Body Language Part Two: Headliners
Depending on your riding discipline, there is quite a bit of debate as to what is considered “correct” head carriage. However, when we watch our horses in the field, we can gain insight into what a horse is telling us with their head placement. Of course, when we are looking at our horse’s communication in combination with the rest of his body, we get a clearer picture of what our horse is trying to say, but for simplicity, here are some general guidelines in regard to “reading” your horse’s head position.
Hanging Low: Generally speaking, a low head is a happy head. When standing in the field with a lowered head, there is a good chance that your horse is napping or soaking up some sun. Be sure that if you approach your horse while he is standing with his head hanging that you don’t startle him. Approach at the shoulder and make some noise to get his attention. When riding, a relaxed, lowered head position can be a good thing, especially if you are a western pleasure rider. Just be sure that the position you are asking for isn’t unnaturally low, as this can cause your horse unnecessary strain on his neck and spine. Also, riders beware! A lowered head combined with a swishing tail and pinned ears is a good indicator that your horse may be preparing to throw a buck. Get ready for some rodeo action!
Head in the Air: On the opposite side of the spectrum, a horse with his head in the air is always bad sign. When a horse’s head is elevated, something is agitating him. Whether it is a sight, sound, or smell that has him wound up, your horse is telling you that things might get hairy. When your horse has his head up, he is not paying attention to you, so the best option is to regain his focus. Keep in mind that horses are much more sensitive to their surroundings than humans and are hard-wired to react first and think later. Even if you haven’t noticed anything out of the ordinary, your horse needs your support and guidance in this situation. More than once, I have witnessed a rider overreact to a frightened horse only to test how hard the ground is.
Another possible cause for an elevated head is discomfort. It is always wise to check your tack before a ride, but especially if you notice that your horse is agitated. Just because you are using the same ol’ tack that has always fit doesn’t mean that your horse’s body condition hasn’t changed. I have a friend whose mare’s weight fluctuates so much between summer and winter that she has two sets of tack! Of course, if you suspect soundness or back pain, call the vet!
Snake Charmer: There is nothing charming about a horse that is snaking his head. This is a sign of aggression and a good cue to get out of the way. If you are riding in a group and your horse starts to lower his head and wave it from side to side (usually accompanied by pinned ears), your horse is most likely getting ready to strike out. Refocus your horse’s attention, and remove him from the group.
Do you have a picture or video of your horse that is a good example of one of these head positions? Share it on our Facebook page for a chance to win a free t-shirt!