Horses are very communicative creatures, although most of their communication happens nonverbally. New owners may not understand what their horse is trying to say to them, but that should be one of the first things they learn. The following are a few common signals you may see from your horse.
The way a horse’s ears are positioned can tell a lot about how a horse is feeling. A horse with his ears forward and relaxed would be interested in what he is looking at, for example. A horse with her ears back would signify fear, aggression, or uncertainty. A horse with its ears up straight may be curious. Each horse will use some slight variation on these ear movements, so it is worthwhile to see how your particular horse uses its ears to signal its feelings.
A horse will usually make eye contact with its owner once it is comfortable with them. However, horses do not like to maintain long eye contact, as it can make them feel hunted. If your horse is new to you and does not make eye contact, it might feel threatened, uncomfortable, or unsure. Once you build some trust with your horse, it may only avoid eye contact if something is wrong. For example, a horse that is not getting along with other horses may avoid eye contact as it is feeling negatively. Or, if your horse has done something wrong, it may not want to look you in the eye until you reassure it that everything is fine.
A horse with its forelegs splayed may be scared and waiting to see if it should run away quickly. A horse that is pawing — a digging motion — may be bored, or in some cases angry. Stomping is a more severe form of pawing that indicates anger and should not be ignored. Different horses may utilize their legs differently, so look to the overall stance and expression for more indicators.
Horses have dozens of ways to communicate nonverbally to both their owner and to each other. Owners should research what different movements mean and how they can determine their horse’s mood by the positioning of their entire body. Keep in mind that each horse is different, so any guide can get you started, but spending time with your horse is the best way to learn their moods.