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Recognize the Signs: Is Your Horse as Happy as It Should Be?

Happy Horse
Ears Forward and an Alert Gaze: Some of the Best Signs That Your Horse Is Happy and Well. Photo: Archive.

As a horse owner, it's natural for you to be concerned about your horse's well-being. Is your horse happy? Is it stressed? And how can you tell if it's thriving? While these questions may belong in the realm of anthropomorphism (attributing human feelings to animals), it's still a relevant topic to delve into. Research shows that a horse’s mood significantly impacts its performance. So, join us as we explore how to read your horse’s body language and mood.

Numerous articles have been written about various aspects of horse behavior and how we humans interpret it. Even though a horse can't be sly, foolish, or calculating, it's still easy to see if a horse is willing to work, attentive to your signals, and its surroundings. If not, then you might need to dig a little deeper to find out what's going on. Horses are incredibly resilient and endure many things that we, as riders, consciously or unconsciously subject them to.

Read also: Time for manure tests: Egg counts are not enough

The best way to keep your horse happy is by learning to read its body language. Unfortunately, horses can't speak and tell you they've had a bad day, nor can they tell you they enjoy being scratched behind their left ear. Horses communicate through behavior and body signs. Once you learn to read these, you can quickly decipher the horse’s mood and reduce any potential frustrations or anxiety.



Let’s find out how a happy horse behaves.

Signs of Relaxation

Typically, a relaxed horse will show contentment in its surroundings. Your horse is happy when its nostrils are relaxed. Horses that are unhappy often have tense nostrils that appear very thin. Also, watch for a drooping lower lip, a resting hind leg, closed eyes, sighing, and a lowered head. Your horse will normally display a few of these signs when it doesn’t feel threatened or stressed. It might relax if there isn’t much traffic in the stable aisle, or when it stands in its stall munching hay. This largely depends on the horse. But once you know what triggers relaxation in your particular horse, it’s easier for you to create a stress-free environment around it.

Signs That Your Horse is Focused

When your horse is actively attentive to you, it’s likely happy. A distracted horse is usually worried or stressed. A content horse is interested in what you are doing and may even try to participate. A focused horse will direct its ears towards you, engage in the activity, and you can maintain its attention. A focused horse is usually relaxed as well. It responds calmly and patiently to your cues. Horses that see ‘ghosts’ in the corner of the riding arena or jump sideways at a plastic bag on the road are experiencing negative emotions. You can help your horse focus on you by asking for its attention. Give it something to think about that diverts its focus from the scary object, like a treat, lifting a leg, or getting it to look the other way.

Signs of Social Well-being

Observing your horse in its pasture environment can tell you a lot about how it feels. Look for a few things: Is it lying down and resting, nuzzling with other horses, playing, or grazing continuously? If so, it's thriving socially. Generally, a happy horse will engage in all these activities at some point during a day in the pasture. If your horse doesn’t seem to be itself, it might be a sign that it’s not happy. If it’s constantly stressed and on alert for predators, has a stressed stomach, then you should be aware.

Signs of Well-being in the Stable

A horse that thrives in the stall and stable is curious when you visit. Signs that a horse is not thriving in its box include passive behavior where it does not react to sounds or changes, its neck lowered slightly below horizontal, or if it develops stereotypical behaviors such as cribbing or weaving.

Read also: Trainer of Young Horses: Training Should Never Be an Assault


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