his body posture tense from nose to tail. If his ears are flat
back, he’s showing aggression or anger.
The horse relates to human body language in the same way he
relates to other horses. Horses are so tuned in to postures that
they respond easily to your body movements.
Because of this, I want to use my body to communicate.
There are times that I want to display a dominant or even aggressive stance with
a horse. While I don’t have to touch the horse at all, I might stand up straight,
march and look straight at a horse that is being pushy or aggressive toward me in
a round pen setting.
There are other times I want to show a low-pressure stance to a horse, like
when trying to catch a skittish horse. In that case, I might round my shoulders,
turn my shoulders away, lower my eyes and look away. I will even drag my toes in
a slow walk.
Just as the horse is constantly using and noticing these postures, we need to
pay attention to them, too.
JULIE GOODNIGHT shares her lessons on her RFD-TV show, Horse Master (also online at
tv.juliegoodnight.com), and through clinics and expos. HEIDI MELOCCO ( www.whole-picture.com)
is a lifelong horsewoman, equine journalist, and photographer.
You’ll see the horse that’s being
rebuked drop his head, promising
he’ll stop or move away.
If you’re working a horse in a round
pen, notice when the horse drops his
head. You want to see the head-down
posture, which means he is willing to
follow your leadership.
If I’m riding a horse and his head
moves up, I know that he may not be
sure of what I’m asking. If that happens, I need to make my cues clearer
and help him understand what I need
him to do.
There are exceptions to every rule.
Usually, if a horse lowers his head,
that’s a sign of submission. However,
snaking is a communicative behavior that is aggressive and includes a
POSTURE 2: Tail Position
Horses can also show their emotional status by the position of their
tails. Like the elevation of the head,
elevation of the tail generally indicates
tension; a lowered and relaxed tail
indicates a relaxed horse.
If you see a horse’s tail that is
down but stiff, with the bottom of
the tail pointing out away from the
body, that’s a sign that the horse isn’t
sure how he feels. Your actions won’t
change because of this posture, but
it’s important to acknowledge that
the horse is in an emotional transition. He isn’t sure of his status and
may need some time to process.
You may see this tail position
in the round pen or when riding a
young horse that still isn’t sure what
to do under saddle.
POSTURE 3: Ears
The ears tell us the focus of the horse,
and the ear position may correlate to
other postures. The position of the ears
can tell whether he’s focused ahead or
behind or in two different directions.
If a horse is subordinate, his ears
out to the side and relaxed. As the
ears move back and tense, you’ll see
When trying to
catch a skittish
horse, turn away
and round your
shoulders in a low-pressure stance.