I often wonder if my horses are happy, I expect most horse owners do. I like to think that they are, but what are the positive signs that I am looking for? Horses don't communicate with tail wagging or purring and certainly don't talk as we humans do. They have subtle ways of communicating their feelings to each other which we can learn to understand.
We all know (those of us involved in horses) that if a horse has his ears flat back to his head he is not happy. It can mean a number of things eg: aggression or pain. If a horse's ears are pricked forward this still does not mean they are happy because they are usually looking at something specific and may be curious or nervous. If the ears are relaxed and maybe falling out sideways the horse is relaxed and may be snoozing! When schooling we want a horse whose ears are half turned back towards us as riders which means they are listening to us. So which of these mean the horse is happy. I always think a happy horse will be a relaxed horse, one that does not have his ears tightly held in any direction!
How your horse is holding his tail can tell you how they feel too. If a horse is 'clamping' his tail tightly down then he may be feeling fearful or disgust. Basil clamps his tail down when I try to wash it, but Chesney loves having his tail washed and holds it out slightly! If a horse swishes his tail it can indicate annoyance and is often to do with flies. Some horses hold their tails slightly 'up' when being ridden perhaps this is a sign of enjoyment? Others will just hold their tails relaxed - perhaps they are the happiest.
If a horse is holding his lips tight it is probably feeling tense, soft floppy lips surely mean a relaxed horse. A horse foaming slightly in the mouth when ridden is supposedly relaxed and happy in his mouth - his jaw is relaxed and he is chewing with a supple neck and poll.
A horse with a bright, shiny, smooth coat is a healthy, happy horse. Obviously this can be affected by feed but I still feel it is a good indication.
However, it is important to remember that all horses are individuals and they will all behave in slightly different ways. Getting to know your horse will help you identify changes to their behaviour which may indicate something is not right.
Building a relationship with them by spending time grooming, riding and working from the ground will help too. When you have a strong relationship your horse is likely to be happiest. Allowing them time to be themselves too, in their natural environment, with other horses and able to play, graze and snooze.
- Notice your horse's posture, is he resting a hind leg in a relaxed way, or does he look ready to run?
- How does he behave when you arrive, does he look away, does he nicker?
- Is his coat shiny, are his eyes bright?
- How do you pick up on your horse's mood, does he do something different if he is feeling a bit grumpy? Some days Basil can be difficult to lead in from the field to ride, other days he looks up expectantly when I arrive.
- How does your horse smell? Most horses smell slightly different.
- How does he react to you in different situations?
Try to build up a picture in your mind of your horse and how he is when he is relaxed and how he is if he is 'not quite right'. You will be able to adjust your behaviour to give him support and extra care if he is having a bad day!
Have you seen last weeks vlog 'One Day' and look out for my 'Spring Favourites' video this Wednesday.
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Until next time!