Interpreting horse behavior - The Horse Forum
  • 19 Post By tinyliny
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  • 3 Post By lilruffian
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post #1 of 10 Old 09-06-2017, 04:48 PM Thread Starter
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Interpreting horse behavior

Hi everyone,

I'm not exactly new to horses but this seemed the most appropriate forum.

I help out at a horse rescue (please, let's not get into a discussion of whether such are good or evil).

One of the horses there is a bit of a pill but he and I get along pretty well. I generally will take 5-10 minutes after everyone is fed and chores are complete to brush him down mainly because both of us enjoy it and it seems to improve his behavior a bit while I'm cleaning the barn.

He has this behavior that I can't interpret. I know he enjoys the grooming, I can see his lower lip tremble, he stands stock still for it (which he wouldn't if he didn't like it). After I'm done he will sometimes turn his head towards me and not quite snap at me but make a sort of biting gesture. He never bites me, he doesn't get his teeth anywhere near me. Just sort of makes a quick bite at the air in my general direction.

I don't know whether he's telling me.. "ok, grooming is over, get lost", or if this is some sort of remnant of return grooming, or what.

I know it's next to impossible to try and interpret this from your desk in front of the computer, but perhaps some of you have seen it before and can clue me in.

It's not a big deal, as I said him and I get along fine but I'd like to understand what's he telling me with this.

Thanks in advance,
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post #2 of 10 Old 09-06-2017, 05:02 PM
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My guess is he is saying, "Dont' stop!"

horses mutually groom each other, and , usually, as long as one keeps moving his teeth on the other's wither area, the other will keep going. So, sometimes when one thinks it's time to stop, the other will keep grooming the other, even going faster or harder, to get his partner to put his teeth back on the itchy spot and get back to scratching.
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post #3 of 10 Old 09-06-2017, 06:09 PM
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I agree with tinylily :) It sounds like a natural mutual grooming response. It means he likes where you're scratching and is trying to 'return the favor' - but don't let him. It's very easy for them to become entirely too rough without meaning to.

* I'm often reading and posting from mobile and Siri loves to make a mockery of the English language.
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post #4 of 10 Old 09-06-2017, 09:45 PM
Green Broke
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Agreed, this sounds like typical mutual-grooming behavior. Nothing bad, but you still don't want him grooming you with his teeth no matter how innocent it is lol so I would just keep an eye on him and if he gets too close, just push him away ;)
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post #5 of 10 Old 09-06-2017, 10:43 PM
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Yep, horses that have been taught they shouldn't groom humans like other horses will sometimes still make the same mutual grooming gestures in the air. I've had horses that would snap their teeth loudly or flap their lips when I scratched a good spot, and it's sort of like them saying they'd groom you too if they could, but they know they can't.
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post #6 of 10 Old 09-07-2017, 01:01 AM
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I love it when they show me how much they are enjoying my scratching them. It's something important, because other than feeding them, there isn't all that much we can do that they really care about. if a horse appreciates being scratched in certain places, and you've got the 'golden touch', you've got a great advantage
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post #7 of 10 Old 09-07-2017, 07:50 AM
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Standing stock still for grooming is not necessarily a sign that a horse likes this activity – although most do. The horse may have been taught that he will be severely punished if he dares to move. One way to help determine the horse’s opinion of grooming is to groom the horse in an environment where it is free to move away if it wants to do so.

The “biting gesture” may also be understood in different ways depending on the context and the individual horse. The fact that this happens only after grooming may be a sign saying, “I wish I could have bitten you,” or it may be saying, “Please don’t stop.” How this “biting gesture” is given can help determine the meaning.

Watching how this horse reacts to others in similar situations may help determine the meaning of his attempts at communication.
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post #8 of 10 Old 09-07-2017, 03:42 PM
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I am down to two horses --- one is a bully so they have to stay separated.

The gentle fella used to love to mutual groom with my Arab, whom I laid to rest when he was 29.

The gentle fella will often try to engage in mutual grooming, over the fence, with the bully ------ the bully pins his ears and bares his teeth in not-so-kind reply.

Sooooo the gentle horse does his best to gently engage in mutual grooming with me during brushing and after I work on his hooves. I have to sit on a stool and put his front leg across my legs to clean his hooves. When I'm done, I give his legs a quick rub and he reciprocates by gently "lipping" my hair.

It's something he does all the time because he doesn't have anyone else anymore.

I say, as long as the horse's teeth don't click together, he is thanking you and probably wishing for another horse to groom with:)
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post #9 of 10 Old 09-07-2017, 05:23 PM
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those of us who really know our horses can sometime trust them to 'lip' us and not get carried away and bite. But, it's something you only do if you really know the horse and that he knows the rules.

I love exploring the horse's body to find the spots that really get to them. You experiment with different locations and watch the expression on their faces for the reaction that say, "There! right there's the spot!"

My gelding loves to be scratched on his belly line. my friend's mare loves to be scratched under her jaw. some horses love it where the girth would go. Mares usually LOVE to be scratched between their teats, especially if there is dirt of wax buildup to be removed (wear gloves if you are of the squeamish persuasion) . my gelding loves to be scratched on the back of his sheath. Ok, some say, 'Eeuuw! that's disgusting!" . It's just scratching him, that's all. If I cared about getting my hands dirty, I would never be around horses.
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post #10 of 10 Old 09-11-2017, 12:45 AM Thread Starter
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Ok quick update on this it does seem to be a return grooming response.

It was confusing because he does the same action in other circumstances to indicate annoyance, usually with how slow the lunch service is...

Thanks for the responses. I always learn a lot on here.

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