Body Language Cues to Understand Your Horse Emotions Better

picture of a horse's eye to represent emotions horse

The horse is considered an animal of a noble spirit. As author Sharon Ralls Lemon puts it, the joy of being with horses brings us into contact with rare elements of grace, beauty, spirit, and freedom.

Horses are intelligent creatures capable of expressing emotions. Apart from an occasional nicker, neigh, snort, and squeal, equines predominantly communicate through body language. 

Understanding a horse’s emotions is not only necessary to build a strong bond with it but also to detect signs of physical and mental health issues to prevent lameness in horses.

If you are a new horse owner wondering how to understand your horse’s emotions, this post is just for you. 

Let’s find out how to understand horse moods and emotions by identifying the right body language cues. 

Learn to Understand Your Horse’s Emotions

Once you bond with a horse, it’s a relationship for a lifetime and beyond death. You may even immortalize this bond with a piece of memorial jewellery. And the basis of this bond is how well you can understand your horse’s emotions. 

To get you started, here are the top 5 emotions and behavioural cues equines display to express these emotions. The points are not exhaustive and only act as a basic guide.

1. Happy 

When they are happy, we can see their ‘smile’. Equines may express their happiness through various behavioural signs. Some common ones are:

  • Bucking once in the field is a sign of joy or being playful
  • Half-closed eyes when being groomed
  • Ears forward or flicking means being attentive 
  • Flared nostrils usually indicate excitement
  • Mutual grooming with other horses

2. Sick or In Pain

Like all beings, including us, horses display classic signs to show that they are feeling sick or experiencing some pain. Some of the signs to watch out for are:

  • Frequent nipping or biting
  • Not being alert or bright
  • Signs of gauding to protect a wound or aching part 
  • Being grumpy and unwilling to saddle 
  • Head-tossing or tilting of the head
  • Dropping ears loosely to the side
  • Yawning
  • Excessive rolling
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sweating

3. Relaxed 

When a horse feels comfortable, safe, and relaxed in a given environment, he may display signs like these:

  • The flicking of ears back and forth shows that a horse is shifting to a state of relaxation
  • Holding its tail slightly away from the body while walking around
  • Snorting or sighing lazily 
  • Licking and chewing
  • Resting a leg with droopy eyes

4. Annoyed or Angry

Horses are prey animals, and their natural instinct is to be on guard whenever they sense a threat. Their natural response in such a situation is flight or fight. Some of the ways a horse can show anger or annoyance are:

  • Ears pinned back or flat against the neck
  • Constant pawing 
  • A swishing of the tail fiercely
  • Tail up against their buttocks 
  • A desire to bolt
  • Bolting
  • Turing their quarters towards you
  • Showing their teeth

5. Stressed 

Horses use their body to display acute stress, anxiety, and depression. As they may experience these emotions at different levels, you need to study their body language more closely. Some common signs are:

  • Raised head or constantly keeping their eyes and ears on a person or object 
  • Puffed body and fixed head
  • widened eyes, lack of blinking, and showing the white part of the eyes
  • A clenched jaw or fixed mouth 
  • Cribbing, weaving or box walking (stable vices)
  • Frequent droppings

To Conclude

You can learn to read a horse’s mind and talk to him if you learn to identify the signs correctly and understand a horse’s emotions. Take time to study them, be patient, and one day, you won’t need words to speak to them. Many signs horses display can cross over to form different concerns for horse owners. Should you be in any doubt about your horse’s well-being, you should contact your vet for more advice.

written by Reena Aggarwal


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