How science, intuition and bath time help you and you horse

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If you’ve been reading my posts on a regular basis than you already know that I am not only an advocate for the horse, but I am also a science nerd. I’m always reading studies and looking for interesting tidbits and new information that can help my horses stay healthy and happy.

I also like to pass these tidbits on to you, just in case you run into a situation where it could be helpful. Kind of like those ‘Cliff Notes’ books we all used to read in High School.

Well, here are some Cliff Notes I’ve written for you about how to “read” your horse’s body language.

Did you know that according to a scientific study on the basics of equine behavior…

1. When your horse changes his tail position it can show excitement, fear, playfulness, or irritation?

  • Excitement – tail is high
  • Fear, Pain or Submission – tail is low
  • Playfulness – tail is high over the back
  • Irritation – tail is swishing

2. When your horse moves his legs a certain way this can show frustration, a feeling of being threatened, or protesting?

  • Frustration – horse paws the ground
  • Mild Threat – one front leg is lifted slightly
  • A defensive Threat – one back leg is lifted and he is ready to run
  • Protesting – stamping or stomping his feet

3. That you can see submission, aggression, excitement and anger in your horse’s facial expressions?

  • Submission – snapping their mouth, chewing motion
  • Aggression – open mouth with teeth exposed
  • Excitement – flared nostrils
  • Angry or Scared – showing the whites of their eyes

4. When your horse changes the position of his ears it can show an alert mode, neutral mode, depressed, pain, attentiveness, or anger?

  • Neutral Mode – ears held loosely upward, openings facing forward or outward
  • Alert Mode – ears held stiff upward, openings both pointed directly forward
  • Depressed – ears flop out laterally, openings facing down
  • Pain – ears hang down loosely to the side
  • Attentiveness – ears angled backward (one or both) toward the rider
  • Angry – ears pinned flat back against the neck

Besides all those little tidbits, which are helpful to take note of whenever you are with your horse, always listen to your heart and your gut as well.

So, if you notice that your horse seems agitated, look at his body language and see what he does with those emotions. He might do some of the behaviors shown in this study, but he may also do a few others. You are the only one who really knows your horse and when he is comfortable in a situation or not.

Always trust your instincts with your horse as well. If you think your horse is being aggressive and you feel that, keep yourself safe. Leave the area and then look at his body language to verify what you are feeling from your horse.

Use both your knowledge from the scientific research I bring you and your knowledge of your horse through your experiences and observations. This will help you gain a better understanding of your horse’s body language and emotions.

I also want to mention here that many times the natural fear reactions that you may observe in your horse’s body language – fight, flight, or freeze – are due to trust issues that your horse has. These issues can be due to current problems or past fear memories. Either way, you can work on them with simple trust building techniques.

Your horse knows if you are afraid and if you don’t trust him. Your horse can sense your heartbeat and knows when it’s racing. That then makes your horse nervous and uneasy and things can spiral out of control from there. Staying calm and positive are more important to your horse than you might think.

There are lots of things that you can do with your horse that help build trust. And when I talk about building trust it is not just the trust that your horse has in you. It is also the trust that you have in your horse. Trust goes both ways and it needs to be built with the horse AND with the human.

Here’s one way of doing this…

We went over quite a few benefits of bathing your horse in an earlier post

But did you know that bathing your horse can also be a good trust building exercise?

As you learned from last week’s email, I recently started working with a new horse, Kit.

When Kit first started with me, 2 weeks ago, I knew nothing about him except his lineage and age. I still don’t know any of his history as far as training, likes, dislikes, personality quirks, etc.

So, we are learning as we go, as Kit doesn’t know me either.

We have been going through my online program together for 2 weeks and he has already started to trust me more since we have been working at liberty together.

However, yesterday I decided to give him a bath, for the first time, and use it as a trust building exercise too.

I had no idea if he liked water or not, if he was easy to halter or not, or even if he would ground tie. There were a lot of possibilities and outcomes to this exercise, especially as this would be the first time I used tack with him and the first time bathing him.

I’ve put down below a little clip of how the bath time went for us. Watch the interaction between us and watch how the trust grew from just this one exercise together.

To add a little narrative to this clip:

  • Once I started using the water on Kit’s body, Kit touched my face and nuzzled in a bit for reassurance and I gave it to him. I was asking him to trust me.
  • Then I had to give him my trust when I bent down to wash his hooves and he reassured me by his posture.
  • He even ground tied beautifully for me, showing me that he trusted me to stand there while I washed him, without wanting to move away.
  • Then after it was all done, he showed me that we had become more bonded and that he trusted me more, because he wanted to stay close and he followed me around for a while.
  • Then once I left the pasture, he quickly went back to being a stallion again.

 

 

Please let me know in the comments section below the video the kind of things you do to earn your horse’s trust.

Happy horses.

Please Share


  • I stand and rub, wherever seems most appreciated.

  • Mainly I spend time, grooming, chatting, scratching

    • With all your posts, I can see that you are so considerate around horses. Your horses are very lucky to have someone like you take care of them.

  • Melanie Bennett says:

    Bailey and l lost confidence in each other 5 months ago to the extent that l don’t ride him anymore. But in some ways not riding has taken pressure off both of us. Now we go for walks, people take dogs l take bailey. Now l have time to watch him and his reactions to things about him. When he needs reassurance he turns his head and looks at him,touches me. Ground work is showing me a pony who worries alot about everything but is willing to try so long as l hold his hand and give him time to think.
    He’s also taught me to slow down and take notice of the little things.
    Theres nothing more powerful than a horse resting his head on your chest asking give me a hug.
    I love you posts and thoughts thank you

    • That is fabulous Melanie! Not riding and taking the time to just be with each other has taken your relationship and connection to new heights. You and Bailey are becoming a tight nit herd. I love how you two are slowing down and taking notice of the little things with each other. Hugs are definitely the greatest! <3 Thank you for your comments.

  • I can relate to one of the comments below. I have lost confidence in my horse to or should I say we have lost confidence in each other. I have changed his feed etc but he still scares me most days. The words being used by a few people around our farm are “He’s full of himself”. I’ve stopped riding to I’m to afraid to get on. Some days I’m to afraid to go to the paddock. He is just not with me very anxious and doesn’t want to leave his paddock mates. Scary. I’m doing a clinic in a couple of weeks on liberty training just fence sitting plus I’m getting a chiropractor out to check he’s not in any pain. Back to basics for me and trying to overcome my fear. I don’t want to give up on him. Plus it’s spring time here in Aussie so silly season. 😢

    • Diane, I am so sorry to hear that. But it sounds like there is just a disconnect between the two of you and you just need to learn how to re-connect and communicate better with each other. Starting back at basics is a good idea. You may want to check out my Beginning the Connection program that can help you start over.

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