HOW TO SPEAK HORSE - Learn to understand your horses' communication styles

Learn to better understand and interact with your horse by speaking his language and understanding what's going on in his life.

Have you ever stopped to listen to what your horse is saying? Understanding your horse's communication will help you understand what's going on in his world. Grasp the basics of the most common signals he will give you with this quick guide. 
EYES - What does he see? 
  • 13122011 02Some features of your horses' eye are unique in the animal kingdom so it's useful to understand how he sees and receives visual signals from others.
  • A horses' eye is much wider and deeper than a humans and enables him to see nearly 360 degrees, meaning a horse can just about see its tail without turning his head.
    He only has four blind spots; above his head, under his chin, just in front of his head and directly behind him.
    This complex eye anatomy allows your horse to see both close up and far away.
    His long-distance vision allows him to pick up signals such as impeding danger when another horse is raising his tail.
    His middle vision helps him communicate with the herd, such as a higher- ranked horse warning him not to move into his personal space.
    Close-up vision enables him to interpret very subtle facial expressions such as a relaxed mouth which indicates submissiveness. 
Horses' use different signals to communicate aggression and can include anything from eye contact to biting. Most horses will use a mix of various signals, giving warnings to try and defuse any encounter and avoid a full-scale fight. By recognizing this sequence of actions, you can take steps to avoid a confrontation. 

HA2295Bob Atkins
  • Your horse uses his whole body to indicate whether he is relaxed or alert. He does this both to communicate danger to other horses and to prepare himself for escape. 
  • A relaxed horse lowers his head, leaves his ears in a neutral position and is probably even
    relaxing a hind-leg.
    A loose mouth, particularly with a tongue hanging out is also a sign of a relaxed horse.
    An alert horse holds his head higher, tenses the muscles in his neck and focuses his eyes
  • and ears in the direction he senses danger. He is also likely to raise his tail as he may need to expel dung
    as this ensures he is at his lightest weight
    if he needs to run away from the danger.
    If a horse senses fear he may also start to toss his head or start showing the white of his eye, he needs to be able to
  • see clearly and theadrenalin in his body causes his eyes to widen and consequently more white of the eye is shown.
WHAT IS HE TRYING TO SAY - A variety of vocal expressions will be used:
  • Whickering - A greeting between horses and to people they are close to.
  • Roaring - A self assertive greeting normally used by geldings and stallions. It's as if one is saying to the other I'm in charge.
  • Snorting - (Short expulsions of air through the nostrils) a warning to other horses' that they may be danger around.
  • Blowing - (Expelling longer burst of air trough the nostrils) Indicates to other horses' that there is no danger and they can relax.
  • Squealing - Is used if one horse enters another's personal space.  
A horse that has both ears forward is focusing his attention ahead of him. To determine if he is alert and
looking for
danger or simply relaxed and interested in what's going on around him, look at his body posture.

When the ears are pointing in different ways he is splitting his attention between two events. Follow the
direction of his ears to see what he is focusing on.
An ear that point backwards indicates that the horse is focusing his attention behind. Ears that are
pressed flat back don't necessarily mean aggression. He could simply be defensive of another horse
entering his personal space.Whether aggressor or defender, ears are kept out of the away to avoid injury
in a confrontation.
A horses' sense of smell is used in many different ways.
Horses often sniff each other as a greeting and may also sniff dung to ascertain the age and sex of another horse.
The most dramatic use of smell is the 'Flehmen' where the horse curls his upper lip back while raising his head in response to a strange smell. Stallions also respond in this way after sniffing mares in season. The horse does this to further analyse a smell.
He has an extra sensory organ at the back of his nasal passages and, by raising his head and taking in air through both his mouth and nostrils; he gets a stronger sense of smell.