Body Language of Stressed Horses

 

  
Horses undergoing mild stress will show this through their behaviour and facial expressions.  Some of the facial signs a mildly stressed horse might show include:

The Ears

Depending on the degree of stress, the horse's ears can give us some degree of information about the horses mental state.  

The diagram below shows a variety of ear expressions, but the one we might expect to see in a stressed horse is the partially turned sideways ears indicating slight concern.  Ears that constantly flicker between intense interest and slight concern also indicate that all is not well in that particular circumstance.

Expressions of the ears

Expressions of the ears
 

The Eyes

Many people describe the eyes as the mirror of the soul, and this can certainly be said of horses, whose eyes are incredibly expressive.

In the picture below you can see the various eye expressions a horse can offer:

Expressions of the eyes

Expressions of the eyes

The one most likely to be seen in the stressed horse is second from the left, titled concerned.  Basically the horse wrinkles its brow in much the same way we do when we are worried, only in the horse the wrinkles appear on the top of the eyes.

The Nose and Mouth

The main messages to be gained from reading nostril and mouth activity are whether the horse is content, surprised or irritated/stressed.  Look at the diagrams below for more information on the various expressions seen.

Expressions of the nose

Expressions of the nose

Expressions of the mouth

Expressions of the mouth

 

When all the facial areas are looked at holistically it is quite easy to recognise the stressed horse.

The eyes are partially closed with wrinkles above them, the nose and mouth are tense and wrinkled, and the ears vary between submission and alertness (depending on the cause of the stress).

Picture of a stressed horse

This horse is stressed by what is going on beside him
 


Summary

 

 

TAFE NSW Commission January 2002  Version - 1.0 (of this page)

Last saved by 03/06/2004