Body Language Part One: You look so cute with your ears flat against your skull.
One of the most important skills we can learn as a horse lover is how to decode body language. Paying attention to the nuanced communication that horses use will help give us a glimpse into our horse’s thoughts and open up a line of communication. My appaloosa mare Gina is incredibly expressive and makes sure that everyone around her knows when she is not pleased. Lord help the poor gelding who does not heed the flick of her tail or sideways glance. One of my favorite pass times is watching my horses as they hang out in the field. Taking the time to watch how they interact with one another has helped me have a better understanding of what my horses are telling me.
Over the course of the next several weeks, I will explore some examples of how horses use their bodies to communicate. I am always astounded by riders who ignore their horse’s body language and then get upset when their horse “misbehaves.” When I look back on it, any time that one of my horses has thrown a hissy fit, it is because I have ignored all of the subtle cues that they have given me. By staying aware and listening to what your horse has to “say,” you can avoid ,or at least minimize, trouble.
Gina’s signature move when she is annoyed is to pin her ears. There is no mistaking her displeasure and I have learned that if I am between her and another horse when she makes her “ugly face,” I better look out. One of the gelding is about to run away…fast! Pinned ears are easy to recognize and to decode, but did you know:
Ears turned to the side mean that your horse is relaxed or dozing. Since he is not necessarily paying attention to what’s going on around him, he may be easily startled as you walk up to him. It is a good idea to make noise as you approach and avoid his blind spots. Look for signs that he is paying attention to you as you walk up to him.
If your horse’s ears are turned back, but not pinned, he’s listening to something behind him. As you are riding, you may have noticed that your horse’s ears swivel between forward and back as he listens to you. If your horses ears are turned back and he is displaying signs of tension, he may be concerned by something going on around him. Be on the lookout for what may be bothering him.
Ears that are flicking back and forth is a sign of anxiety or heightened alert. Keep in mind that horses may be in tune with sights, sounds, and smells that our human senses don’t pick up on. Coupled with their prey instincts, these stimuli may prompt a horse to flee.
Comment below if you have ever ignored what your horse has told you with her body language and faced the consequences.