Understanding Your Horse’s Body Language: Horse Ears Language Chart

Ever wonder what your horse body language is? Finding the answers may be easier than you think! Horses may not be able to speak to us, but they can tell us how they feel through body language.  Sometimes obvious, sometimes subtle, horses use their bodies to communicate with us and to communicate with other horses.  

Horses use all parts of their bodies to “speak,” but the easiest to decipher are their ears, legs, and muzzle.  In this article, I will be discussing what your horse is saying by using different positions and behaviors in these three areas.

Horse Body Language

Horse Ears Positions

Horses’ ears are by far the most expressive part of their bod in terms of communication. There are at least seven ear-positions that can tell you what a horse is thinking and feeling.  The chart below shows these positions. 

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  • Ears Forward

The first position shown is “ears forward but relaxed.” This indicates that the horse is paying attention to whatever is in front of him.  He is interested, but not concerned. He may be watching the horses around him, or looking for the source of a sound he heard. He is paying attention to something, but not on high alert.

  • Ears Turned Back

The second position shown is “ears turned back but relaxed.” This is similar to the first one, except for that the horse is paying attention to whatever is behind him.  This could be a rider on his back or horses behind him. Again, he is interested, but not worried. He is listening to some kind of sound coming from behind him, but he is not worried that he needs to run from it.

  • Ears Pointed Stiffly Forward

The third position shown is “ears pointed stiffly forward.” This is a high-alert position.  If a horse looks like this, he is concerned about something in front of him. He is weighing the options of staying or running, depending on how scared or nervous he is.  This could be caused by contact with unfamiliar objects or sounds, or by behaviors of horses around him.

  • Ears Pointed Left and right

The fourth position shown is “ears pointed left and right.” This is the behavior of a relaxed horse.  He isn’t paying too much attention to any one thing, but he is still aware of what is going on around him.  He is content and unbothered.

  • Ears Stiffly Back

The fifth position shown is “ears stiffly back.” This position is similar to the third position, “ears pointed stiffly forward.” It is also a high-alert position, and the most common actions to result from this position are kicking and bolting.  The horse is paying close attention to something going on behind him. He is either annoyed or angered by it or scared and nervous of it.

Understanding Your Horse's Body Language: Horse Body Language Chart

  • Droopy Ears

The sixth position shown is “droopy ears.”  This is the position of a horse at rest; not only relaxed but close to or already sleeping.  My horse will frequently fall asleep in the cross-ties during grooming, and his ears will flop to either side like this.  A horse’s head will frequently hang lower when his ears are in this position, as he is fully relaxed and resting.

  • Ears Flattened Against The Neck

The seventh position shown is “ears flattened against the neck.”  This isn’t a position of high-alert, it’s a position of anger.  Frequently used in aggressive situations with other horses, the horse will most likely bite, kick, or otherwise lash out if he is demonstrating this position.  He is angry about something and is ready to fight.

Horse Body Language: Horse Legs Language

An action that often scares people new to horses is stomping.  Horses lift and stomp their hooves quickly on the ground. The most common reason for this action is flies.  Horses use the stomping motion to get rid of flies that bite at their legs.

Horse Body Language: Horse Legs Language

  • Pawing

Pawing is a similar action to stomping, but it involves a front-to-back motion and uses less force to hit the ground.  Horses frequently paw the ground out of impatience or boredom. My horse paws the ground when he is in the cross-ties, waiting to go for a ride.

  • Three Legs On The Ground

Another common leg position is three legs on the ground, one leg cocked.  Think of when we stand with our weight on one foot and relax the other one.  When a horse has a leg cocked, he is relaxed, possibly on his way to falling asleep.  

Find more information about your horse’s moods and body language in this chart by equusmagazine.

Horse Body Language: Horse Muzzle

My favorite body language position that horses show is the drooping lip.  When a horse’s bottom lip is limp and drooping down from his muzzle, this is a sign that he is completely relaxed and trusting of his situation.  He is most likely close to falling asleep.

Horse Body Language: Horse Muzzle

  • Chewing

When a horse chews (and isn’t eating) this means that he is thinking or processing something.  It is a good sign when a horse is in training; he is learning and thinking about what is being asked of him.  During training, the horse is often chewing on the bit. This often means that the horse enjoys his job and is ready to work.

  • Grinding Teeth

Often confused with chewing is grinding teeth.  When a horse grinds their teeth, it means nearly the exact opposite of chewing.  

  • Flared Nostrils

Flared nostrils are a sign that a horse has been working hard.  A horse flares his nostrils to get a higher oxygen intake while breathing.  Horses do this during rides, or during turnout, if they have been running. 

Check the following video that explains reading horse behavior:

Conclusion

Horses may not have words to speak, but they speak through their body language.  Their ears, legs, and muzzles give signs to how they are feeling and what they are thinking.  I hope this article helped you better understand how horses use body language to communicate! If it did, please share it, and share with us your experiences of horses communicating through body language!

FAQs

How do you tell if a horse likes you?

First of all, you will want to start by looking for a few key signs that the horse is okay around you. The first sign is when the horse approaches you rather than moving away. Sometimes, horses will walk right up to you and sniff you before quickly moving away. This is a good sign that they are okay with you being around them.
Another good sign is when the horse makes small sounds such as whinnying or nickering. If the horse nickers at you (short exhale), then he probably wants you to come closer. If the horse whinnies at you (loud exhale), then he might be trying to tell you something, such as that he's uncomfortable or doesn't like something you're doing.
If the horse has his ears forward and is relaxed, then this is also a good sign that he trusts you. On the other hand, if the horse's ears are pinned back against his head, this usually means that he is feeling scared or threatened.

Can you tell how the horse is feeling from his body language?

Horses express a variety of emotions through their body language. You can often tell how a horse is feeling by looking at his movements and posture.
Horses that are relaxed will have their tails swishing slowly from side to side. Their heads and necks will also be relaxed, and their ears will be pointed forward. If the horse is feeling agitated or threatened, he might paw at the ground or snort. His tail will be swishing quickly back and forth, and his ears will be pinned back against his head.
Additionally, horses that are uncomfortable will often have their heads held high, while relaxed horses will have their heads hanging down.
Horses that are scared will usually lean their bodies away from whatever is scaring them. They might also lower their heads and lean away from you if they don't like something you're doing.
It's important to remember that horses are individuals, so not all horses will exhibit the same body language in every situation.

How can you tell when a horse is angry?

Horses that are angry or aggressive will suddenly direct their ears backward. They might stare directly at whatever is angering them, and they will probably grunt and snort loudly. The horse's eyes may be narrowed, and their breathing will become irregular.
If a horse is angry or afraid, he might also lower his head and raise his front legs. This is called "trying to get the head down" and is usually a sign that the horse is ready to fight.
If the horse bounces his front legs, this is often a sign that he is becoming aggressive. The best thing to do in this case is to leave him alone until he has calmed down. It's important to remember that horses can be very dangerous when they're angry, so it's always best to be safe and avoid getting too close.

How do horses show affection?

Horses are very social animals and they often enjoy showing their affection for people. There are many different ways that horses can show their love, but some of the most common signs are coming close to you and sniffing you, making small sounds such as whinnying or snorting, bending their head down to be scratched or gently nudging you with their nose or mouth.
Horses often enjoy being petted, and they especially love being brushed. They will frequently stretch out towards you so that they can get a better scratch. Some horses also enjoy a good hug!