Decoding Your Horse's Face
Have you ever noticed the little nuances in your horse's face? Your horse could be revealing important information about himself. These are the clues not always listened to.
"It came from out of no where!" "I just wish I knew what he was thinking" "She seemed ok with it and then exploded!"
If you have ever said or heard these things, keep reading...
This 18 hand shire is of the new herd I'm working with. He was an Amish working horse at one time. He seems to be a sweet boy, but unsure of some things, not fully trusting. These pictures were taken on the same day, the same session. I took them to demonstrate the visual clues that people sometimes miss or don't know how to interpret. I had haltered him and slowly asked him to move his feet a little to get his attention on me.
After I made these simple requests I noticed that his left nostril became drawn up and mouth tight. If you look closely in the side photos, the left side of the lips appeared shorter than the right and the bottom part of the lips higher on the left than the right. You can see the wrinkles in the lips tighter and firmer on the left.
This was my cue to wait.
Let him hear me breathe, but don't put too much pressure on by staring in his eye.
And eventually he let it go. He licked and chewed, sighed, even shook it off. His face became even again.
Even though I made a very simple, slow request, it still created some worry. We're starting at the beginning so he can have a new foundation to build on going forward. Developing the skill the "letting down" is important for the horse and often missed. Although in the beginning you will wait as long as it takes, eventually your horse will get better at it and letting down will be easy.
What does this have anything to do with riding and why is it important? When your horse is "letting down", he is moving from the sympathetic (fight or flight) to parasympathetic nervous system. When he is in the parasympathetic nervous system (same as if he were grazing), he can learn. A horse won't learn or perform well when he's thinking about leaving! As the work gets harder and more complicated, you will be glad you have this skill firmly in your foundation. There is so much to learn about reading these tiny changes in your horse's face, I hope this inspires you to learn more!