Horse Body Language
- December 10, 2016
- Jolyn Young
Correctly interpreting a horse’s body language can tell you if you’re on the right track with your training methods. In the short term, body language clues can also tell you if your horse is tense, relaxed, in a learning frame of mind or scared. Laurie Robustellini of Greenview, California has been training horses and mules for over 25 years, and she has accumulated a lot of wisdom and knowledge over the decades. Here, she shares some insight into interpreting horse (and mule) body language.
JY: How can I tell if my horse is relaxed or on the alert?
LR: The look on their face tells a lot. A peaceful look on their face and a lazy eye means they’re not on the alert. Oftentimes around people, they’ll stand more squarely on all fours and in a more alert position, which is not necessarily high alert, but they’re kind of at a medium alert.
JY: How can I tell if a horse is about to kick?
LR: Their face will start getting tense, their eye on that side will start getting really big, and you can see the white of their eye. Sometimes they’ll tremble a little. Once in a while you’ll see a horse just really super quick kick out with one leg. It’s just a blur; you don’t see the weight shift change. If that happens, usually you missed the rest of the body language that went along with what was about to happen. It’s a rare thing that a horse in a neutral stance does kick, but there are some quirky horses out there, too.
JY: What are the signs that a horse is about to buck?
LR: When you first get on you can feel a braciness in their whole body if they’re close to that right off. If I feel that the whole area underneath my saddle and all the way down to the hind foot is tense, then I know I better do something right quick to change that. Sometimes the head position has something to do with it. If the horse is really tense in the back and locked up, oftentimes their neck is stiff and their head is up, but they have to drop that head to take a buck. The head being up is what happens right before the head goes down, and then you really feel that loin take hold. They just put a big surge right in their loin right before.
JY: How can I tell if my horse is learning?
LR: The universal signs that a lot of people know are the licking and chewing. If he wants to look at or smell what it is you’re doing, head coming down, being willing to bend his spine and body instead of being stiff and bracy. Blinking eyes, rolling eyeballs, shaking head, sighing, kink going out of the tail.
Shorty looks like he would like to learn more about baby Grace. His ears are forward, and he’s leaning forward to smell her.
JY: How do I know if my horse is uncomfortable and resistant to learning at that moment?
LR: If the horse standing in a tense position, haven’t taken a good deep breath, if their eyes are more fixed and not blinking, not letting out a big sigh, or their breathing is shallow.
Laurie advises horsemen and horsewomen to spend time observing their horses’ behavior when they are with other horses in order to learn more about how their particular mount acts and responds in various situations. Spending time observing horses being ridden or handled by other people can further an equine education as well.
This gelding is loping along in the right lead, with his loose tail indicating a relaxed spine. His ears are alert and focused on the task at hand, and his headset is low and relaxed.
This is the same horse, Bob, being held by a person just out of the frame. He is standing with weight on all fours, indicating a medium state of alertness, and his neck is up and his ears are pricked as he looks at something in the distance.
What are your horse’s body language cues? Spend some time observing and learning to improve your horsemanship!
About Jolyn Young
Jolyn Young lives on the O RO Ranch in northern Arizona with husband and their two small kids. To learn more, visit www.jolynyoung.com....