Understanding The Body Language Of Horses


The post is developed in partnership with BetterHelp.

Horses are incredibly intelligent creatures, but that doesn’t mean they will learn to speak any human language anytime soon. Very few animals can understand human language beyond a few words, which has always been a struggle for humans. Without verbal communication, it can be difficult to interact with animals or understand their thoughts or feelings. 

However, we can still interpret the emotions and thoughts of our equine friends by deciphering their body language. Both humans and animals use body language to indicate their emotions and thoughts to others. In fact, body language can say so much more about a horse’s (or even a human’s) mindset that verbal communication cannot express. Therefore, it is crucial to understand the most common signs of body language your horse may exhibit so that you know exactly how they are feeling. Below are some of the most common behaviors of horse body language that you need to know about. 

Ears Back

Most people understand to back away from a horse if they pin his ears back. This is the ultimate sign that a horse is angry or aggressive, and he may be planning to bite or attack. If you are near a horse that is exhibiting this body language, you need to back off immediately! You don’t want to stick around and be attacked or in the crossfire. If your horse has his ears back, give him some space until he calms down. 

Ears Forward

Conversely, when a horse holds his ears forward, this is a sign that he is attentive or listening to something. This can mean that he is alert to their surroundings or are highly interested in something nearby. However, in some cases, holding his ears forward may indicate that the horse is scared. This is often accompanied by flared nostrils and other signs of nervousness or fear. 

Tail Swishing

Though tail swishing is most commonly observed when a horse is swatting away flies, the truth is that it can also indicate certain moods. For example, if a horse is swishing his tail fiercely, then chances are that he is frustrated or irritated about something. On the other hand, if the tail is up against his buttocks and hardly swishing, this can be a sign of fear or anxiety. 


Bucking is a more complex form of body language for horses. It has many meanings, so more context is needed to decipher your horse’s mood. For example, some horses will buck when running around as a sign of joy and playfulness. However, horses also buck when they are frightened or a bit anxious. This is most commonly witnessed when horses have riders for the first time. They may buck to try to get riders off because it is a new sensation to them. 


Pawing is another common behavior exhibited in horses that can have multiple meanings. In most cases, it is a sign of boredom, especially if they have been cooped up for too long and wish to go run. They may paw as a way to keep themselves stimulated or to get your attention so you can let them out for some exercise. 

It is also a sign of impatience, anxiety, or stress. Horses will paw the ground when hungry or when agitated about something in their environment. Once the stressor is gone or they have received their food, they stop pawing the ground. 

If the pawing is forceful and combined with pinned ears, then this is a sign that your horse is angry and ready to attack. You should back away from him immediately to avoid being bitten or attacked. 

Final Thoughts

Body language is the primary way we can connect with and understand animals. If you wish to bond more with your horses, you need to understand their most common behaviors and what they mean. Hopefully, this article gave you a good introduction to the most common horse body language behaviors to keep an eye out for. To learn more about the importance of body language for humans and animals, check out the resources at the link below: