Understanding Horses: Equine Communication and a History of Feral Breeds

Learn the simple tricks to understanding horses and the history of feral breeds that still roam free today.


| December 12, 2012



Threatening Horse

With its ears pinned back against its neck, there is no mistaking a threatening horse.


Illustration © Elara Tanguy used with Permission from Storey Publishing

Understanding horses is easy to do with this informative compendium of all things equine by Les Sellnow and Carol A. Butler. Knowing Horses (Storey Publishing, 2012) answers hundreds of questions about behavior, physiology, breed characteristics, training, sporting events, and the long-standing relationship between humans and horses. In this excerpt, learn about equine communication and the history of feral breeds. 

You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: Knowing Horses.

As do all social creatures, horses communicate in a variety of ways. They are certainly great communicators at feeding time — nickering, pawing, and moving about the stall when they hear the rattle of feed buckets.

Horses employ numerous distinct vocalizations, and being highly visual animals, their body language clearly indicates feelings and intentions. For example, when two stablemates are reunited after being separated, they may nicker softly, and nuzzle and sniff each other with ears pricked forward.

When horses meet, they may stand nose to nose and blow into each other’s nostrils to exchange scents and evaluate their relationship to one another. When two strange horses meet, they might put their ears back and lower their heads. As they sniff each other, one or both might stamp a foot or squeal as they establish who’s who. They may also move stiffly, expressing tension or apprehension.

Horses primarily communicate with posture, position, and movement. The way a horse stands can tell his herdmates to be on alert or to relax and graze. Head up and ears pricked indicate that something’s up. A hunched shoulder or haunches turned toward another horse (or human) means “stay away” or “watch out.”





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