Horse body language

The key to working successfully with your horse is being able to read their body language and knowing what they are feeling at any given time. Horses are continuously ‘talking’ to us through their posture, expression and movements of certain body parts. In order for us to understand what they are saying, we have to read their body language and take in to account the context as signals can have many different meanings.

Petcover will take a look at some of the more obvious body language signs and what they could possibly mean…


Pointing forward: focused on something; interested or curious; alerted
One ear cocked back: aware of something behind or beside them; paying attention to the rider
Both ears cocked back: paying attention to the rider or something behind them; curious about something but still listening to what is going on behind
Ears pinned back: angry; scared; warning something or someone to go away
Ears pinned flat to the skull: ready to attack
Ears relaxed to the side: they are fully relaxed; sleepy; in deep concentration
Ears twitching back and forth: nervous; worried; on the verge of panic


Nostrils flared: hard at work and require more oxygen; on alert; curious or meeting someone for the first time; fear; excitement
Nostrils pinched: angry or irritated; telling someone or something to leave them alone!


Muzzle relaxed or droopy: relaxed or half asleep
Muzzle tight: irritated; warning someone or something
Licking lips: submissive; hungry; relaxed and understanding


Nuzzling: affectionate; trying to bond with you or another horse; relaxed
A light nip: teasing or playing; a small warning to let you know they’re busy or not wanting to do it
Biting: saying that they’re the boss and proving their seniority; sending a warning that they may be ready to hurt; afraid
Biting in the air: scared or worried; warning that they might bite you


Eyes half closed: relaxed or half asleep; bright lights; may have hurt their eye
Showing the whites of the eyes: they’re afraid or startled; nervous

Kicks and pawing

Fake kicks: warning you to back off and that they need space
A full on kick: they feel threatened and are telling someone or something to leave; defensive; showing their seniority
Pawing at the ground: nervous; excited; impatient; stomach ache


Tail raised: excited or they’re in heat; something has caught their attention; showing off
Tail swishing violently: irritated or frustrated; sending a warning


Lowered head: relaxed or sleepy; content; or a sign of depression (if very low to the ground)
Raised head: on alert or something has their attention
Head outstretched: wanting to touch something without getting to close; warning that they are going to bite (if ears are pinned back as well)
Swinging the head: back off and go away; warning

All horses are different, however by understanding a few simple body language signs you will be able to communicate with your horse a lot better.

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