Body Language, by Craig Cameron
A horse’s body is very expressive; it telegraphs every emotion and thought a horse has. By being able to decipher these “expressions,” and knowing what they are in the first place, you can tell what’s on your horse’s mind. You’ll know what he’s thinking, feeling and even what he’s going to do next. Horses never do something without first preparing to do it, and sometimes that preparation can be lightning fast. But if you know what the “signs” mean, you can prepare for your horse’s actions.
Body Language – How a horse holds his body says a lot about what’s going through his mind at the time. When he stands statuesque, stiff, with his head up, lie’s on guard; he’s alert to something in his environment. His natural instincts tell him to pay attention to potential danger. If he perceives trouble, his feet will start moving and he’ll be out of there. His first reaction is to run; but if he can’t leave, he could charge, bite, paw or kick to defend himself. When he lowers his head in a relaxed or natural way, he’s turned loose physically, mentally and emotionally. He’s comfortable with his surroundings and sees no danger. Usually at the same time he drops his head he’ll wiggle his ears and lick his lips – all signs of relaxation. A confident horse usually carries his head in a relaxed position. Look at horses in the pasture. Ninety percent of them have their heads down to graze. This is a natural position for them and means they’re relaxed and happy with their world. They’ll raise their heads for something alarming. When a horse turns his hindquarters toward another horse or a human, it’s a threatening gesture. He’s saying he’s displeased and might kick if the human or that other horse doesn’t back away. He might even lift his leg in a mock kick. He’s just one step away from the real thing when he does that. Be careful!
Ears – Horses use their ears not only to listen, but also to talk. They’re like a radio antenna really, telegraphing what’s going on with the horse, and the different positions a horse can put them in speak volumes about what the horse is thinking. When you see a horse grazing in the pasture raise his head and gaze in the distance, look where he’s gazing. His ears will be pointed straightforward at whatever has his attention. It might be another horse or coyotes or something, but he’s on the alert, he’s inquisitive, he hears something he thinks he needs to investigate. In the wild or in a pasture situation, an alert horse decides whether to run from danger. When a horse pins his ears, he’s angry, disgruntled or upset. Pay attention because he might prepare to charge, kick, bite, paw or do any other offensive or defensive move. Pinned ears are a sign of displeasure and a threat. The horse is signaling his intention to do something about what’s bothering him. If you’re trail riding with friends and the horse in front of you pins his ears, watch out. He doesn’t want you that close to him, and he might kick your horse. If you’re riding a horse that pins his ears, be aware that he might kick the horse behind or beside him. Move your horse’s hindquarters away and warn the rider behind you. Don’t just be a passenger on your horse, be a proactive rider. Horses can point their ears in two different directions at the same time. One ear might be pointed forward, paying attention to what’s ahead, and the other ear might be pointed backward, monitoring the rider or what’s behind.
Tail – A horse’s tailbone is actually an extension of his spine, but a horse can express himself through his tail. You can tell what a horse is feeling by watching the position of his tail. A relaxed horse lays his tail against his body in a natural manner when standing still or walking. When being ridden at the trot or canter, he sometimes holds it slightly out from his body as a balancing mechanism. A scared horse tucks or clamps his tail against his body and an excited and generally happy horse lifts his tail high like a flag. An unhappy horse swishes his tail. On the trail, a horse might swish his tail at the horse behind him as a warning that that horse is too close. In the show ring, horses that swish their tails are probably unhappy with their jobs or hurting. Some exhibitors deaden their horses’ tails with alcohol or some sort of numbing block, so the tail can’t move, or move as well. I think that’s cruel. The tail is important to the horse. Besides helping him balance (since it’s a part of his spine), he uses it to communicate to other horses and to swat flies.
Pay the Consequences – The consequences of not paying attention to a horse’s body language, ears and tail, can be painful. If you’ve never been kicked, bitten, run over or bucked off by a horse, you probably haven’t handled many horses. Always look at it as a learning experience. One of the interesting things about a horse is that when he kicks, bites or bucks you off, he’ll never say he’s sorry. He has no apologies and no regrets. That’s the nature of the horse. You can’t change it. The horse probably said: “Didn’t you see me? I’ve been trying to tell you something and you didn’t listen.” Horses are honest; they don’t lie, but they’ll surprise you. It’s your job to be aware of what they are trying to tell you. Walk into a pasture full of mares and foals and watch the mares pin their ears at you to stay away. You’d better beware. If you walk into your horse’s stall and he turns his butt to you, stop. He’s showing his disrespect for you and telling you to leave him alone. If you keep coming, he might kick. Don’t ignore your horse’s body expressions. Your horse is trying to communicate with you. Be horseman enough to listen, be aware and give your horse the reason to change.p style=”text-align: justify;”>G
[published in Performance Horse Digest, Volume 2, Issue 6.]
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