The Look In His Eye

Posted in: Featured, Horse Training

“Jolyn, have you been bucked off lately?”

The question was asked years ago by the ranch manager. He could see that I was about to step on a fresh 2-year-old cutting filly with a broncy look in her eye.

“No, but I might be about to,” I said as I swung aboard.

Jenna was the sorrel filly’s name, and she was the bronco of that year’s 2-year-old crop. I’d warmed her up several times before without incident, but I had heard stories of how much she’d bucked during her first few rides. I noticed the broncy look in her eye that morning, but I was the loper girl and had to either step on her first or go find another job, so I stepped on her.

Feeling the eyes of the rest of the horse training crew tracking our every move, I warmed up Jenna in the big round cutting pen and didn’t get bucked off. That wasn’t because I’m such a bronco rider (I’m not). I lucked out and she didn’t even try me that day.

The look in her eye, though, is why I made a small joke to loosen myself up before I got on her. I knew she might blow up and I had to stay extra loose to help her not buck, or to help me ride her if she did. It’s important to analyze other equine body language signs, but the look in his eye is paramount.

Can you tell what a horse is about to do by the look in his eye?

It’s hard to evaluate the look in a horse’s eye and not be influenced by their ears, lips, and head carriage. But with some practice and experience, a person can learn to unlock the secrets of this valuable horsemanship tool.

What look does this horse have in his eye? He is standing in the ropes at the Spanish Ranch, and his ears are laid partially back because his attention is directed toward the cowboss in the center of the ropes, which is located behind him?

His natural head carriage and relaxed lips influence my read of his eye. It’s really hard to separate JUST the eye! But, he was relaxed and content at this moment.

Yikes. Check out the white of this horse’s eye! Seeing the whites of any mammal’s eye is generally a sign of discontentment. You can tell by the rest of this horse’s body language that he was not very happy at this particular moment.

This horse’s eye looks soft and relaxed. Have you noticed the look in your own horse’s eye when he’s learning something? It’s a good expression to take note of and strive to obtain more often during your training sessions.

Soft, inquisitive, and friendly. Those words could describe the horse’s eyes and his ears’ position. The facial muscles help give a clue to the look in a horse’s eye, but keep striving to evaluate just the eye.

You’ll notice I don’t offer any specific tips for evaluating the look in a horse’s eye. It’s something that can’t be taught; it must be learned through experience.

Sometimes, the look in a horse’s eye can offer insight into something that the rest of the body language signals don’t. For example, an older horse can learn to hold his tail soft and his head naturally, but if you can read the look in his eye, you’ll know that he is about to buck or kick.

But, the look in a horse’s eye isn’t always negative – at least, it shouldn’t be. If you learn to recognize an eye that looks relaxed, receptive, bored, lazy, or insecure, it will boost your overall horsemanship and ability to communicate with your horse.


Posted in: Featured, Horse Training

About Jolyn Young

Jolyn Young lives near Montello, NV with her cowboy husband and 3 small kids. For more, visit

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