Recognising your horse’s mood is extremely important for both its wellbeing and your safety. Unlike with dogs and cats, it can be difficult to know when horses are genuinely happy.
They cannot wag their tail or purr with pleasure when they see you – but that doesn’t mean they aren’t giving you signals to let you know how they are feeling.
Just like any other animal, your horse uses certain body language and sounds to express their emotions. It’s important that you understand them.
In terms of body language, it is easy to see when your horse is anxious or angry. However, the signs of happiness aren’t always so easy to spot.
The first thing you need to realise is that you are considered part of the herd. More importantly, your horse looks to you as the herd leader. They respond to your actions. If you are calm and relaxed while you are handling them, they will also respond in a calm, relaxed manner.
Good signs that your horse feels comfortable and is happy around you is if they lick or chew you. Chewing can be seen as a negative behaviour but what it really means is that they are submitting to you as the leader.
Biting on the other hand is an entirely different issue and there is a fine line between nibbling and biting which you need to learn to distinguish.
Other physical signs they will show if they are happy in your presence include a lowered head, relaxed jaw and soft eyes. Yawning also indicates they are relaxed in your company.
Consider how your horse reacts around you and how they react around the vet for example. Vets can be unnerving for any animal and they react in negative and often fearful ways.
To get a better understanding of your horse’s body language, study them closely. See how they react when you give them horse feeds or a treat. What noises do they make and what does their body language look like?
Then see how they react when they are fearful of something. You will soon start to understand when they are happy and when there is something wrong.
As well as body language, there are a few sounds you can listen for to determine whether or not your horse is happy.
Snorting is often a frightened signal but one sound you might not be overly familiar with is the ‘nicker’. This is a softer version of the common “neigh” that horses are better known for.
A nicker is a greeting and you’ll hear it when you go into the barn or stable first thing in a morning as a sign that the horse is happy to see you.
Now you know how to recognise the signs of a happy horse, next the thing you need to work out is how to make them happy!