Horses communicate with each other using their whole bodies, so step back, look at the whole picture, and think of your horse's stance as an expression. Watch her playing in the pasture or paddock. You'll see her lift her head and tail just before she starts to run. That's a signal to other horses, or an invitation to play. If you see that expression when you try to catch her, you're probably going to have a hard time doing so. Head-shaking can also be a playful expression. Horses often do this while running, and may squeal at the same time. This is a form of showing off and it's fine while she's loose in the pasture. But if she shakes her head and squeals while cantering along with you on her back, expect a little trouble. Unless you're sure you can handle it, you'd best speak to her firmly and slow down to a trot. Beware also that head-shaking often just means that flies are bothering her. When your horse is angry or fearful, the hindquarters may seem to sink and her tail may be tucked. If your horse is afraid - maybe a pal is about to bite her - she'll cringe her hindquarters away from the threat. If cornered, she may kick. If she's feeling agry and aggressive, your horse may instead bring her hindquarters toward another horse. She is moving forward, but keeping her hindquarters ready for action too. If your horse moves toward you in this manner, be prepared to either firmly establish your authority or get out of the way! Tail switching is another signal that it's time to get out of the way. Horses often switch their tails before kicking. It's part of the language of threat. But the kick can follow the threat very quickly, so be alert.
Look, Listen, and Feel While Riding
Your horse's whole-body language is easiest to observe from the ground. When you're on her back, it's easiest to pay attention to her ears and to the level of her head. After all, they're right up front where you can see them! Don't forget the other end, though. Horses often swish their tails when annoyed or resisting your authority. You can't see that, but you'll probably be able to hear it. If your horse is swishing her tail resentfully, review what you are asking her to do and how you are asking. You may be demanding too much. Your signals may be confusing or painful. Always question yourself first. Then, if you're perfectly sure that it's not your fault, ask again. Your horse's resentful mood may pass. Even if it doesn't, you'll be aware of her frame of mind. Although you can't see your horse as well when riding as you can on foot, you do have much more physical contact with her. You're able to feel whether her body is tense or relaxed. Is she moving forward freely and with a normal rhythm? Or are her steps shortened and bouncy, indicating nervousness or bad intentions? If she's stumbling or moving unevenly, it may indicate lameness. If her neck is high and hard in front of you or if she's sweating more than normal, she's probably nervous. Your awareness of these things will rarely be this specific. rather than thinking about each signal separately, you'll learn to take them all together as an instinctive awareness of your horse and your situation. The more time you spend with your horse, the more easily you'll pick up the signals, and the safer and more comfortable you'll become.
© Copyright 1999,
2000, 2001, 2002, 2003
The Horse Lover's Corral