How do you know if your horse is happy? Here equine behaviour expert Dr Debbie Marsden explains the 13 signs you can look out for to check how your horse is feeling.
How to read your horse’s body language
1. His nostrils
Your horse’s nostrils should be relaxed, soft and round. If he’s unhappy, they’ll become tight, thin and drawn.
2. His lip line
Your horse’s lip line should curl down slightly in a relaxed, soft manner. If he’s feeling tense, he’ll be tight and drawn in this area.
3. His lower jaw
Your horse’s lower jaw should be loose when he’s feeling happy. His lower mouth may hang down and you might also see him dribbling.
4. His tail
Your horse’s tail will be fairly loose and swinging freely and evenly when he moves. In the absence of any injuries that affect where his tail hangs, it should be straight.
5. His ears
Your horse’s ears are generally not something you should determine happiness from as he’ll normally point them in the direction of where he’s feeling tense. If they’re pointing forward or back, he’s probably concentrating on something in that direction
How to read your horse’s behaviour in his field
6. Rearing and pawing
It may look as though your horse is fighting, but rearing up with his front legs at another horse or pawing the ground are often signs he’s enjoying himself. Horses generally won’t play with each other unless they’re happy. If he’s galloping along the fence line, this may well be an indication he’s stressed and unhappy.
7. Looking relaxed
Your horse should look physically relaxed while grazing and alert to his environment.
8. Mutual grooming
Mutual grooming in the field is also a sign your horse is relaxed, healthy and bonding with another horse.
How to read your horse’s behaviour in his stable
9. Regular droppings
Your horse’s droppings should be regular and of a normal amount. When horses are stressed, they may not defecate, which is an indication he’s not happy.
10. Sharing a haynet
If your horse shares a haynet with a stable mate while they’re tied up in the yard, it’s a sign he’s happy.
11. A smooth bed
Your horse’s bedding should remain largely in place, as happy horses aren’t restless in their stable. A stressed horse may pace around.
12. Stable vices
Stable vices, such as crib-biting and box walking, are not something your horse will do only if he’s stressed – they also release endorphins that make him feel happy, so vice-like behaviour could be a sign he’s feeling excited.
How to read your horse’s behaviour when you ride
13. Breathing out
When your horse breathes out through his nostrils and makes a soft snorting sound, it’s a sign that your horse is relaxed in his diaphragm while he’s being ridden and feeling happy in himself.