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The Body Language of Horses


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Monday, 22 de June 2009

The Body Language of Horses

Horses express themselves through gesticulation and expressions. Communication is the pillar of all relationships, which means that understanding the horse improves the relationship between horse and rider. Besides, it could even save you from a kick!

Horses communicate through rather subtle signs, like twisting their ears, contracting their facial mussels, amongst other things. When its rider doesn’t catch up the signs, the horse is compelled to “rise up the volume” in order to express its discomfort, irritation or pain, through more noticeable signs like a bite or a kick.

Any good horserider must feel the need to understand the animal’s subtle signs, so as to correct their attitude and avoid violent behaviours from the horse.


The ears are the horse’s most movable body parts, as well as the most expressive ones.

Turning sideways – Whenever a horse is feeling relaxed, its ears may be hanging sideways.

Turned backwards – A horse’s ears turned backside might have several different meanings. Even though this attitude is better known as sign from the horse to advise the rider it is irritated and maybe ready to attack, it only means such feeling when followed by the exposure of the white part of the horse’s eyes, mouth corners contraction or head shaking.

The horse may turn its ears backwards when it is just paying attention to noises that come from behind, like for instance the rider’s voice, or even when it is feeling sleepy. Horses also usually turn their ears rearwards when they’re galloping or performing some hard task.

It is clearly important to know and differentiate the circumstances, because in case of an aggression sign the rider must take precautions and scold the horse. On the other hand, you shouldn’t reprimand it if it is just listening to your directions or just sleepy.

There are a lot of horses that don’t use the aggressive expression towards people and you shouldn’t acquire one of those. Amongst themselves, however, it is extremely common for them to use such expressions and then start kicking and neighing.

Turned forward – Horses usually turn their ears in the direction of their interests, so when they turn their ears to the front it usually means that they are interested and paying attention. They also ‘greet’ each other through this attitude.

Nevertheless, front-turned ears might also mean that the horse is sensing some kind of danger. In such cases, the animal will raise its neck and demonstrate awareness.

Facial expressions

Semi-closed eyes and tensed up lips – It may either mean a bad humour or pain.
Wrinkled nose – It is an expression of boredom or rejection.
Exposed teeth – It is a threaten alert, i.e., a way for the horse to say it might bite you.


Waving the tail is a sign of irritation and it might even mean that the horse is ready to kick backwards. If the animal approaches you with its rear, then you better hurry up moving away because it is getting ready to recoil.

The tail waving might also be an indication of friendship feelings when horses do it while standing side by side. Tossing the tail against its own body is their way of keeping flies and other insects off them.

When they carry their tails up, they are expressing pleasure; notice that horses play and run around with their tails up. But if they keep their rear down and their tail in between their legs, they are expressing fear.


Shaking the head might often mean readiness for playing, especially when the horse is left loose on the fields and running around. It might also be a sign of discomfort, though, when they are being trained.

With enough practice and surveillance, horsemen learn how to recognize not only the horses’ general body language but also their own horse’s specific expressions. Owners can recognize, for instance, their horses’ attitude and expressions when being brushed up on the places they like the most.
You can actually say that body language is a way of both avoiding kicks and giving treats.

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