Monday, 9 May 2016

More About ... Horse Signals!

Following on from my previous blogs about horse signals today I wanted to look more at how they use the rest of their bodies. 

How they hold their bodies also tells us a lot about  how they are feeling.  Generally the more elevated ie: the taller they are standing, the more excited they are!  As a horse becomes increasingly stimulated the body grows taller and more impressive.  They hold their heads high and the tail up. Certainly Chesney seems even bigger when he is excited and Tommy demonstrates this often.  However, once a horse reaches a gallop the body becomes sleeker to help them move faster - they are no longer appearing impressive but may still be excited.  

A horse which is drowsy, bored or submissive will have his head and tail low with the body almost sagging – making them appear smaller - the opposite of an excited horse.  If you watch a group of horses you can see that these body signals are understood by the others in the group.  They respond accordingly.  

Horses have 3 main body signals which are easy to identify and interpret. 

The 'body check' is when a dominant horse is asserting himself and saying 'I am in charge' - they move to impede the movement of the other horse by swinging their body across the front of the other. This stops the other horse from moving forward and so they have to retreat or stand and express submission!  If they choose to stand up for themselves and walk forwards they are challenging the dominant horse's superiority.  Using the 'body check' is a great way for a horse to reassert his dominance without fighting. 

The 'shoulder barge' is a stronger version of the 'body check'.  The superior horse will make contact with the other horse as he pushes into it. 

The 'rump presentation' is a defensive display.  The horse swings his rump to face the other and is basically saying 'stop annoying me or I will kick you' .  This is often used before kicking out which will happen if the other horse ignores the initial signal.
These horses have both swung their rumps around.  The one on the right also seems to
be lifting his leg as a warning, whilst the other has his ears flat back.

Horses also use their legs to signal to their companions.  Lifting a front leg is a threat, a milder version of the leg strike which is used (usually in the wild) when horses attack each other.  It is a clear signal to a companion to stop whatever it is they are doing.  This is different to when a horse paws the ground.  Pawing was originally used to investigate the ground and horses use it now before they roll.  They will often paw the ground if they are frustrated and prevented from moving forwards eg: when tied up!

The back leg lift is again a threat, but this is generally a more defensive move.  Telling their companions that if they are not careful a full kick will follow.  Often used after a horse has turned their rump to face another, as described above.  Mares will often use this back leg lift to warn their foals that they are being a nuisance.  

If a warning is ignored a full kick will follow!

Horses also knock and stamp to signal their threatening mood.  They will lift and lower their hind leg and make a tapping sound on the ground (knocking) or the same movement with a front leg is called stamping. Horses often use these leg signals to indicate their irritation - some will do it when they are tacked up .

Horse signals are their way of talking.  Noticing and understanding their signals can, not only improve our relationships, but can also help to keep us safe - avoiding a kick.  If you get the opportunity to watch a group of horses in the field take the time to watch how they interact and 'talk' to each other.

Have you seen last week's video 'Catching Tommy Update'  on my You Tube channel.   
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Until next time!

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