Your horse can tell you a lot about how happy they are from their body language. This horse health blog shares six signs indicating your horses are happy. Being aware of equine body language and taking note of the entire body can help you determine if your horse is in good physical health and content. How to tell if your horse is happy:
Horses have some of the biggest eyes of all land mammals, and the side position of your horses’ eyes means they have an excellent range of vision. Combined with other indicators, a happy horse will have a ‘soft eye’ expression. An unhappy horse, stressed horse or horse in pain might demonstrate a wrinkled upper eyelid or have tightness around the corner of the eye. If your horse doesn’t naturally show the whites of his eyes, this could also indicate stress and anxiety.
Your horse’s lips are a good indicator of how they are feeling. If your horse feels tense, their lips will be tight and drawn in this area. However, if they feel relaxed, you will notice that their lip line curls down slightly in a relaxed, soft manner. Your horse may curl their upper lip (Flehmen Response) or flap their lips when encountering a new smell or after eating a different food, treat or something unpleasant such as an oral wormer. If you observe your horse making strange lip movements as a new behavioural pattern, they may have dental issues or a foreign object lodged in their mouth.
Your horse’s lower jaw is an excellent indicator of whether your horse is feeling happy and relaxed. Just like humans, horses can clench their jaws when anxious, tense, or uncomfortable. Your horse’s lower jaw should be loose when they are a happy horse. His lower mouth may even hang down, and you might also see him dribbling! Optimum horse health takes into consideration multiple signals and equine body understanding.
When relaxed, your horse’s tail will be loose and swing freely when moving. Some horses naturally hold more tension in their tail than others when you touch their tail, so observe from a distance. If your horse is unusually swishing his tail combined with other tension indicators, it could be that your horse is in discomfort or irritated by something else, such as insect bother, as seen in the summer months. A horse in pain might present a swishing tail combined with restlessness, pawing the ground and looking at their tummy; it could indicate colic concerns, so call your vet. Any sign of stress should never be ignored.
Horses can rotate their ears up to 180 degrees and use them for communication and listening. Horses can also hear noises up to 4KM away! Highly stressed horses often have forward-pointing ears combined with a raised tail, stiff body, open eyes and widened nostrils. Horses may put their ears back if they are listening to rider aids or something behind them, but they may also put their ears flat back if they are unhappy about something or reacting to another horse. If your horse pins their ears back when you are touching their body in a particular area, it could indicate discomfort and should be investigated.
Tense nostrils and rapid or heavy breathing can indicate that your horse is unwell or distressed. Combined with other physical indications, action should be taken to determine what the problem may be. Generally, a happy horse will demonstrate round and open nostrils, but if this changes in your horse, you should investigate the issue further. Irregular or deep breaths can result from different types of respiratory diseases, which can also affect your horse’s breathing, including seasonal ailments.
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This article does not constitute the advice of your vet. Any concerns over your horses’ health or well-being should be addressed by a qualified horse health professional.
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