Horse’s Language

Hi!  It’s Dakino and I am going to talk about horse’s body language.

Understanding a horse’s body and vocal language is very important.  Not understanding it can put you and your horse in danger!

Body Language:

Here are a few indicators to help you read the eyes:

  • Whites visible (except in appaloosas)- Anxious, angry.
  • Half closed – Tired, relaxed, sleeping.
  • Wrinkled – Worried.
  • Blinking – Processing information, thinking.
  • Soft eye – Gentle, relaxed, learning mode.
  • Hard eye – Tense, resistant.

A horse’s ears are key pointers to where the horse’s attention is at.
Pricked ears often mean that it’s listening

  • Turned back – Focused on something behind
  • Pointing forward – Attentive, curious.
  • Rigid pointing – Fear, uncertainty.
  • Droopy – Tired, sleepy, bored.
  • Pinned back – Threatening, aggressive, angry, warning.
  • Pointing in different directions – Focused on two things at once.
  • Rotating – Lots going on, curious, nervous, indecisive.
  • Airplane ears (drooped out to side) – Depressed, drugged, unwell, sleeping.
  • Neutral – Normal.

Muzzle, Lips and Nostrils

  • Tight/hard lips – Anxious, tense.
  • Wrinkled muzzle – Nervous, worried.
  • Licking/Chewing – Stress release, digesting ideas, acknowledgement
  • Drooping lip – Relaxed, bored,sleeping
  • Swishing/Mobile Muzzle – Curious, extroverted.
  • Flared nostrils – Nervous, excited, alert, working.
  • Relaxed nostrils, soft muzzle – Neutral, relaxed.
  • Flapping lower lip – Unfocused, sensitive, nervous.
  • Open mouth, mouthing – Often seen in foals. “I’m a baby- don’t hurt me”.

Head and Neck Set

  • Low -Accepting, relaxed.
  • High – Fear, anxiety, defiance.
  • Level – Neutral, Focused.


  • Swishing – Annoyed, irritated, flies.
  • Flagged – Excited, happy, playful, alarmed (often seen in Arabians and foals).
  • High/Raised – Attentive, excited, happy.
  • Low – Submissive.
  • Neutral/level – Focused, normal.
  • Clamped down – Fearful.


  • Pawing – Frustrated.
  • Standing square – Attentive.
  • Hind hoof resting – Relaxed.
  • Hind leg lifted – Warning, defensive.
  • Stamping- Flies, mild irritation.
  • Striking – Angry, threatening, fighting.
  • Dancing around – Nervous, excited, frightened.

Vocal Language:


A neigh is a high sound with a “vibrato” to it. A neigh could mean a lot of things. (also called Whinny)

A neigh could vary from a happy greeting to a demanding-”Where is my grain!” Often horses neigh when feeding time comes around.


A nicker is a low sound that sounds like a muffled neigh. How I like to describe it: it is between a neigh and snort.

A nicker is friendly greeting-normally to a being they know.


A snort is puffing air through their noses to create vibrating which creates a sound.

Snorts-most of the time-happen when horses don’t like something. But it doesn’t mean they are unhappy. Like for instance, maybe they are snorting because you are taking them out of their stall at a different time.


A squeal is a high-pitched scream like noise. It sounds like a Neigh without happiness.

A squeal is normally accompanied by rolling eyes or seeing the whites of their eyes. When a horse squeals, it means it is frightened by something or really doesn’t like something. A horse may squeal when a horse comes by and nips them on their barrel.


A grunt is a noise that is distinctive

A grunt may mean a horse just finished a hard workout. Or it may mean that they have a discomfort or have an illness. It depends what it is accompanied with.


3 thoughts on “Horse’s Language

  1. Interesting. Having raised horses I am familiar with most of these, and they sort of become natural to understand over time, but I never thought to actually map it out. It is very interesting to see it written out! Thanks!

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