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Decoding Horse Behavior

By Sharon Rogers

As much as the little kid in each of us wishes our horses could talk and as interesting as it is to think about what they would say, the fact of the matter is horses are often difficult to understand. This is not because they don’t communicate with us; they do and they do so with their body language.

Here are a few quick tips for understanding what your horse is trying to say:

• Foot stamping/pawing the ground: this is a sign of nervousness or irritation. Your horse is saying, “Stop doing that”, “Get me out of here”, or “I’m bored.”
• A squeal and a kick of the front legs: when horses meet they quickly establish who’s in charge. Horses will use this gesture on each other to assert their social dominance.
• Snorting: your horse is issuing a challenge. Let’s hope it’s not for you.
• Pinned back ears: sometimes this is just your horse’s way of listening to something behind her. If her ears seem to disappear into her mane, if she widens her eyes and particularly if she combines this with another sign of aggression this is not a happy horse. She may feel threatened or angry and she is telling you to back off.
• Pricked up ears: a horse’s ears will always point to what interests them. If your horse’s ears are pricked up she is listening and paying attention to you.
• Ears pointing in different directions: you no longer have her full attention. She is probably confused or distracted.
• Swishing tail: this can indicate both excitement and agitation. Understand that your horse is riled up.
• Nose forward and neck stretched out: this is a horse’s polite request as if she is saying “Please.” You may see her do this if you have treats in your hand.
• Baring teeth: this may be a sign that your horse is about to bite. With other horses, nips and playful bites are normal. If she makes this face at you, I wouldn’t take my chances.