Horse Body Language




understanding horse behavior




over the course of my lifetime I've identified ten behavioral characteristics of the horse and it's essential that we understand these ten characteristics number one is the fact that this is a flight species this is the only domestic animal whose primary survival behavior is flight if you think about other prey species like cattle sheep goats in the wild state they all have horns and they use them very readily for defense but the horse has only is speed in order to escape being eaten and the other nine things I'm going to talk about all go back to that number one they're all related to the fact that this is a flight animal so that's the most important thing to understand about horses is their flightiness we have a tendency to attribute this through to stupidity that the horse will run off a cliff run into automobile run right through a fence but it's not it's nature's wisdom because in their natural habitat open grasslands that behavior is the way they manage to stay alive for fifty million years number two the horse is the most perceptive of all domestic animals its sense of vision hearing smell and touch the tactile sense are extremely acute this is essential in order for it to detect danger and those senses are more highly refined than ours are and we're often unaware that the horse hears things sees things feel things smells things that we're completely unaware of and they react to those things and we tend to say I don't know why he did it there was no reason for it there's always a reason when the horse reacts we just may not recognize the reason they have the same five senses we do but they're different than ours horses hear things that the human ear is incapable of hearing and they react to it our sense of smell is extremely poor the horses sense smell is extremely good and they react to what they smell the horses sense of touch is very superior to ours only in our fingertips do we humans have the sense of touch that a horse has over its entire body surface the sense of hearing horses hear a range of sound just as dogs do beyond the range of the human ear so they hear things that we are completely unaware of moreover they have directional antennae and they can localize where sound is coming from better than we can because we have to do this in order to find the direction of Sam the biggest difference between the senses of a horse and a human is a visual sense our eyes are very different for example we have very good color vision horses do not they see things in pastel shades they do see color but not like we do it's not as vivid horses see black and white most vividly and they react to black and white horses can pick up motion that we are completely unaware of a bird in a tree a hundred yards away horses will see that movement this is why horses get so nervous on a windy day when everything is in motion they can't see an approaching predator as clearly as they can on a quiet day we changed our depth of focus by a highly elastic lens changing its shape in our eye so that we can be focused on something this close and then without moving our head just looking up it takes a couple of seconds for the lens to adjust and we're in focus into infinity now horses have an elastic lens but it's not nearly as elastic as the human limbs so horses focused by using a different part of the retina at the back of the eyeball so they focus on something up close by using the top of the eyeball so when they're grazing they are focused on what you're eating they hear something out there they whip the head up and looks at the bottom of the eyeball and it seemed for a long time to me that this was much less efficient than the way we focus but then I realized that the difference is speed when we change from looking up close to looking at a distance it takes a couple seconds for us to come into focus those couple of seconds could mean death to a horse if there's an approaching predator so by simply whipping the head up and looking through the bottom of the eyeball the horses instantly in focus at a distance so it's faster and that means it's life or death to this species the other big difference is that our eyes are said at the front of her head each eye sees the same picture slightly far apart so we humans have binocular stereoscopic vision which gives us excellent depth perception hunters and we are a hunting species need good depth perception the human hunter to throw a spear at a running animal needed excellent depth perception a lion a short winded species charging an antelope or zebra needs to judge its distance accurately with the most vivid example a hawk at very high altitude sees a mouse on the ground folds its wings and drops and then opens its wings at the last millisecond scoops up the mouse needs superb depth perception because if it opens its wings too soon it misses a meal and if it opens them too late it hits the ground and kills itself so predators need excellent depth perception the horse on the other hand it has to see what's hunting it so it's eye are said on the side of its head we call that lateral vision prey animals usually have lateral vision a horse can move its nose an inch to the left or an inch to the right using its peripheral vision see behind it and that's very important for prey animal to see what's sneaking up on it however because it does not have stereoscopic overlapping vision horses have very poor depth perception and that's the reason that people riding a green horse may cross a shallow stream and the horse is afraid it can't judge the depth or even a small ditch or getting into a horse trailer for the first time they do not have good depth perception so that's one place where our vision is better than the horses but what's important for the horse is to see what's sneaking up on it in order for it to stay alive number three the horse is the fastest learner of all domestic animals in fact the horse is one of the fastest learner of all species why the slow learners didn't survive so an animal that depends upon flight must be a fast learner number four memory the horse has the best memory of any domestic animal and in fact one of the best memories in the animal kingdom why because the horses with for memory didn't survive to reproduce the horse has to remember when to run how far to run which direction to run and what to run from or in the wild state it does not survive number five reaction time also called response time the horse has the fastest reaction time of any domestic animal it has to in order to stay alive a wild cow in hearing a line approaching and the cow is grazing only needs to raise its head see what's coming and then present his horns to protect itself but the horse has to do a much more complicated






 thing to hear and see what's coming and then raise its head and then turn to run and so it has much faster reaction time then the wild bullying does in the best example I can give of this as the cutting horse in which the speed of the horse exceeds the speed of the cow number six the horse is the most easily desensitized of all domestic animals too frightening stimuli if you know how to desensitize them this seems contrary a flighty animal with fast reaction time that is so perceptive to stimuli you would think would be difficult to desensitize but it's important for a flight animal to desensitize the things that it determines maybe frightening initially but it finds out are not dangerous or it would never stop running there'd be no time to eat drink rest or reproduce so if you know how to desensitize horses they are the easiest of all domestic animals to desensitize number seven the horse is a herd animal in the wild state it is never alone it's always with other horses now that's true of most domestic species but it's especially important in the horse because its defense comes from the combined senses of the other individuals in the herd so a horse alone is a frightened and unhappy horse they need company and that's very important for us to understand because there's one reason that horses will bonds so firmly with human beings number eight like every other species the horse has a body language of its own and it's very different from ours it's very different from dogs or cattle or other animals and if we're to understand horses we've got to be familiar with their body language and some of the things are obvious and familiar to everybody that is the aggressive horse pins its ears back and looks a dress but there are certain things about body language of a horse that took me a long time to understand for example horses signify submissiveness saying with their body language I think maybe you ought to be in charge by doing two things they lower their head position and they loosen their lips now horses unlike other animals cannot breathe through their mouths so when a horse is in flight when it's frightened its mouth is very tightly closed when it's more relaxed the lips apart so that's something that we look for when working with a horse's tightly closed lips means resistance lips slightly parted means they're accepting us maybe excepting beginning to accept our leadership and the head position head high this is defiant this means I want to run away and as that horse decides that it may accept us as a leader the head will slightly come down just like that very subtle and that's something that we have to learn to look for if the horse feels more compliant more submissive then the mouth will actually open and they'll start to lick their lips and chew so when a horse is more relaxed you'll see licking and chewing the mouth actually opening and the head nodding down very noticeably if the horse is of overwhelmed with submission it's saying you are the leader you're in charge I accept your leadership then you'll see the horse do a mature horse will do what a baby ful will do it will and unfortunately this is often called snapping and that implies aggressiveness and it's just the opposite it's the act of complete submission and a horse because what they're saying is I'm a helpless nursing baby don't hurt me and then the head goes right down to the ground bump the nose on the ground it's unreasonable for us to expect the horse to understand our language which was largely verbal the horse uses primarily body language because a prey species doesn't want to make noise in the wild so the horse is a relatively quiet species so if we're to get along with horses and understand them and communicate with them we have to learn their body language and learn to mimic it number 9 the dominance hierarchy what does that mean animals that live in groups like wild horses do have an order of leadership the certain individuals are natural leaders other individuals are natural followers and this is true of all species that live in groups and in the horse and only in the horse this dominance hierarchy is established by control of movement the lead horse which in the wild is usually an older mayor has nothing to do with strength it has everything to do with control of movement she will control the movement of her peers and thereby established her leadership role now this is pretty subtle it's often done just by laying back the ears and just making an aggressive gesture towards another horse and the other horse will back off only a step or two lick its lips thought up its head which is saying in effect yes ma'am you are in charge but its control of movement why because movement is survival to the horse this is a flight species and so if you control flight by controlling the feet you control the horse's mind and this is the whole secret of great horsemanship its controlling movement that's why for thousands of years we have trained horses by lunging them in circles by working them in round pins by hobbling them you can control movement in two ways you can cause movement when the horse would prefer to stand still or vice versa you can inhibit movement when the horse wants to move either way you'll get the same results you get submissiveness of the horse and the horse recognizing the individual whether it's a horse or human that controls this movement will assume a leadership position it's the great secret to the natural horsemanship movement its secret of gifted horsemen they know how to control the feet and they can do it very subtly just a step at a time and each time you control those feet that horse gains increased respect and sees you as a leader and finally number 10 this is a precocial species now what does that mean some species are born helpless dependent unable to take care of themselves human babies puppies kittens very commonly and predators bears they're completely dependent upon mother to protect them and care for them and they are neurologically immature their senses are poorly developed dogs their eyes are closed the ears are closed and as they get older they mature they change and most important their learning capacity is extremely limited right after birth or in a case of birds right after hatching and it slowly develops as they go along so just think of a child how slowly we develop our brains develop and our learning capacity develops as we mature but in the case of precocial species especially prey species where unless they can keep up with mom shortly after birth keep up with the herd they're not going to survive and so this is so important the horse is born neurologically mature with all of its senses functioning they can see hear smell and feel just like when they're full-grown and their learning ability is at its peak in the minutes the hours and the days following birth how we humans have largely ignored this because we know our babies are helpless and their learning ability is very limited but it's not true the horse so if we don't work with the horse right after birth we're losing the greatest opportunity in its entire lifetime for it to learn to bond with us and learn respect for us

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