How To Tell What A Horse Is Thinking: Tips & Advice

Although a horse will never be able to tell you exactly how it is feeling, there are many other ways in which horses communicate.

By learning what to look out for, you'll be able to get a good idea of what is going on in a horse's mind.

Herd of wild przewalski's horses
Horses are highly-social animals that naturally live in herds. Above is a small herd of wild Przewalskis horses.

Horses are highly social animals with a sophisticated system of communication that involves a combination of vocalizations, body language, and facial expressions. If you want to tell what a horse is thinking, then you’ll need to be aware of each of these.

Below are some tips on what to look out for. Further down the page you’ll find advice on reading horse facial expressions and body language.


How Do Horses Communicate?

Horse Face
Horses are social animals that communicate in a variety of ways.
  • Vocalizations: Horses use a range of sounds to communicate. This includes neighing, whinnying, snorting, squealing, and nickering, each associated with different moods or messages. For instance, a horse might whinny when it's separated from the herd as a call for companionship.
  • Body Language: Much of a horse's communication is conveyed through body language. The position of the horse's ears, head, and tail, as well as its stance and movements, can provide valuable information about its emotional state. For example, a horse with its ears pinned back and teeth bared is likely feeling aggressive or threatened.
  • Facial Expressions: Horses also communicate their feelings through facial expressions. These can indicate fear, aggression, relaxation, pain, and more. The position of their ears, the tension around their eyes and mouth, and the flare of their nostrils can all provide clues to their emotional state. (Horse facial expressions are covered in more detail further down the page.)
  • Touch: Horses also use physical contact as a form of communication, such as nuzzling for affection, or biting and kicking to assert dominance or express irritation.
  • Scent and Taste: Horses have a keen sense of smell and taste and will use these senses to explore their environment and interact with each other.

Understanding horse communication requires patience, observation, and a good understanding of individual horse behavior and general equine psychology.

Remember, while there are general patterns in horse communication, individual horses may express themselves in slightly different ways – just like individual people.


Horse Facial Expressions & Body Language

Horse

Alert: The horse's ears are pricked forward, eyes wide open, and nostrils flared. This usually indicates curiosity or sudden awareness of something in their environment. They might be excited or anxious about something they see or hear.

Relaxed: In a relaxed state, the horse's ears are typically sideways or slightly forward, eyes half-closed or blinking calmly, and their mouth relaxed. This indicates contentment and comfort in their environment.

Fear: Ears pinned back flat against the head, wide open eyes showing whites, nostrils flared, and tight mouth are signs of fear. Horses may also snort or paw the ground.

Aggression: Similar to fear, a horse showing aggression will pin its ears back flat. However, it may also bare its teeth, wrinkle its nose, and the eyes may not necessarily be wide open. This behavior is usually seen when the horse feels threatened or is asserting dominance.

Pain: A horse in pain often has an overall tense facial expression. Its eyes may be squinted or half-closed, nostrils tight or flaring with each breath, and mouth tight or grinding teeth. Other signs may include excessive sweating and restlessness.

Boredom: A horse that's bored may have a dull, lackluster look in its eyes, and its ears may be drooping to the side. It might also keep yawning or seem generally unresponsive to its surroundings.

Interest: When a horse is interested in something, it will direct its ears toward whatever has caught its attention. The horse's eyes will also be focused on the object or person of interest, and it may extend its neck towards it.

Confusion or Uncertainty: If a horse is confused or uncertain, it might show this by alternately pricking its ears forward and laying them back. It may also repeatedly look in various directions.

Submission: When submissive, the horse will typically hold its head lower and the ears slightly to the side or back. The horse may also avoid eye contact and have a generally subdued demeanor.

Remember that these are general observations, and individual horses may have slightly different ways of expressing these emotions.

Moreover, the context, body language, and specific behaviors should also be taken into account when interpreting a horse's facial expression.

Horse Looking Alert

Conclusion

We hope that the above as given you some tips on how to tell what a horse is thinking. If you have any more suggestions or observations, then feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.


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