Horse Communication: Body Language and Sounds

As horse owners, we want to know our horses more. And get connected to them.

Most of the time, horses communicate with each other using their eyes and ears. This is according to a recent study.

The horse’s eye direction and their ears can be used to tell another horse where to direct its attention. This can be beneficial in locating food and avoiding predators.

Horses cannot talk the human language. So, they express themselves in other ways when they communicate with people. That is what we will learn and more in this article.

How Horses Communicate With Each Other

Horses are intelligent and social animals. So, they can definitely communicate their feelings.

One of the common methods on how horses communicate is through their body language. Horses pass on information using their large ears. Also, they make use of their vocal repertoire. Like squeals, snorts, blows and neighs to connect with each other.

It is important to understand all the horse communication – sounds and methods. It will be helpful for you in many ways especially if you are a horse owner.

Horse Body Language

You can gain a lot of information about how horses communicate. By observing their body language. They are very sensitive animals. And they are conscious of the changes in their surroundings.

Horses’ body language adjusts according to their environment

In every herd of horses, there is one lead horse that is more groomed than others. And the rest of the herds follows its command in critical situations.

As humans, we may feel that horses ignore each other. And don’t communicate often. But that it not true. In fact, communication takes place all the time among horses. And unlike humans, they rarely communicate through vocal repertoire.

Body language and facial expressions… these are the most common tools horses use to communicate.

  • Horse body language in relaxed situations

The body language of a horse is relaxed and cozy in normal and relaxed situations.

The dozing stance of a horse is a relaxed posture with these:

  • Saggy lips
  • Drooping tail and neck
  • Relaxed hind leg
  • Body language of a stressed horse


Horses get stressed out because of a threat or an alarming sound. And there is a visible change in their body posture. Like flattened ears, stirring tail, tense facial expression and etc.

  • Signs of submissiveness in horses

In the submissive stance, horses try to appear smaller. It is by lowering their body posture. And casting their eyes downward so the whole posture becomes compliant.

  • Body language of a scared horse

When there is a threatening or strange situation… their dozing stance changes into a rigid one.

Here’s your horse’s body language when it feels in danger:

  • Tensed muscles
  • Erect tail
  • Swaying nostrils
  • Moving ears
  • Wide eyes

In the wild, all these signs are quickly observed by horse herds. And they get ready to flee if the situation gets dangerous.

How Horses Communicate with Their Ears

You can also observe that horses use their ears to communicate with other herd members. As mentioned above, this could be to communicate the location of food. Or an upcoming danger.

This is how you will know the mood of your horse with the position their ears:

  • Raised forward: attentive and interested
  • Drooping to the sides: relaxed and at ease, dozy
  • Flattened back: threatened or angry

Horses have a sharp hearing ability because of their moving ears. It allows them to pick up dim sounds.

Horses’ Vocal Communication

Horses are very vocal. So, we want to know the sounds they make and what they mean. It is also part of understanding your horse and establishing trust relationship.

Like other animals, horses don’t make particular sounds that convey a single idea. But they use vocal noises to get across general ideas or emotions.

Sighing

Horses seem to sigh, draw in a deep breath. Then let it out slowly and audibly through mouth or nostrils. Much more around humans than when interacting with each other.

There’s a sigh that seems to express relief. Like “Aaaah!” when you remove a pair of tight boots. You may hear this as grooming or massage releases tension in your horse’s muscles.

There is also a relaxation sigh that you can hear when lounging to loosen him up and make sure he is calm before you get on. That is when he puts his head forward and down and exhales a deep fluttering breath through his nostrils.

Some horses also give a sigh when there is boredom.

Groaning

Like humans, groaning can be a habit in horses. But it can also signal pain. So, it calls for some detective work. Especially if the horse is new to you. And you don’t know yet which noises and in which situations are normal for him.

If he groans on landing from his fences and pins his ears or rolls his eyes, something is hurting. It could be his back, legs or feet, or his insides.

Sometimes they groan only with certain riders. It may be because a rider thuds heavily into the saddle after a jump or at sitting trot. And he is hurting.

Groaning when not under saddle could also be a sign of gastric pain from ulcers.

Some horses also groan when the work is over.

Nickering

Your horse uses his vocal cords but keeps his lips closed to produce this soft sound. It’s usually a friendly recognition and welcome. It is sometimes coupled with an alert expression. Like raised head and ears pricked in your direction.

If you look like you are bringing food for them, the nickering may say they are happy. If others get fed, the nicker may become more rapid and high-pitched.

Blowing or snorting

This is when your horse inhales quickly. Then puffs the breath out through his nostrils so they vibrate with a loud purring sound. Your horse is excited and hoping that something will happen. He may be seeing you getting his lead rope at turnout time.

Screaming

This is one of the most painful and scary sounds your horse can make.

It is a clear sign of extreme pain or anger.

Horses rarely scream even when fighting with another horse. But when they scream, it means they are hurt so bad.

Now that you know what the horse sound are all about. Listen more carefully and respond. It can help our bond and relationship with them grow.

Your horse will learn to trust you when you respond well to its communication. And it will make your ride a lot easier.


What’s more? The two of you will be able to develop a bond that surpasses even that of master-trainee. And you will become friends.

So, the next time you are around your horse, be attentive. And you will know what exactly he’s trying to communicate to you.

Communicating well with horses is wonderful!

Summary

Understanding the horse’s body language will improve your relationship with your horse. It’s important that we perceive their body language. And understand some basic horse sounds. So, we can effectively train and instruct them according to what we want. Aside from that, we can develop a friendly relationship with our horses. By being attentive to them.

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