Wouldn’t it be good if you could read your horse’s mind? Well with a little observation and study of his behaviours, postures and movements you nearly can.
While this may not help you persuade him to walk past monstrous horse-eating plastic bags in the road, it can help you to train him more successfully.
This one’s easy. Everyone knows (even non-horsey boyfriends) that forward pricked ears mean your horse is happy and interested right. But there are variations on ears.
Ears turned out to the side
The horse is relaxed and tuned out of his surroundings. Try not to startle him in this state, talk to him before you march up to him.
Ears swivelled back
This is different to pinned back. In swivelled back he is just listening to something going on behind him. Be aware that he may react to what’s behind him if he thinks it’s dangerous. If he starts to swish his tail and pin his ears back, then you know something potentially explosive is about to happen.
This is a good sign, they show your horse is tuned in to you and is fairly relaxed but attentive.
Ears constantly swivelling
If your horse’s ears are rapidly swivelling, he is trying to work out what’s going on around him and may be feeling overwhelmed or anxious. Be alert to the fact that he may have forgotten you are there and could move very quickly.
You can read a lot about your horse’s mood by looking at the way he holds his head.
If you horse is stood in the field or stable with a dropping head, he is relaxed and may be asleep. Be careful you don’t startle and wake him suddenly. Warn him that you are there by saying his name before you approach.
If your horse lifts his head up while you’re not on him, he’s probably heard something in the distance and is trying to work out what it is. He could decide to run off, so if you have him on the end of a rope, beware. You may have to get his attention and /or hold tight.
If he has a high head carriage when you’re riding him, something may be hurting him. Get his tack, back and teeth checked to see if he’s in pain for some reason before you slap a martingale on.
Weaving a lowered head from side to side is an aggressive move and you are more likely to see this from a stallion. If your horse is doing this, he is highly agitated and definitely not thinking about you. Work out what is making him mad and remove it, the horse or yourself so you are out of danger.
This indicates impatience. If your horse is digging a hole with his front feet, he wants to get on with the job. Hurry up and get on board! But know that your horse is likely to be fairly fresh.
This is where the horse stamps a foot flat to the ground. This means your horse is irritated rather than impatient. It could be a fly that’s annoying him, but consider if it’s something you’re doing.
A cocked hindleg where your horse rests his hoof on its tip along with dropping the hip, can just mean your horse is relaxed and is resting or asleep. Look at his ears to check.
If his ears are droopy too, this is definitely the case. If he has his ears pinned back and is glancing behind him, he is possibly pre-empting a kick so get out of his way and make sure he doesn’t kick another horse or person.
Obviously a whinny is a horses’ way of communicating. But you can read other signs by looking at their muzzle.
This is another sign of a sleepy or relaxed horse.
If your horse is chewing on the bit when you ride him or handle him, then it is a good sign he is relaxed, accepting your control and paying attention.
You might see foals doing this. They push their necks forward, curl their lip and clack their teeth. It’s a submissive gesture and says “don’t hurt me” to older horses. They tend to stop doing it by the time they reach two or three years old.
If your horse has galloped or worked hard, his nostrils will flare as they’ve had to draw in more air. They may also flare or quiver if he’s nervous, so treat it as a subtle sign that you need to calm him down.
You might notice tension around the eye in the form of wrinkling of the upper eyelid or tension of the muscles around the eye. It’s a subtle early sign of stress and can pay off if you’re able to spot it and do something about whatever’s upsetting your horse.
Whites of his eyes
You can see the white of the eye – the opaque bit that surrounds the eyeball (called the sclera) when your horse is agitated. In certain types of horses like coloured horses or appaloosas, the eye always looks like this, so you need to know what’s normal for your horse. If you can see the whites of his eyes, he’s upset and if you see other signs like ears pinned back, you’ll need to act quickly to calm him down or perhaps avert a bolt or a kick.
Reading these signs gets easier, the more you watch your horse. So that’s another excuse for taking so long at the stables. Sorry husbands.