Welcome to Castlebrook Barns - Affordable Luxury

Understanding Your Horses’ Body Language

Most people only see horses alone in a stable, rarely in a field with other horses or animals. For this reason, it is very easy for some to see them as solitary animals. But as horse lovers, we know this is not the case. As with humans, horses are social animals that need contact with others to maintain their well being.

Ever wonder what your horse body language is and what it means? Finding the answers may be easier than you think! Horses may not be able to speak to us, but they can tell us how they feel through body language. Horse communication functions through a system involving both body language and vocalizations. Although horses use these techniques to communicate with other horses, they also communicate with other animals and with their humans. As horses often use nonverbal communication, we need to be able to interpret the meanings of their signals. Sometimes obvious, sometimes subtle, horses use their bodies to communicate with us and to communicate with other horses.  

Horse Communication Methods

After spending any amount of time around a horse, you will begin to realize that horses communicate both through vocal cues and body language. Given that it’s now well established that vocalizing is a rich communication method for horses, humans that interact with them could benefit from better understanding what they are trying to “say” with each call. Oftentimes, vocal cues are used more frequently in communicating with other horses. While an understanding of your horse’s vocal cues can provide you with insight into their mind, body language is often a better way to gauge what they are thinking or feeling.

Having good communication through body language with your horse can lead to a stronger relationship, heightened safety, better training and improved performance. Additionally, when scientists keep horse-human body language in mind, it can also improve their research results.

How Horses Communicate With Humans

Effective communication is key to any successful horse-human relationship. This is especially true when you are training your horse to show, ride, or to interact with regularly. Without proper means of communication, you may find yourself in an unpredictable and potentially unsafe situation.

Horses are highly intuitive and pick up on the moods of their humans through voice and expression, similar to the way that a dog would communicate with its owner. A recent study has shown that horses will recognize you when they hear your voice, and if they are outdoors they will come when you call them, especially if they are used to getting a treat.

Horses respond more positively to people they have previously seen smiling, and are wary of those who are scowling and unpleasant. They appear to become quite attached to their owners and can show anxiety when their owner is not around.

How Horses Communicate With Other Horses

When it comes to how a horse communicates with other horses, you will find that they rely more heavily on their eyes and ears; however, vocal cues are also used frequently between horses to greet each other, warn of danger or communicate other messages. 

Especially in the wild, horses also rely on body language to communicate amongst themselves. This can be especially fascinating to watch, even if just among tame horses.

What is Your Horse’s Body Parts Trying to Tell You?

So, now that we know that body language is one of the primary ways that your horse tries to communicate with you, how do you know what they are trying to tell you? In many ways, a horse’s body language is similar to that of humans, making it easy to understand. Here are a few of the most common signs and what they may mean.


A Lowered head:

  • I am relaxed
  • I am sleepy
  • I am content
  • I give in
  • Very low to the ground…I am depressed

A Raised Head:

  • I am alert
  • Something has my attention

Swinging the Head with Pinned Ears:

  • Back off
  • Go away
  • I’m warning you
  • Teeth may follow

Ears Back

One of the first lessons a novice rider is taught is that when a horse’s ears are forward he is alert, paying attention and/or interested in what’s in front of him, and when his ears are pinned back close to the neck, he is angry and about to bite or kick. But their ears have more to say than just that:

Ears Forward:

  • I am looking ahead in my direction of travel
  • I am focused on something
  • I am saying hi
  • I am interested
  • I am curious
  • Something has my attention
  • I am on alert

One Ear Cocked Back:

  • I am paying attention to something behind me
  • I am aware of something to the side of me
  • I am paying attention to my rider
  • I am aware of things in both directions
  • I am thinking

Both Ears Cocked Back:

  • I am paying attention to something behind me
  • I am listening to my rider
  • A polite way of standing next to or behind other horses.
  • I am curious

Ears Pinned Back:

  • Go away!
  • I am angry
  • I am scared

Ears Pinned Flat to the Skull:

  • I am going to attack

Other Ear Signals

Ears Relaxed to the Side:

  • I am relaxed
  • I am contented or sleepy
  • I am concentrating deeply
  • I am listening for your next command
  • When flopping while walking…I am thinking

Ears Twitching Quickly Back and Forth:

  • I am nervous
  • I am worried
  • “How can I get away?”
  • I am on the verge of panic


Usually a horse will have their nostrils relaxed, and they will flare their nostrils when they are hard at work and using a lot of oxygen.  When they flare their nostrils while at rest, it means something altogether different.

Nostrils flared and wide open:

  • I am on alert
  • “What is that?”
  • We meet for the first time
  • What do you have?
  • Curiosity
  • Fear
  • Worry
  • Excitement

Nostrils pinched:

  • I am angry
  • I am irritated
  • Watch out
  • Don’t do it!
  • Leave me alone


Horses are surprisingly expressive with their mouths. Not only do they use their sensitive muzzles to investigate things, they also do a lot of communicating with their mouths.

Muzzle relaxed or droopy:

  • I am relaxed
  • I am falling asleep

Muzzle tight:

  • I am irritated with you
  • Warning

Licking Lips:

  • I understand something
  • I am letting go of tension
  • I am starting to relax into the idea
  • I am hungry


The look in a horse’s eye is a very good indicator of his mood. It will also help you to interpret other body signals. Generally speaking a horse will have a bright open eye.

Eye(s) half closed:

  • I am relaxed
  • I am falling asleep
  • The light is bothering my eyes
  • My eye is hurt

Showing the whites of the eyes:

  • I am afraid
  • I am startled
  • I am very nervous

Angry eye:

  • Watch out
  • I am angry
  • You’re in trouble now!


Pawing the Ground:

  • I am nervous
  • I am excited
  • I am impatient
  • I want out
  • I have a belly ache


Horses use their heads and their tails to send signals to one another. These are two signals that can easily be seen from long distances.

Tail raised:

  • I am excited
  • I am in Heat
  • I am showing off
  • Something has caught my attention

Tail swishing violently (not the shoo-fly tail)

  • I am irritated
  • I am frustrated
  • I might kick next
  • I am warning you

The Whole Body

As you can guess, horses have a lot to say with the way they position their bodies as well.

Turning their back:

  • I am ignoring you
  • I don’t want to engage with you
  • I am depressed

A Tense body:

  • I am on alert
  • I am frightened
  • I am excited
  • I am worried

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 some good introduction as to the most common horse body language behaviors.

The Castlebrook Difference

Castlebrook’s barns have a warm, inviting look that adds to the beauty and value of your property. All Castlebrook barns, round pens and round pen covers and designed and manufactured on site at Castlebrook’s facility. That is why we can provide you almost limitless choice of sizes and styles. Castlebrook can manufacture a barn, round pen and cover to suit your exact needs.

Castlebrook never misses a ship date. We are so confident in our on-time guarantee that we are willing to guarantee it — in writing! Castlebrook understands how important it is for your project to go as smoothly as possible. This begins with your structure shipping on the date we’ve promised. Castlebrook knows of absolutely no other barn company offering this guarantee. Where other companies disappoint, Castlebrook guarantees to be on time, every time!

Please contact our professional team today at 1-800-52-BARNS. We gladly accommodate Saturday appointments!