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post #1 of 12 Old 04-26-2017, 07:58 PM Thread Starter
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Question newbie, questions about horse body language

I'm 100% completely new to horses until 2 weeks ago when I started lessons. I'm experienced with dogs, and train for a few dog sports... (I've ridden a couple trail horses, but nothing learned there) I've only taken 2 lessons so far with an awesome trainer, and it's super rewarding! I got comfortable with the posting trot, or whatever you'd like to call it, and sitting trot, just this 2nd lesson. It's surprisingly relaxing and rewarding, balancing up there.

Anyway, I know zero about horse body language, and the pictorials and links on google I've found so far are very confusing. My lesson horse is super calm and mellow, and doesn't care about anything, so she doesn't help me learn much haha.

What does it mean when a horse leans their noses at me and snorts in my face? LOL

What about pawing one hoof on the ground repeatedly, as I approach their stall? Their ears are back, but not extremely pinned back like in the pictures?

What does repeated low nickering mean, as I approach their stall?

Many of the horses I approach in their stalls kind of open their eyes wider and I can see the whites of their eyes, but their ears are forward. Is this frightened or curious?

The instructor tells me to approach a horse from the side. But they often turn their heads towards me anyway, and try to stick their noses in my face/hand. Should I let them do this...? Do they like being pet on the nose? Is it friendly? Do they like cuddles? I have no idea.

Answers would be great haha. Sorry if these are stupid questions, but I literally know zero about their body language, and I don't want to misinterpret something. I actually have a lot more questions about riding that I forgot to ask the instructor today too, but I'll wait before posting another thread.
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post #2 of 12 Old 04-26-2017, 08:47 PM
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There are no stupid questions! I'll just give you a general idea based on what you've said.

Pawing is a sign of excitement or frustration, or possibly a combination of both in this situations. Nickering typically means they are excited.

They're turning their heads toward you because they want to "check you out". They're smelling and getting to know you. As long as there is no ear pinning or anything like that they are just being curious. Do not let them shove into you or anything like that, but just putting their nose against your hand is nothing to worry about. I'd be wary of them pushing into my face though.

Here's a detailed article
How to Read Your Horse's Body Language - The Horse Owner's Resource
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Don't judge someone's horse or skill because they don't compete or work with a trainer.

Sometimes they're the most in tune with each other.
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post #3 of 12 Old 04-26-2017, 09:15 PM
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I'm just impressed you've observed so many different kinds of body language in such a short time! I think that you'll be figuring out their language really quickly!

While there are some fairly universal body language cues, some are really specific to the horse and/or the situation. I agree with BlindHorse that pawing is generally about frustration, but really, many signals can mean different things. Take nickering. It can be a sign of interest or curiosity. It is very often anticipation (like they see a person and figure they might be getting fed or getting out of their stalls), but it can also be a sign of distress, like when you separate a horse from its herd, or a special buddy (yes, horses form bonds with other specific horses). Some horses nicker all the time, like my gelding, who is just very vocal. Some almost never do.

Ears back can also mean a lot of things. My gelding does it to show annoyance. My mare does not - if she does it, it's generally submission to my gelding who is the boss.

Snorting is usually a sign of extreme curiosity and high alertness in my experience. My horse will do it on a trail if he spots a deer. It's like he's saying what the heck is that and why is it there, is it going to hurt me? It might be done in the context of a new person in the barn I suppose.

If a horse puts his head towards you, I'd resist the urge to pet just yet, especially not on the muzzle. But you can let them smell you, like you would with a dog (but not with an open palm, because they might think there's a treat in there). They're sniffing you. Trying to figure you out. In my experience, few horses really like to "cuddle". They're not like dogs at all. However, once you get to know them individually, and they get to know you, you can figure out what they like. My mare loves a scratch between the eyes. My gelding doesn't like to be touched on the face, but likes a good neck scratch. Usually, I scratch rather than pet them though. I will say that my gelding does tolerate me hugging his head. But he didn't always. I think that he understands that to me, it's a nice feeling to "hug" him, so he leans into me a little. He would never seek it out, but he "allows" me to do it, like it's a special privilege, LOL.

My mare was shy and anxious when she first came to us, but she was very curious. I spent a lot of time just hanging around her, and she eventually started coming over to smell me, then started letting me scratch her.

The bottom line is that while horses have their own body language, there isn't an exact equivalent for every "sign". Think of a dog barking. Some do it in aggression, some in excitement, some bark a lot, and some not at all. There's really no way to generalize. You just have to get to know them. After you've been around them for some time, you will develop a sense of what the horse is trying to tell you, and be able to respond. Keep observing! But don't push too hard. Remember, they are prey animals, unlike dogs.
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post #4 of 12 Old 04-26-2017, 09:26 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by redshepherd View Post
I'm 100% completely new to horses until 2 weeks ago when I started lessons. I'm experienced with dogs, and train for a few dog sports... (I've ridden a couple trail horses, but nothing learned there) I've only taken 2 lessons so far with an awesome trainer, and it's super rewarding! I got comfortable with the posting trot, or whatever you'd like to call it, and sitting trot, just this 2nd lesson. It's surprisingly relaxing and rewarding, balancing up there.

Anyway, I know zero about horse body language, and the pictorials and links on google I've found so far are very confusing. My lesson horse is super calm and mellow, and doesn't care about anything, so she doesn't help me learn much haha.

What does it mean when a horse leans their noses at me and snorts in my face? LOL

What about pawing one hoof on the ground repeatedly, as I approach their stall? Their ears are back, but not extremely pinned back like in the pictures?

horses paw to express impatience.the want something and they cannot get to it.

What does repeated low nickering mean, as I approach their stall? also a sign of " hurry up and give me . . . . . " usually when you bring them food, or they want out and know yoiu are about to do it.

Many of the horses I approach in their stalls kind of open their eyes wider and I can see the whites of their eyes, but their ears are forward. Is this frightened or curious?
horses cannot focus close up as well as we can. to see distance, they must raise their heads. to see close up, lower. the horse may be rolling his eye forwared to better focus. ears foirward are indicator of interest, in a nuetral or positive manner.
The instructor tells me to approach a horse from the side. But they often turn their heads towards me anyway, and try to stick their noses in my face/hand. Should I let them do this...? Do they like being pet on the nose? Is it friendly? Do they like cuddles? I have no idea. I don't know why he /she says to approach from the side. if a hosre is poised to flee, I may approach from the side, and do it without really looking them dead in the eye, but with a steady horse, I approach with my hand out to allow it to sniff me, then go around to its' side.

Horses don't usually like a lot of face cuddles, but are usually quite tolerant of it. if the horse sticks his nose too directly/forcefully on you, he may be pushing on you for a treat, which is bad manners. best to let him sniff your hand, make one or two nie pets down his nose and then leave the mouthing action out of the interaction between you and horse. it really depends on the horse. some are very polite about nosing , sniffing or even licking. but, if you aren't 100% sure, don't let horse lick or lip you, or push on you with his head.

Answers would be great haha. Sorry if these are stupid questions, but I literally know zero about their body language, and I don't want to misinterpret something. I actually have a lot more questions about riding that I forgot to ask the instructor today too, but I'll wait before posting another thread.

answers in blue
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post #5 of 12 Old 04-27-2017, 12:15 AM Thread Starter
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Thanks so much for the answers! Very helpful, including some stuff I haven't experienced yet! Good to know that for the most part, the horses were being friendly or curious. I'll keep this stuff in mind, and also I'll keep in mind not to pet them on the nose right away if they stick their nose towards me lol!
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post #6 of 12 Old 04-27-2017, 12:25 AM
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What does it mean when a horse leans their noses at me and snorts in my face? Feed me!

What about pawing one hoof on the ground repeatedly, as I approach their stall? Their ears are back, but not extremely pinned back like in the pictures? Feed Me!

What does repeated low nickering mean, as I approach their stall? Feed me!
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post #7 of 12 Old 04-27-2017, 04:27 AM
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Originally Posted by ApuetsoT View Post
What does it mean when a horse leans their noses at me and snorts in my face? Feed me!
I thought it was 'lets see how well covered I can make her...'
Quote:
What about pawing one hoof on the ground repeatedly, as I approach their stall? Their ears are back, but not extremely pinned back like in the pictures? Feed Me!

What does repeated low nickering mean, as I approach their stall? Feed me!
...&/or 'get me out of this box!!'
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post #8 of 12 Old 04-27-2017, 05:37 AM
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It is important to understand that all horses are not the same. Past history, as well as current emotions, may influence how a horse reacts to the behavior of a particular human being.

The body language of horses is much more nuanced than many might have you believe. Nickering, for example, is normally a sign of relaxation, although it may also indicate excitement. Pawing may also be a sign of excitement, though it might be a sign of warning on the part of the horse. Someone who knows the individual horse can often help you interpret the actions of that particular horse.

Even more experienced individuals should be cautious when approaching an unknown horse. Too much caution – fearfulness – may prove counterproductive, however, since the horse may itself become cautious or fearful as a result.

I, too, advise people to approach horses from the side. A rear approach may startle a horse and initiate a defensive action. An approach from the front may appear to the horse as a sign of aggression. Many school horses, however, have become accustomed to frontal approaches, especially when stalled. It is natural for a horse to turn to watch as you approach from the side. Think what you would do if someone approached you from the side.

Most people seem to want to initially touch a horse’s face. Consider this from the horse’s point of view. A horse’s eyes and ears are important to their defense mechanism, so they would naturally be defensive of these organs. An attempt at too much intimacy too quickly can be annoying or even irritating. If, however, a horse has become accustomed to gentle touching, the horse may be more accepting of such behavior. If a horse is accustomed to being hand fed treats, the horse may eagerly reach forward with its nose as someone approaches.

A snort helps clear a horse’s air passages. This will, subsequently, enhance the horse’s sense of smell. A snort may also indicate disgust with the same intent of clearing the air passages.

I hope you see from this how complex interpretation of a horse’s body language can be. With experience, you will should become better at figuring things out. Even so, you should remember that there are always exceptions to a general rule.

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post #9 of 12 Old 05-01-2017, 11:14 AM
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I agree with the pp it mostly has to do with wanting food!

OP my daughter has been riding for 2 years now and I am at the barn with her 3 times a week. Like you, I used to do a lot of dog training and I had a big learning curve trying to understand horse moods and reactions- I am naturally curious about it all too and have a lot to learn.

The lesson horses all turn their heads towards me as I approach because yes I am there a lot and often have treats. Horses that nip or get pushy obviously do not get treats- they have to be respectful. We are also usually at the barn around feeding time and there is all sorts of pawing, snorting, and wide eyes going on.

The other thing I've learned is each horse expresses themselves differently- some have very obvious moods while others it's a little more subtle and harder to figure them out.
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post #10 of 12 Old 05-01-2017, 01:24 PM
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You're supposed to approach a horse from the side because of their blind spots, they cant see directly in front, or behind them. Its fine to approach a horse from any direction as long as they see you, but you should still be careful coming up from behind just in case they decide to kick.

"Nothing is impossible, The word itself says, Im-Possible!" ~ Audrey Hepburn
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