Equine Body Language

Reading Equine Body Language

A working knowledge of equine body language is essential for all horse owners. A horse conveys its feelings through various body postures and actions. The art of understanding equine body language is not something that happens overnight. The best way to learn about equine body language is to examine the way a herd interacts and learn how they communicate. Try to guess what each horse feels. A lot can be learned from observation alone. A horse expresses feelings to us the same way it does with another horse. Becoming familiar with the four basic equine emotions and their body language signs improves your ride and your relationship with your horse.


A spooked horse is easy to spot. When first frightened, a horse throws its head straight up in the air. When a horse's head is above the withers it is no longer relaxed. The next sign you will notice is the whites around the horse's eyes. Most horses broaden their eyes, so you can see the white color around their pupils. This sign clearly indicates alarm. In the wild, horses will run away from things that scare them. When a horse spins or jumps sideways they are probably attempting to escape a threat.


Danger abounds when a horse is angry. Anyone who spends time around horses can prevent an accident by comprehending equine body language. When a horse pins its ears flat against its back it is a sure sign that an aggressive act will follow. Horses also pin their ears at humans to warn them. Often after pinning their ears, if the warning does not work, horses will pick up one leg backwards prior to kicking. Many times if the leg warning does not work they will kick at whatever they are angry with. Along with the cocked leg and pinned ears, most horses swish their tails when irritated.


A relaxed horse is in a calm state of mind. Unlike an excited or angry horse, a relaxed horse lowers its head below the point of the withers. A calm horse often licks its lips while its head is down. A relaxed horse sometimes lifts up one of its back legs to rest. This action is not to be confused with preparing to kick. Relaxed horses often feel comfortable enough to take a small nap.

Anxious/ Excited

Many horses become anxious or excited when they see another horse and their body language gives the clues. An excited horse sticks its head up high and points its ears forward. The horse will either stare straight ahead at an object or move its eyes quickly side to side. Most excited or anxious horses stand stiffly, poised to run, or prance around nervously.