Last Updated on January 25, 2023
Do you ever wonder what your horse is trying to tell you? Horses try to communicate with us in many ways, but it can be difficult to understand what they mean. Using a horse body language chart is a great way to learn more about the subtle signs our horses use to tell us what they are thinking and feeling.
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.
How Can A Horse Body Language Chart Help Your Relationship With Your Horse?
You might be wondering why it is necessary to understand horse body language – after all, surely our horses love spending time with us humans? Horses are generally very kind-natured and forgiving, but they are constantly trying to send us signals to say how they are feeling. A horse emotions chart can help us pick up these subtle signs that your horse may be nervous, uneasy, frightened, or uncomfortable.
On the flip side, you can also learn to recognize positive emotions, such as signs that a horse trusts you or when a horse is feeling relaxed and confident. This will be hugely beneficial when training your horse or introducing it to new situations, as you can better understand when to give your horse more time and reassurance.
Horse Body Language Chart
Horses use all parts of their bodies to “speak,” but the easiest areas to decipher are their ears, legs, muzzle, and tail. To help you understand equine communication, we’ve broken our horse body language chart down into these key areas.
Horse Body Language Chart: Ear Positions
Horses’ ears are by far the most expressive part of their body in terms of communication. There are at least seven horse ear positions that can tell you what a horse is thinking and feeling. The chart below shows these positions.
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 that the horse is paying attention to whatever is behind him. This could be a rider on his back or a horse 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 about it.
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 Chart: Legs
The legs of a horse are not just used for standing and moving – they also communicate with them too! In the same way that we use our arms and hands to wave and gesticulate, horses will use their legs to show their emotional state and warn other horses about how they are feeling.
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 to get rid of something that is irritating them, such as flies. Horses use the stomping motion to get rid of flies that bite at their legs.
A very angry horse may also stomp, but this will be accompanied by other signs of bad temper such as the ears being pinned flat back. Entire stallions are very communicative with their forelegs and will stomp their feet to scare off a potential rival male.
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.
Resting One Leg
Another common leg position is to find a horse standing with three legs on the ground, and 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 Equus magazine.
Horse Body Language Chart: Muzzle And Facial Expressions
Whilst horses cannot talk, they do use their muzzle and facial expressions to communicate with us in many ways! This starts right from birth when a newborn foal and mother will nuzzle each other with their muzzles. Watching your horse’s face can tell you a huge amount about how it is feeling.
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.
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.
Often confused with chewing is grinding teeth. When a horse grinds their teeth, it means nearly the exact opposite of chewing – the horse is anxious and stressed, and does not like the situation it is in.
Flared nostrils can simply be a sign that a horse has been working hard, and the nostrils are flared to get a higher oxygen intake while breathing. A horse on high alert will also flare its nostrils, and this is often accompanied by a snorting sound.
Extended Upper Lip
One of the cutest facial expressions you will see is when a horse extends its top lip in response to a pleasant sensation. The best time to see this is when you are grooming your horse and finding a good itchy spot to scratch!
If your horse’s mouth is tightly closed, with tight, pinched lips, it is likely to be a sign of stress or fear.
Horse Body Language Chart: Tail Movement
Tails are not just for swishing flies away – they are also a good communication tool!
Relaxed, Gently Swishing Tail
A calm and relaxed horse will hold its tail in a relaxed downward position, occasionally swishing it to dislodge flies.
Rapidly Swishing Tail
A horse that is swishing its tail excessively is a sign that it is agitated, stressed, or in discomfort. A horse will often swish its tail and squeal when first greeting a new horse.
Tail Tucked In
If your horse is stood with its tail tucked tightly under, it is normally demonstrating feelings of apprehension or fear. This can also be a sign of discomfort or ill health.
Tail Held High
Have you ever seen your horse flaunting around the field with its tail held high in the air? This is a sign of high spirits, and your horse is having fun!
Horses may not have words to speak, but they can communicate with us through their body language. Their ears, legs, tail, and muzzle will give signs and signals as to how they are feeling and what they are thinking. Learning to recognize and interpret these signals is the key to becoming a sympathetic and effective horse trainer.
We would love to hear your thoughts on our horse body language chart! Do you find it fascinating trying to figure out what your horse is trying to tell you? Or maybe you’re wondering what it means when a horse bows to you. Leave a comment below and we will get back to you!
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!
Michael Dehaan is a passionate horse owner, horse rider, and lover of all things equine. He has been around horses since he was a child, and has grown to become an expert in the field. He has owned and ridden a variety of horses of different breeds, and has trained many to compete in shows and competitions. He is an experienced horseman, having worked with and competed many horses, including his own. He is an active member of the equestrian community, participating in events and teaching riding lessons.