Equine Body Language - Talking to Horses

Equine Body Language or Equus

Your horse can’t communicate verbally, but you can use equine body language, just like your horse does with you.

Use it as a gauge for how your horse is feeling by observing the way it stands and focusing on its most expressive body parts.

Every animal signals subordination or submissiveness using body language instinctively understood by their own species.

Horses give subtle signals when they are willing to submit to a dominant leader.

You should really try to learn this equine body language as quickly as possible to ensure your horses training goes well.

Clydesdale Horse Breed

Once you learn to read your horses body language, you can use it to your advantage.

Use it in your training to make things easier for the two of you, and to help ease your communication.

You’ll make difficult horse training tasks easier for yourself and training sessions more productive.

Horses ears serve as a radar for horse owners and let you know how your horse is feeling.

When you’ve been around horses for a while you’ll start to look there first to get a feel for what your horse is thinking or feeling, and what you need to be ready for.

The equine body language signs to look out for :

Mood Expression / Signals
Agitated or Anxious
  • neck outstretched and snaky
  • ears pinned
  • eyes closed slits
  • muzzle pursed
  • stomping, striking or kicking and tail swishing.
Bored
  • head down – ears held at half mast
  • droopy eyes – slack muzzle
  • inactive or disengaged legs and feet
  • tail low or still and overall disinterested feel.
Challenging
  • head and neck stretched up and out,
  • may move slowly back and forth
  • ears very active
  • eyes focused – nostrils flared and muzzle active
  • lipping, chewing
  • prancing legs and tail held high, swishing
  • overall tense and collected stance.
Content
  • head held steady, neither high nor low
  • ears neutral – eyes open unfocused
  • legs natural possibly one foot resting
  • tail relaxed with some casual movement
  • overall relaxed casual stance
Curious
  • head and neck extended toward curious object
  • intently focused forward – eyes intently focused
  • nostrils sniffing and blowing – muzzle pursed
  • legs planted – tail held up – stiff movement.
Expectant
  • head shakes, neck snakes
  • ears darting
  • eyes dilated and attentive
  • nostrils quivering – lips smacking
  • legs pawing – tail swishing
  • overall restless appearance.
Fearful
  • head turned toward source of fear
  • neck pulled in
  • ears fixed on source or flicking if source has not been identified
  • eyes wide open with whites showing they should be fixed on the scary object
  • nostrils flaring and snorting
  • legs frozen – tail clamped – overall attitude of readiness to flee.
  • Will crouch, back up or wheel away and present hind legs in a defensive attitude.
Submissive
  • head held low and averted
  • ears held at half mast
  • eyes averted
  • muzzle low, clamped with lip smacking or chewing in foals and yearlings
  • overall placid body posture.
Uncertain
  • head up, neck tense
  • ears flicking rapidly back and forth
  • eyes darting, with unfixed focus
  • nostrils quivering
  • legs may be frozen in place or moving around gingerly
  • body tense, alert, possibly sweating.
Table HC.1. Equine Body Language Signals


Don’t forget your voice? – Essential in Horse Training.

Attentive Horse Listening - Equine Body Language

As well as using your horse’s ears as guides to their mood you can also influence your horse’s reaction and response times by using your voice.

  • Your horse can hear up to two miles away and its ears will be processing massive amounts of input at all times unless you use your voice to focus their attention.
  • Learn to manipulate your voice at different times so your horse knows what is happening at that moment.

If you’re doing something important and you need their full attention lower your voice a little, speak a little louder or sound a little more authoritative.

All animals (including people) respond to this. You’ll be surprised how quickly your horse will learn which tone of voice means work and which means food.

Equine Body Language - Your Voice!
When it’s time to relax and you can spend time playing, (very important), use your normal voice to let your horse know it’s okay to relax; that they don’t have to listen so closely anymore.