Monday, 27 October 2014

Horse Instincts and Expressions

As I mentioned in my Horse Psychology blog horses have strong instincts and these are shown using body language and noises.

This is a pretty good picture of a frightened horse (except the teeth and mouth).  When able to a frightened horse will usually run away and may, when he feels he is at a safe distance, turn around to look at the frightening thing!  Horses may then approach the thing carefully with their heads down, blowing - they will still be tense and ready to run.  As you can see the horse's head is held high, the eyes are wide and the nostrils are wide (and blowing).  Ears are pricked and moving around to pick up on any sounds and the body is tense and they will almost 'grow' in height.

In many ways a nervous horse looks similar to one that is frightened, the head is high, eyes are wide, nostrils are flared and they may blow or snort.  Ears are pricked, moving and listening and again the horse will 'grow' and body will be tense to run.  Often the horse will shake or sweat and the breathing rate will increase, nervous horses often pass droppings which are sloppy.

This is (and should be) quite a frightening picture.  A horse that looks like this should make you wary to approach.  The head is held slightly lower with the ears flat back against the neck.  The eyes are looking mean and lips are curled, teeth may also be bared and he may try to bite.  An angry horse will also stand aggressively and may swing his hindquarters around to threaten or kick.

I couldn't find a picture to demonstrate a horse in pain that I felt was appropriate to put here.  If it is possible a horse will run away from pain but if he is cornered he will act in a similar way to an angry horse.  Horses remember painful experiences for a long time and these memories can be hard to replace!

This horse looks pretty 'chilled' he is relaxed and calm, his coat is shiny and his ears are gently moving to any sound.

An unhappy horse is dull and lifeless but may also be angry or aggressive (see other pictures).  His head will be low with dull eyes and may have floppy ears.  He will look tired, some unhappy horses develop bad habits, stable vices or aggressive behaviour.

This is a good picture of a horse looking interested. The neck is slightly arched, but his body is relaxed, nostrils are sniffing and ears are pointed towards what is of interest.  The eyes are bright and you can see him reaching forward with his muzzle. 

This horse is having a great time.  He is excited, he is prancing about and bucking with his tail erect and body alert.  If we go closer he would have his nostrils flared and his ears would be alert with bright eyes.

I also struggled to get a picture of a naughty horse, they tend to have their ears back, but not flat against the neck (as an angry horse does).  The eyes will be mean and the nostrils will contract and tighten.  A naughty horse may also try to cow kick or will lift a back leg.

These two youngsters are playing together and showing some of the signs to look for.  They tend to move quickly, running with little steps, turning and bucking.  Playful horses often paw the ground.

This is similar to an interested horse, he is relaxed, his ears are pricked and eyes bright and alert.

Fighting or Dominance
Another scary picture.  This horse is showing the classic signs; his head is down and neck is outstretched (although in some cases it may be held high and arched). Teeth are bared and lips curled, his ears are flat back against his neck and his body is menacing.  Horses like this are also likely to paw and kick.

Horses are amazing, much of their body language is so subtle that we miss it.  Learning to  understand some of their signs should help us all to interact better with them.

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Until next time!

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