5 Signs Your Horse Is Happy

Three horses, a gray, a bay, and a chestnut grazing in a pasture with a split-rail fence and trees in the background on a sunny day.

5 Signs Your Horse Is Happy

Here are 5 signs your horse is happy. As horse owners, we should strive and know and see the signs that our horse is happy. From riding to the stable, we should all be aware of our horse’s emotional needs to keep their mental and physical health in peak condition, and them performing at their best. Keeping an eye of these vital signs on every occasion, whether that's a potentially stressful bonfire night or a quiet Christmas Day, will ensure you have a healthy and happy horse. Have checked how your horse is feeling recently?

5 Signs Your Horse Is Happy

Facial Expression

Your horse’s facial expression is a key indicator to what our horse’s may be feeling. Tension in the face could be a sign of tension all over, meaning that there is something wrong. There could be something your horse is unsure of in their environment, or your horse may be experiencing pain somewhere.

If your horse is relaxed and happy, their nostrils will be soft and round, as opposed to tight or flared. There should be little to no tension in their lips; a drooping bottom lip is a sign of ultimate relaxation. Also, take a look at your horse’s chin, eye-area and jaw muscle. Straining or pronouncement of these areas are a sign that your horse may be in pain, or the first symptoms of conditions such as colic.

5 Signs Your Horse Is Happy: Ears

Ears

Looking at your horse’s ears to figure out what mood they are in is one of the first things equestrians learn.

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When your horse’s ears are stiffly flattened back, it is a sure sign that they are unhappy with something either, within their environment or themselves. Otherwise, ears which are pointing backwards may just be your horse listening to something behind them.

Make sure to keep your eye out for tension in the ears positioning, and be aware that your horse is listening to something which maybe you can’t hear.

Looking Relaxed

There is a different between your horse looking relaxed and your horse looking depressed - however, it may be hard to separate the two moods.

Make sure you know what is ‘normal’ for your horse! Is it normal for them to be standing with their back turned to you, or do they always come to greet you when you arrive at the yard? If there are any changes to their usual behaviour, it may be time to call the vet!

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However, noticing a dullness is expression may not always be a sign of illness. During the cold, dark winter days, where we may find ourselves confining our horse’s to their stable for long periods, boredom may hit! Try incorating activities which will mentally stimulate your horse. If you can’t reap the benefits of turnout, hacking can be just as beneficial. Otherwise, stable toys, stretching routines or grooming may help to break up your horse’s day.

Mutual Grooming

When your horse has the opportunity, they should be willing to participant in some mutual grooming with their friends. This is a natural behaviour, ingrained into all horses as they thrive on social connections and the herd environment. If your horse is isolated for a long period, this may impact their mental well-being, as they won't be able to mutually groom and receive the feel-good benefits. Additionally, periods of isolation may induce anxiety, as horse's feel vulnerable to predators when outside of a herd.

 

5 Signs Your Horse Is Happy; Mutual Grooming

If your horse is isolated for any reason, try incorporating regular grooming sessions to mimic mutual grooming. Grooming areas such as the withers and the crest of the neck, firmly, have been shown to reduce heart rate, suggesting a relaxing mechanism similar to grooming sessions with their equine-friends.

No Stable Vices

If your horse begins developing a stable vice, then this is a sure sign something is wrong.

Contrary to popular belief, horses cannot learn stable vices from their friends, they develop them due to something lacking in their all-important routine.

Stables vices may occur due to lack of turnout, mental stimulation or feed. The reason a vice may begin to develop is to replace what may be lacking in your horse’s routine, so if you start noticing these habitual behaviours, adjustments to your daily schedule may need making. Think about whether you have a solid routine for your horse, or whether you have made any dietary changes, as this may be the trigger for unusual behaviours.

Stable vices include behaviours such as box-walking, crib-biting, weaving and door-kicking. However, for horses who have already developed stables vices, it can be detrimental to stop them in their tracks. As a habit and coping mechanism, stable vices should be allowed to continue once established to protect the mental well-being of your horse. However, optimising your routine to ensure the best physical and mental benefits for your horse shouldn't go a miss.

 

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