Day 5 activities for slt champ camp

Your horse may not be able to speak, but they are able to communicate, if you know what you're looking for. As a herd animal, their communication within their group occurs primarily via their body language. What is seemingly subtle to us as humans can speak volumes to another horse.

Start your camp day with the SLT Champ Camp video overview of horse body language!

Horse Body Language: What are they saying?

Observing a horse's ears are key to understanding equine language, so let's start there!


  • Pinned or Laid Back Ears - perhaps the most well-known of communicators, pinned or laid back ears generally indicate anger or aggression. Between horses, laid back ears usually mean, "I'm the boss, move or else!" If a horse pins its ears while you are working with it, that generally signifies unhappiness with you, or something you're doing - think brushing too hard, cinching the girth too tightly, and the like.

  • Pricked Ears - when a horse's ears are pricked forward, this usually means that he is alert and focused on something that has gained his attention. We've all crinkled a mint wrapper to get ears up for a photo, and the same response happens naturally when a movement or situation captures their interest - and as soon as that interest wanes, their ears relax, as any frustrated photographer knows!

  • Moving Ears - horses don't have their ears pinned or pricked constantly. More often, their ears are periodically moving, to take in sounds to evaluate the surroundings. This can be especially true while under saddle - when the ears flick forward and backward, it generally means the horse is dividing their attention between the rider and the area they are in.

A horse's eye can also give clues to their state of mind. When a horse's eye opens wide and rolls until the whites are showing, this typically indicates that the horse is startled, afraid and possibly ready to take flight. Alternatively, there's an old adage that says to avoid small or "pig" eyed horses because they can be spooky or hard to train. There could be a reason for that - the size and placement of a horse's eyes enable them to see nearly entirely around their body, except for directly in front and behind. A horse with a smaller eye may have a reduced field of vision, which can cause them to be more concerned about their surroundings than on focusing on training.

Even a horse's mouth can be an indicator of mood. If a horse is relaxed, their lips and muzzle are generally also relaxed. If a horse is nervous, often their lips will be pursed, and their nose can even be wrinkled. Yawning and licking is an indication that a horse is relaxed and accepting, as well. And, if you've spent time around foals, you've seen them use their mouths to express subservience to an older horse - foals and even young horses may approach senior horses carefully, with their mouth opening and closing and their teeth clacking, basically signaling they are not threatening to the older herd members.

Movements of the body are also used for communication. Obviously, a raised hoof, or more blatantly, kicking or striking out signals fear, anger or aggression. But more subtly, a slight shrinking back from a person or situation can mean apprehension. Under saddle, a humped back can give a clue to discomfort or a fresh-feeling horse.

The bottom line is that by being in tune with your horse's natural instincts, you can gain insight into his mood and opinion on situations, as well as potentially keep you safer, both on the ground and in the saddle.

Drawing Horse Body Language

Stretch your drawing skills and put your new knowledge to the test! Help finish the horse illustration by drawing in the behaviors.


Bonus Activity! Friday Movie Night

Pop some popcorn and settle in together to watch a family favorite horse movie. Great ideas for the whole family include Dreamer, Spirit: Stallion of Cimarron, Flicka, Black Beauty, Secretariat, Black Stallion, National Velvet, Running Free, and Horse Sense.

If you have older campers, you might enjoy War Horse, Seabiscuit, Hidalgo, and The Horse Whisperer.


Learn more about horse body language from Equus magazine: Learn Now

Find out 10 amazing facts about horse hearing from FEI: Find out more Now

Learn about caring for your horse's ears from US Equestrian Foundation: Learn Now

Watch a video about how tail swishing helps horses from Georgia Tech: Watch Now

And then discover the fascinating mechanics of the horse tail from Scientific American: Discover Now

Learn more about what horse tail movement means from Equus magazine: Learn Now

Go inside a horse's eye with Learn Now

Understand the impact of equine vision on behavior from Utah State University: Understand Now

Learn 10 body language postures from Equine Wellness Magazine: Learn Now

Bonus activity: Take all of your new knowledge about a horses' ears, eyes and muzzle and learn how to draw a detailed horse head from Circle Line Art School: Draw Now

Have extra time? Watch this in depth discussion on horse body language from Dr. Katherine Houpt from Cornell University: Watch Now

Fun weekend activities include reading a great horse book! Check out our reading list ideas here

Have you visited our Kids Corner yet? Check out additional fun activities here

  • Published:
  • Updated: 7/17/2020: 10:05:00 AM ET
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