Written by: Maryellen Grady
When you are building a trusting relationship with your new horse, it is very important that you understand his body language and he yours. Get to know him. It can’t be said often enough. Do this simply by spending time with your new pet. Assert your leadership, but be gentle. Never be angry or abusive with him. You cannot develop a caring, trusting relationship if your own body language is based on just being the boss at any cost, imposing fear and punishment rather than fair discipline and firmness, and failing to be gentle.
One valuable way to get to know your equine’s personality is to learn his body language so that you can learn useful tips for training him and helping him reach his true potential. This way you can prevent problems or use the approach you think will work best with him because you know something of how his mind works.
Learning Your Horse’s Body Language
1. The ears are the first sign that tell you something is up. Something has his attention if both ears are alert and locked. Trainers look for one ear to be locked onto them while training. Each ear may be locked onto something independent of the other. If he moves his ears back and forth, he is feeling uncertain about something.
2. Look out for ears that are pinned back. He is scared or angry. When nervous, he will pin his ears back when being handled or approached. The ears are very flatly pinned back when angry, and it is not hard to distinguish this emotion from nervousness. Pay attention. Don’t attempt to train him or ride him until you gentle him down.
3. Accurately reading his tail movements is like reading his mood ring. A swishing tail means he is irritated. When a horse is excited, you might see him running around with his tail up and out. This is called high-tailing. If the tail is tucked between his legs then he is feeling scared. If he has a kink in his tail, look out. He’s a about to buck. The kink will be very apparent. The tail will be literally held out to the side.
4. These more subtle body language cues can leave you baffled at first. A tight mouth means he is scared. You may see this when you are trying to work with him on something new. When he begins to realize what you’re trying to teach him, his mouth will start to soften and he will begin to lick and chew. He is now saying, “Ah, I get it now.”5. Sometimes the equine response to his mood may be so human-like that he looks a lot like Cousin Fred. But here’s a few more tips before you get out your Psychology 101 textbook. When he gets really concerned about something, he might get worry wrinkles above his eyes, almost the same response we have when we frown about something weighing on our minds. The equine response to annoyance is to wrinkle the nose.
6. As we get better at interpreting body language, we can look at the entire animal and get a fair idea of his psychology du jour. Relaxation is shown by a flat back,low head and a cocked hoof. Something has his attention if his neck is arched and his ears are locked onto something. And you don’t need to be a mind reader to figure out this bit of body language: Look out for a animal about to bite when you see a swinging tail, ears pinned and teeth bared. And if you have spent any quality time at all with your pet you will recognize partially pinned ears, tucked tail, worry wrinkles and a tight mouth as being most likely signs of a nervous or
7. The eyes of a horse are also very human-like. They are steady, unafraid, and sometimes even unnerving. Study them well and you will learn a lot about your horse’s emotions and about his personality. Look deeply and you will see his mind percolating and planning in there.