Understanding Your Horse’s Body Language

A horse’s body language will tell you several important things while riding or getting ready to ride. Learn telltale signs of your horse’s mood.

Do you wish your horse could understand what you’re saying? Or, do you wish that you could make sense of all of your horse’s neighs and whimpers?

Just because you can’t understand the noises your horses make, doesn’t mean that you can’t communicate with it. In fact, horses tell us a lot through their body language. 

What is your horse trying to tell you?

Check out this guide to discover everything you need to know about horse body language. 

The Ears 

The ears are one of the best places to look to see how your horse is feeling, as horses have very expressive ears. Here’s what your horse may be trying to tell you through their ears:

Pinned Back Ears 

If a horse’s ears are pinned back, then it typically means that a horse wants to be left alone. However, it can also mean that your horse is in pain. 

To find out if your horse is pain, the first thing you want to do is to check the saddle and make sure it’s attached and fitted appropriately. You should also check the saddle pad, as a sticker in the saddle pad can make your horse incredibly uncomfortable. 

A horse may also pin back their ears if they’re not enjoying their training session. This could be due to sore muscles or to feeling too much pressure. 

Ears Turned Backward 

If a horse’s ears are turned backward, then this usually means they’re listening to something behind them or focusing on the rider. Some riders find it helpful to hum or sing to a nervous horse in order to reassure them. 

A horse turning its ears backward is also a herding instinct, and it could be a sign that your horse is in deep concentration. 

One Ear Forward and One Ear Back 

If one ear is forward and one ear is back, or the ears are continuously moving backward and forward, then this likely means that the horse is paying attention to their surroundings in one ear and listening to their rider in the other ear. 

Ears Pricked Forward 

If your horse is pricking both of its ears forward, this can mean multiple things. 

Many people think that when a horse pricks its ears forward, it’s an indication that it’s happy. However, this isn’t always the case. This can also indicate that your horse is focusing on a sound in the distance. 

If they believe the sound to be threatening, then they’ll stand with their ears pricked forward and their head up. This serves as a warning to other horses that danger is nearby. 

A horse pricking its ears forward can also be a response to a training cue. 

Neck and Head 

Your horse may also be telling you something through the movements in their neck and head. 

If a horse has their head lowered and hanging in front of their chest, it means that they’re very relaxed and may even be ready to go to sleep soon. If their head is sharply raised, it may mean that they’re either startled or alert. 

If a horse is bobbing or weaving their head back and forth, you should be very careful, as this is a sign that they’re ready to fight. Typically, you’ll see this behavior in stallions, and it often follows with nipping or some other form of aggression. 

Legs 

Horses also communicate through their hind legs and forelegs. Here’s what to know about each one:

Hind Legs 

If one of the horse’s hind legs is turned slightly to the side, it typically means that they’re very relaxed or sleepy. However, you’ll want to watch out for a horse that’s putting its weight on its other three legs so one of the hind legs doesn’t bear any weight. 

If this is the case, then it may mean that they’re about to kick out their back leg. 

Forelegs 

If a horse’s forelegs are splayed out widely, it could indicate that they’re nervous or thinking about bolting. It could also be a sign that they’re suffering from lameness in one of their front hooves. 

If your horse is pawing at the ground with its foreleg, this is usually a sign that they’re bored or sick of standing around. Lastly, if you see a horse stomping with its forelegs, this is typically a sign that they’re irritated. 

Eyes

Horses also communicate a lot through their eyes. 

If a horse is opening up its eyes much wider than usual and you can see the whites of them, then this indicates that they are scared, upset, or angry. If a horse is nervous and is thinking about bolting, then they’ll dart their eyes back and forth rapidly. 

If you notice that your horse’s eyelids are drooping, then this is a sign that they’re extremely content and likely full after a tasty meal

Tail

The tail is actually an extension of the horse’s sensory organs, so this means that you can tell a lot about a horse by looking at its tail. 

If a horse is lazily swishing their tail from side to side, it usually just means that they’re trying to swat away flies. If they’re moving their tail back and forth rapidly, then it means that they’re angry and might be about to kick. 

Horses also clamp down on their tails tightly when they’re nervous or uncomfortable. Also, if you see your horse pricking its tail up, then that’s a sign that it’s excited and energized. 

Muzzle 

Just like people, horses also show a lot of emotion in their faces. 

If a horse is angry, it’ll open its mouth wide and pull back its top lip to show its teeth. If you see a horse doing this, then it means it wants you to stop whatever you’re doing. 

If your horse is happy and engaged, then it’ll chew, even if it doesn’t have anything in its mouth to chew on. If you see your horse flaring its lips back, then that likely means it’s curious or confused. 

Horse Body Language: Time to Get to Know Your Horse Better 

Now that you’ve read this guide on horse body language, it’ll be easier for you to understand what your horse is trying to say to you. This can help strengthen your bond with your horse. 

If you don’t own a horse but are interested in horse training or riding lessons, contact us today