Understanding your horse's body language

Just like you, your horse can experience a range of emotions including happiness, anxiety, fearfulness and anger. It's important to understand which emotions your horse is feeling so that you can take any action necessary to make sure they are happy and healthy.

Your horse's body language can give you signals about how they are feeling. All horses are individuals and they will all have differences in their behaviour, so it's really important to spend time watching your horse, in order to learn what is 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

A dozing, resting horseThe 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, lower lip may be hanging low. The horse is dozing or resting and may be startled if you approach suddenly.

A horse which does not react on being approached when awake or which shows little interest in their surroundings may be showing learned helplessness- a response to long term poor welfare.

A worried horse

 

This horse is telling you they are uncomfortable and don't want you near them.

The frightened horse is standing with raised head, ears held back or pointing in different directions, eyes open with tense muscles above eye making an upside-down v-shape (see inset), tense muzzle with square nostrils, tense cheek muscles, may be sweating. The horse may be anxious or in pain.

Fearful horseThe frightened horse is leaning back with head raised and turned to face 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 are angry and want you to stay away or go away. If you ignore these they may bite.

Mildly annoyed horseMildly annoyed horse - wrinkled, elongated nostrils, ears held slightly back.

If you don't go away...

Mid-scale bit threatMid-scale threat- 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...

Severe bite threatSevere threat-wrinkled, elongated open nostrils, ears laid flat against the neck, head raised and the horse may lunge at you, whites of eyes showing, mouth open showing teeth.

You should avoid approaching a horse from behind. If you do they may warn you if they are angry and want you to stay away or go away. If you ignore this they may kick.

Horse is lifting a hind leg and may wave it, tail may be clamped down or swishing, wrinkled, elongated open nostrils, ears laid flat against neck, head raised, whites of eyes showing, head turned towards target, 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.

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