Body Language Part Three: Look at Those Legs

Everyone knows that the forceful kick from a horse’s rear legs is something to be avoided, but you can learn so much more from the way your horse is positioning his legs.

The Front Legs:
Pawing is general an indication that your horse is anxious or impatient. Some horses paw when they are cross tied and quickly learn that they can get your attention with this behavior. Some horses even carry this behavior into a stall, striking at the wall when they think you are moving too slowly at dinner time. While pawing is usually not an aggressive behavior, when combined with pinned ears, it may signal an attack. Be mindful that, even if your horse’s pawing is not motivated by aggression, you should stay clear of the area near his front legs to avoid a nasty bruise.

Stomping with the front legs is another sign of annoyance and is usually from something minor such as a fly. However, it is possible that your horse may be annoyed by something you are doing, and you should be on the lookout for the source of your horse’s aggravation

Standing with legs splayed can be an indication of discomfort. Check for any injuries, soreness, or lameness to ensure that your horse is not in pain. If you horse’s front legs are splayed and his weight is shifted onto his hind legs, he may be ready to bolt.

Striking is a dangerous behavior that a horse uses to defend himself.  If your horse is striking out with his front legs, be extremely careful.  He may feel cornered or feel that he is under attack.  Especially when in combination with rearing, a strike from the front legs can cause severe injury or even death.  Seek the advise of a qualified trainer if your horse displays this dangerous behavior.

The Hind Legs:

Kicking with the rear legs is a common behavior when horses are in a herd.  Horses use kicking to demonstrate dominance, put a cheeky herd member in his place, or to display displeasure.  Between horses, this behavior rarely results in more than minor injuries, however, when a horse kicks our puny human bodies, we are in trouble.  It is always best to stay out of your horse’s kick zone and to be aware of your horse’s body language when you are working to the rear of your horse.

Cocking one hoof is often an indication that your horse is relaxed.  When a horse rests one of his hind hooves and drops his hip with his head hanging, he is ready to nap.  Occasionally he may shift his weight from one hoof to the other while he is resting, however, if you notice that your horse is shifting weight frequently, he may be in pain.  Check for soreness and contact your veterinarian.  A leg cocked up in combination with pinned ears and a raised head, may mean a kick is on the way.  This indicates that your horse is irritated or frightened and feels that he needs to defend himself.  Refocus his attention and move him away from the source of his irritation.

A horse that is parked out with all four legs spread apart may be getting ready to urinate.  Geldings need to spread out in order to pee, so stay out of the splash zone!  If you notice that your horse is staying in this position, it may be an indication of pain.  Contact your veterinarian.

The opposite of being parked out, if your horse is standing with all four legs close together under his body in the “goat on a rock” pose, he may be in pain.  Sometimes this position is the result of poor hoof care or improper trimming.  Consult with your veterinarian and a qualified farrier.

What have you noticed about the way your horse communicates with his legs?

2 Replies to “Body Language Part Three: Look at Those Legs”


January 28, 2018 at 3:55 pm

I’ve noticed the inability to help hold up a leg – it can indicate soreness in the diagonal leg. Or a stone bruise, or even cuts low down near the hoof.



    January 29, 2018 at 11:51 pm

    That is a great point! Inability to hold up a leg can also indicate an issue with the back as well. Sometimes we have to be a detective to find the root of the issue. Thanks for posting!! 🙂


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