Head Nodding

Last Updated on April 9, 2022 by Allison Price

We identified in our last post that some horse behavior we may consider cute could have different connotations when viewed from the perspective of a herd animal. We will be looking at specific behaviors and how you can help.

What not to do

Don’t get mad.

Don’t get even.

Don’t lose your cool.

These are only suggestions. However, it is rare that you need to become aggressive or mad to achieve a desired result. Be calm, purposeful, and consistent.

>**** Please remember that you must take safety precautions when working with horses. Do not hesitate to reevaluate your situation before it escalates. ****


Horse Talk Definition: Pawing can be a sign that the horse is anxious or impatient. Horses want to move.

What to do: Allow the horse to walk if the handler is holding him (e.g., in a show setting). You can even use the horse’s energy to learn or perfect something as he walks. You can get the horse to walk away from you while he walks. Is it possible for him to cross his legs (front, back, and both sides) while he’s walking.

Head Nodding

You might not want to walk off in every situation. You can stop the horse from pawing if it is in cross-ties. Simply pick one foot and ask it to move forward/back/forward/back until it stops moving. Give the horse an opportunity to stop. You can go back to the horse if he doesn’t want to stop.

Head Nodding

Horse Speak Definition: Head nodding can also be a sign of tension or excess energy.

What to do: Keep the conversation moving and continue doing the same things as for pawing. You should always aim to get your horse to move away from you, not into you. This will allow you to show leadership to him.

Pushing You Out of the Way

Horse speak Definition: This one could be very dangerous because every time the horse tries to get you to move away, he will grow more confident in his leadership over you. You will notice that the dominant horse is the one who commands the rest of the horses to follow his lead. You may find yourself in a position of being the second citizen in your two-horse herd.

What to do: Be sure to assert yourself as a leader once again. You will need to create a “bubble” of personal space around you that the horse cannot enter. Next, push the horse out of that space with your body language. If he doesn’t respond, you can use the lead rope or bridle to push him away. You must not allow him to get closer than you have decided is safe for him, even if he’s walking alongside you.

You can drag you along on the lead

Horse Speak: Horses need to be paid more attention than you. He disregards your communication and goes where he needs.

What to do: This behavior is opposite of the one described above. If your horse is pulling you, stop him and try to assume one position. Next, turn your head so that he faces you. You might be able to push him up once he looks at you. Perhaps you ask him to move sideways from you for a certain number of steps.

If he seems softly willing, you can walk ahead. You can continue to move your feet if he tries to drag you away again. Do not let him take your for a stroll. This behavior is dangerous and can lead to injury.

Play with your hair

Horse Speak Definition: Does your horse reach forward with a lovingly stretched neck and nibbles at your hair or hat? NO!

The dominant horse in a herd is the one who does the nibbling. You can be sure that the message you send to your horse is not cute. He is boss, and you must do his will.

This is what you should do: Don’t let him touch your hair, hat, or any other item. Keep him out of your space and create your own bubble.

Begging to treat

Horse Speak Definition: We get pleasure from doing something for others. Sharing meals and treats with others is something we enjoy – it’s just part of our nature.

Herd dynamics are not consistent with human social norms. If one horse has the upper hand over the other, it is the only way that one horse can give food to the other horse.

You are communicating to your horse that he is the leader of your two-horse herd by giving him a treat. While this might not cause a problem initially, if your horse becomes demanding or pushy over time, it could be due to the constant communication that you have been providing.

What to do: You can choose not to give your horse treats by hand. This rule is something that some people stick to. Hand feeding treats is a must. Do not give the treat to horses that are aggressive. Be consistent and establish clear guidelines. You can always go back to the first option if you are unsure.

Turning your head or stepping on the ground when you touch an area

Horse Speak: A horse that is unhappy is trying to tell you what you need to do.

What to do: First, determine if the horse is experiencing any discomfort. You may need to consult a veterinarian in order to examine the horse and determine if there are any problems.

If the horse is acting aggressively, you can either redirect the energy to get him to move certain feet (pawing, head nodding, etc.) or push the horse away from your space. You should make it clear that the horse can move his feet, and you will assume the leader role in the “herd dynamic”.

The key point to remember in all these examples is that the horse is only communicating with you the way he knows. You have the responsibility to learn “horse talk” and navigate through the social rules of herd dynamics. Understanding the meanings of “horse” behind your actions will help you to understand how to avoid unwanted behavior and what to do.

Allison Price
Allison Price

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!