The Basics of Horse Behavior (Part 2)

Horses easily communicate their intentions and emotions to both humans and herd mates through body language and sounds. It is also interesting to know that body language and vocalizations used by horses are most understandable, unique and fascinating among all equine species. These traits are, basically, why horses are categorized as highly social animals. Therefore, anyone handling the lovable animals—whether as an owner or trainer—needs a good understanding of equine behaviour in order to achieve cordial human-horse interactions. For example, it is universally recognized that a horse is on the alert and ready to flee whenever it raises the neck and head, flares its nostrils, pricks its ears, and widens its eyeballs—which usually turns white in this circumstance.

 “Snapping” is also a language that every horse owner should be familiar with—because it’s one of the most common among horse behaviours. Horses like to snap (i.e. an act of fear or awe marked by impulsive opening and closing of the mouth, especially among foals when they are frightened. According to Dr. Katherine Houpt, who holds position as Director, Animals Behaviour Clinic which is located at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, USA. ‘An immature horse often snaps when it come across a stallion. This is also common among mares in heat…Every donkey mare exhibits the same movement, too, and it is called “yawing” in in that specie…Snapping or yawing should be understood as a gesture—a declaration of innocence or simply an appeasement gesture—something like saying, “I’m just a foal, please don’t harm me.”’

Here are some categorized equine behaviours you should know:

Teeth

Horses do bite though not very often. But when this happens, and the horse has its ears flat back, one of its hind legs out as if ready for a kick, and keeps wagging its tail, that’s a reliable sign of anger and aggression which is not limited to humans because horses also bite each other.

In contrast, horses express happy expressions with bites, too. When a horse bites another horse, including you, it is possibly doing so for fun and social interaction, especially if they are grooming or bonding with each other. When this is the case, you will notice that the animal usually has its ears tilting forward or to the side and its tail relaxed.

Nostrils

A horse’s nostril indicates when the animal is scared or uncertain about something. When this is the case, horses make a snorting sound in response to their fear or uneasiness with humans, animals, or with something strange.

Chin

A sign of drowsiness among horses can be confirmed when their chins and lower lips noticeably go droopy. However, this body language also shows contentment and peace of mind among the animals.

When horses are sleepy or relaxed, they always rest one of their hind legs, keep their head carriage at low or mid-level, and let their ears fall to the side.

Lips

Horses usually curl their upper lip when they perceive a unique scent in the air. This is commonly referred to as the “flehmen technique”. Stallions, for example, can tell when a mare is “in heat” by its hormone scent—using their exceptionally strong sense of smell.

Legs

When a horse is kicking one leg, it shows aggression and is a warning sign that both trainers and owners should never ignore.

Kicking both legs also shows anger, aggression or discomfort.

In addition, pawing the ground is a sign of hunger, impatience, or ill health such as colic although this behaviour can’t be taken as a reliable symptom of the ailment.

When a horse stamps its foot or feet, it is usually calling for urgent attention. The animals mostly use this body language when there’s an open wound and flies perching on it.

Resting of one of the forelegs shows the horse is feeling pain in that limb.

Tail

When a horse raises its neck carriage and wags or hangs its tail high in the air, this behaviour indicates alertness and/or excitement. The animals always showcase this trait while playing in the field.

However, when horses clamp down their tails, it is a sign of discomfort and fear, for example, when there’s a bee around a corner in the barn.

Although tail swishing indicates aggressiveness, it could also mean that the horse is experiencing pain or a terrible health challenge.