BY JULIE GOODNIGHT
WITH HEIDI NYLAND MELOCCO
Horses respond to movements—both in their environment and from other horses. When horses cue one another to move, they pay close attention to gestures—body move- ments that provide communication. You will often see horses gesture to get attention; threaten other horses
to push them away; toss their heads in defiance; or stomp the
ground when they are mad.
Before kicking or biting, a horse will often gesture his intent with a warning:
either a kick threat or showing his teeth.
When you understand the moves your horse makes and create meaningful
gestures of your own, you’ll have effective communication. Here are three
common ways your horse is gesturing to other horses or to you, and how you
can use this knowledge to speak your horse’s language.
GESTURE 1: Pawing
You know the scene. You tie your horse up outside the barn for a nice grooming session before your ride. While you’re brushing him, he stands quietly.
Knowing the movements
horses use to signal
their intents can
help you speak
As soon as you walk away and get
busy in the tack room, however, he
starts pawing the ground. He may
also paw when he wants to be fed.
What does this gesture say? Pawing
says, “I am frustrated and I wish I
were moving!” In the case of your
grooming session, it’s more likely to
mean, “I’m bored when you leave
me alone; come back and pay more
attention to me!”
What should you do? If you return
to your horse and pay attention to
him every time he paws, you reward
the behavior. Even if you scold him
when you come back to him, he is still
rewarded because he got you to come
back to him. In this scenario, the best
thing to do is ignore your horse and
only return when he isn’t pawing.
Snaking is an
involving a lowered
neck with the head
moving side to
side like a snake.
Horses use it to
drive others away.