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How to Read Horse Body Language?

Do you ever wonder if your horse is trying to tell you something? People and horses form such strong connections because we are both intelligent, expressive creatures who communicate with verbal and physical cues. Horse body language can be expressed throughout their entire body, which is amazing – so how should we interpret it as horse owners?

Listen Up!

Ears are a very telling part of horse body language. As you may guess, when the ears are pinned back, they are angry or nervous. Do not approach the horse in this state, or you might get a nasty bite or kick.

As you’re training your horse, you may notice that your horse is more likely to listen when their ears are forward and alert – this means that they are interested and engaged in what’s in front of them. This is a good equine communication indicator that your horse is ready to listen.

When your horse is relaxed, you’ll notice that their ears are turned to the side. They may not be paying attention to anything, in particular, so be careful not to startle them. Make yourself known (calmly – no surprise hugs!) to avoid any negative reactions out of fear.

The Tale of Horse Tails

On the opposite end of the ears, lives the tail. Horses use their tails more than to just keep flies away – but it isn’t always easy to read what they’re trying to say. For example, slow, occasional swishing is normal behavior. But if you notice fierce, faster swishing, your horse is probably annoyed. 

If you see their tail tucked tightly against their rear end, they are nervous and afraid. This is a pretty obvious sign that you should check in and think about how to make your horse more comfortable. It is not wise to get too close to them when they are feeling threatened like this. 

When your horse is carrying its tail high, it’s on high alert. This could be accompanied by forward-facing ears – your horse is very interested in something. But do be mindful – some breeds of horses have naturally higher placed tails that may look like they are alert when they are actually relaxing.

Understanding Horse Vocalizations

Horses communicate with their voices, too – just like humans! Keep in mind that every horse communicates differently, but here are a few categories of sounds you may hear while chatting with your equine friend:

Examples of Positive Horse Vocalizations:

  • Nickering (a soft, low sound that comes from the throat)
  • Neighs 
  • Winnies 

You can usually tell when your horse is happy. If they trot over to you, nuzzle you, or follow you, you know that they are content and that they like you (or they just really want that carrot in your hand).

Examples of Negative Horse Vocalizations:

  • Squealing
  • Aggressive Snorting 

When horses feel immediately threatened, you may hear squealing accompanied by thrashing, ears back, and biting. If a horse is unsure but doesn’t feel quite right, they might be snorting and shaking their head. This could happen if they sense that something isn’t right. 

Knowing these cues can help you better understand your horse and form a better connection. Remember to never approach a scared horse, and give them lots of positive feedback when they are friendly towards you. If you have any questions about your horse’s health, contact the team at BRD Vet Rx – we’d love to hear from you.

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