If you’ve been reading my posts on a regular basis than you already know that I am not only an advocate for the horse, but I am also a science nerd. I’m always reading studies and looking for interesting tidbits and new information that can help my horses stay healthy and happy.
I also like to pass these tidbits on to you, just in case you run into a situation where it could be helpful. Kind of like those ‘Cliff Notes’ books we all used to read in High School.
Well, here are some Cliff Notes I’ve written for you about how to “read” your horse’s body language.
Did you know that according to a scientific study on the basics of equine behavior…
1. When your horse changes his tail position it can show excitement, fear, playfulness, or irritation?
- Excitement – tail is high
- Fear, Pain or Submission – tail is low
- Playfulness – tail is high over the back
- Irritation – tail is swishing
2. When your horse moves his legs a certain way this can show frustration, a feeling of being threatened, or protesting?
- Frustration – horse paws the ground
- Mild Threat – one front leg is lifted slightly
- A defensive Threat – one back leg is lifted and he is ready to run
- Protesting – stamping or stomping his feet
3. That you can see submission, aggression, excitement and anger in your horse’s facial expressions?
- Submission – snapping their mouth, chewing motion
- Aggression – open mouth with teeth exposed
- Excitement – flared nostrils
- Angry or Scared – showing the whites of their eyes
4. When your horse changes the position of his ears it can show an alert mode, neutral mode, depressed, pain, attentiveness, or anger?
- Neutral Mode – ears held loosely upward, openings facing forward or outward
- Alert Mode – ears held stiff upward, openings both pointed directly forward
- Depressed – ears flop out laterally, openings facing down
- Pain – ears hang down loosely to the side
- Attentiveness – ears angled backward (one or both) toward the rider
- Angry – ears pinned flat back against the neck
Besides all those little tidbits, which are helpful to take note of whenever you are with your horse, always listen to your heart and your gut as well.
So, if you notice that your horse seems agitated, look at his body language and see what he does with those emotions. He might do some of the behaviors shown in this study, but he may also do a few others. You are the only one who really knows your horse and when he is comfortable in a situation or not.
Always trust your instincts with your horse as well. If you think your horse is being aggressive and you feel that, keep yourself safe. Leave the area and then look at his body language to verify what you are feeling from your horse.
Use both your knowledge from the scientific research I bring you and your knowledge of your horse through your experiences and observations. This will help you gain a better understanding of your horse’s body language and emotions.
I also want to mention here that many times the natural fear reactions that you may observe in your horse’s body language – fight, flight, or freeze – are due to trust issues that your horse has. These issues can be due to current problems or past fear memories. Either way, you can work on them with simple trust building techniques.
Your horse knows if you are afraid and if you don’t trust him. Your horse can sense your heartbeat and knows when it’s racing. That then makes your horse nervous and uneasy and things can spiral out of control from there. Staying calm and positive are more important to your horse than you might think.
There are lots of things that you can do with your horse that help build trust. And when I talk about building trust it is not just the trust that your horse has in you. It is also the trust that you have in your horse. Trust goes both ways and it needs to be built with the horse AND with the human.
Here’s one way of doing this…
We went over quite a few benefits of bathing your horse in an earlier post… https://polaritytraining.com/benefits-of-bath-time-with-your-horse/
But did you know that bathing your horse can also be a good trust building exercise?
As you learned from last week’s email, I recently started working with a new horse, Kit.
When Kit first started with me, 2 weeks ago, I knew nothing about him except his lineage and age. I still don’t know any of his history as far as training, likes, dislikes, personality quirks, etc.
So, we are learning as we go, as Kit doesn’t know me either.
We have been going through my online program together for 2 weeks and he has already started to trust me more since we have been working at liberty together.
However, yesterday I decided to give him a bath, for the first time, and use it as a trust building exercise too.
I had no idea if he liked water or not, if he was easy to halter or not, or even if he would ground tie. There were a lot of possibilities and outcomes to this exercise, especially as this would be the first time I used tack with him and the first time bathing him.
I’ve put down below a little clip of how the bath time went for us. Watch the interaction between us and watch how the trust grew from just this one exercise together.
To add a little narrative to this clip:
Please let me know in the comments section below the video the kind of things you do to earn your horse’s trust.