Last Updated on February 22, 2022 by Allison Price
How can you tell if your horse’s happy? Dr Debbie Marsden, an expert in equine behavior, explains 13 signs that you can watch for to determine how your horse feels.
How to read the body language of your horse
1. His nostrils
The nostrils of your horse should be soft, round, and relaxed. Unhappy horses will make their nostrils tighter, thinner, and more drawn.
2. His lip line
The horse’s lips should be relaxed and softly curved. This is where he will feel tight and pulled if he feels tense.
3. His lower jaw
When your horse is happy, his lower jaw should be open. You might see his lower jaw hanging down or he may be dribbling.
4. His tail
The horse’s tail should be loose and free to move freely. If there are no injuries to the tail, it should remain straight.
5. His ears
You shouldn’t judge happiness by your horse’s ears. He’ll usually point his ears in the direction he feels tense. If they point forward or back, it’s likely that he is focusing on something in this direction.
How to read your horse’s behaviour in his field
6. Pawing and Rearing
Although it may seem like your horse is fighting, a horse that rears up with his front legs at another horse and paws the ground is often enjoying himself can be a sign he’s happy. If they are happy, horses won’t play with one another. Horses that are galloping along the fenceline may be unhappy or stressed.
While grazing, your horse should be relaxed and alert to his surroundings.
8. Mutual grooming
A sign that your horse is happy, healthy, and bonding is mutual grooming in the field.
How to read the behavior of your horse in his stable
9. Regular droppings
Horses should have regular, normal-sized droppings. Horses that are stressed may not defecate as often as they should.
10. A haynet is shared
It’s a sign that your horse is happy if he shares a haynet while he’s tied up in the yard.
11. A smooth bed
As happy horses don’t wander around their stable, it is important that your horse’s bedding remains in its original place. Stressed horses may move around.
12. Stable vices
Stable vices like box walking and crib-biting are not something horses will do if they’re stressed. They also release endorphins which make them happy. Vice-like behavior could indicate he’s feeling excited.
How to read your horse’s behaviour when you ride
13. Breathe out
If your horse makes a soft, snorting sound while being ridden, this is a sign that he is feeling relaxed and happy.
I’m Allison, born and raised in San Diego California, the earliest memory I have with horses was at my grandfather’s farm. I used to sit at the stable as a kid and hang out with my Papa while he was training the horses. When I was invited to watch a horse riding competition, I got so fascinated with riding!