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Cracking the Code: Understanding Equine Communication

Understanding Equine Communication

Horses, like humans, communicate in a variety of ways. Some of these methods are subtle, while others are more obvious.

By understanding equine communication, owners and riders can better connect with their horses and develop a stronger bond. Let’s explore some of the primary ways that horses communicate.

Facial Expressions

Horses have a range of emotions, and their facial expressions can be a window into how they’re feeling. A happy horse will have relaxed facial muscles, while a sad or angry horse may have tense or furrowed muscles.

Fear is often shown by a startled look or wide eyes, while excitement may result in flared nostrils and raised eyebrows. Interestingly, many equine facial expressions are similar to those of humans, with similar muscle arrangement.


The nostrils can also provide clues about a horse’s mental state. A relaxed horse will have soft, open nostrils, while a tense or fearful horse’s nostrils may quiver or flare.

Stress and fear can lead to snorting, where the horse breathes quickly and forcefully through their nostrils.


A happy horse may show affection by lip-twitching while being scratched in their favorite spot, often on the neck or withers. This is a sign of contentment and relaxation, as the horse leans into the touch and stretches their neck.


Horse’s eyes can indicate their state of mind. A clear, inquisitive gaze shows an interested and alert horse.

Rolling of the eyes with visible whites can be a sign of disease or distress. A docile horse may lower their head and eyes to show submission or relaxation.

Relaxed Lower Jaw

A relaxed lower jaw indicates contentment and relaxation in a horse. Grinding teeth can be a sign of tension, but some horses grind their teeth when they are comfortable.

Ears Pricked Forward

The ears are a primary way for horses to communicate with humans and other horses. A horse’s ears pricked forward indicates alertness and vigilance.

Conversely, ears pointed backward may indicate sickness or lethargy, while laid-back ears may indicate aggression or submission.

Tail Carriage

A horse’s tail carriage is another vital indicator of how they’re feeling. A calm horse may carry their tail evenly, with a slight sway.

A happy horse may swish their tail in excitement or playfulness. Arabian horses, in particular, may carry their tails high and proud.

Distressed horses, on the other hand, may swish their tail more forcefully and hold it between their legs.


Horses are playful and enjoy engaging in horseplay. Pawing, racing, bucking, and rearing are all signs of horseplay and happiness.

These behaviors are more common in younger horses, as they have more energy and enthusiasm.

Mutual Grooming

Horses are social animals that enjoy forming bonds with other horses. Mutual grooming, where horses nibble on each other’s neck and withers, is a sign of affection and grooming behavior.

This behavior is also common in herd behavior and shows how horses spend time together.


Sometimes, horses snort as a sign of contentment or happiness. In a stress-free natural environment, horses may snort to show relaxation and comfort.


Horses often use their voice to communicate with other horses or with humans.

Nickering, a soft, low-pitched sound, is often used to greet other horses, especially mares and foals.

Horses may also nicker when they’re hungry or when they want to be alone.

Standing Together with the Herd

Horses are social animals that have evolved to live in herds. Standing together with the herd while grazing or resting shows their social nature and the importance of being with others.

Horses that are isolated or distressed may show signs of separation anxiety.

Normal Bodily Functions

Horses, like all animals, have normal bodily functions. Healthy horses are alert and responsive and have regular eating, drinking, and bowel movements.

Any changes in these normal functions may indicate sickness or discomfort.

Relaxed and Grazing

In a natural environment like a pasture, wild horses spend most of their time eating and grazing. Chomping while relaxed and grazing is a sign of contentment and good health.

Reading Horse’s Mind and Behavior

Physical Communication

Reading your horse’s physical communication is your primary way of understanding their mental state. Horses can’t talk, so we have to rely on their body language and behavior to understand how they’re feeling.

Changes in your horse’s normal behavior may be a sign of stress or pain, so it’s important to pay attention to these signs.

Emotional Animals

Horses are strongly emotional animals that experience a range of feelings such as happiness, fear, anger, and sadness. Their emotions are expressed through body language and vocalizations.

By understanding the typical ways a horse expresses these emotions, you can learn to recognize your horse’s moods.

Finding What Makes Your Horse Happy

Developing a bond with your horse is crucial to understanding their behavior. Horses are social animals that form bonds with their owners and riders.

As you spend time with your horse, pay attention to their behavior and body language. Learn what makes them happy, such as their favorite treats or scratches in their favorite spots.

Signs of Stress and Pain

While horses are emotional animals, they can’t communicate directly with humans when they’re in pain or distress. However, as we’ve seen, their body language and behavior can give us clues.

A skilled horse owner or rider can recognize when their horse is feeling good in their skin and when something is wrong. Obvious signs of stress or pain include tense muscles, excessive sweat, or change in behavior.

Knowing your horse’s baseline behavior and what is normal can help you identify when something is off. In conclusion, understanding equine communication is crucial for any horse owner or rider.

By recognizing the subtle and not so subtle ways horses communicate, we can develop stronger bonds with them. Paying attention to their physical communication and changes in behavior can help you identify when your horse is feeling good in their skin, and when they’re not.

So spend time with your horse, read their body language, and enjoy the special bond that you share. Understanding equine communication and reading a horse’s mind and behaviour are essential to forming a deeper bond with your horse.

By observing their facial expressions, nostrils, ears, tail, and body language, you can recognize how your horse is feeling. It is important to understand how they perceive and communicate, which can help you identify any stress or pain they may experience.

Take time to get to know your horse’s unique personality, what makes them happy, and what is normal behavior for them, so you can identify when something is wrong. By paying attention to the signals your horse is sending, you can build a stronger connection and take better care of them.


Q: How do I know if my horse is in pain? A: Changes in behavior or body language, such as tense muscles, excessive sweat, or reluctance to move, can indicate pain.

Q: How can I develop a better bond with my horse? A: Spending time with your horse, learning their communication and likes and dislikes, and providing affection and positive reinforcement can help develop a strong bond.

Q: Why is it important to understand equine communication? A: Understanding communication signals can help you identify changes in behavior, take action to alleviate pain and stress, and build a stronger bond with your horse.

Q: How much does body language differ between horses? A: While there are general patterns for different behaviors, each horse also has their unique personality and ways of communicating.

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