid-scale threat, they may have wrinkled, elongated nostrils, ears back towards the top of the neck, head raised and turned towards the target.
If you still don't go away...
For a severe threat, they may have wrinkled, elongated and open nostrils. The ears laid flat against the neck, head raised and the horse may lunge at you, whites of the eyes showing, and their mouth open showing their teeth.
You should avoid approaching a horse from behind. If you do, they may warn you if they're angry and want you to stay away or go away. If you ignore this, they may kick.
The horse is lifting a hind leg and may wave it, the tail may be clamped down or swishing, wrinkled, elongated open nostrils, ears laid flat against the neck, head raised, whites of eyes showing, head turned towards the target, the horse may squeal.
Worried about your horse's behaviour?
As well as recognising and understanding your horse's body language it is also important to be aware of any changes in your horse's behaviour. If your horse's behaviour changes, it could mean they are distressed, bored, ill or injured.
If you have any concerns about your horse's behaviour and how they are feeling always speak to your vet first and, if necessary, they can refer you to a clinical animal behaviourist.