The Horse

JAN 2019

The Horse:Your Guide To Equine Health Care provides monthly equine health care information to horse owners, breeders, veterinarians, barn/farm managers, trainer/riding instructors, and others involved in the hands-on care of the horse.

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14 January 2019 The Horse | H orse, let's talk. How are you feeling? Oh, you like it when I scratch right there? Oh, but not here, right? Okay. Whoa, wait a minute. You're not about to bite me, are you? On paper, it seems like a one-sided conversa- tion. If you happened to overhear this discussion across the stall wall, you might think your neigh- bor's having an imaginary sit-down with her horse. But the truth is, horses do communicate with humans. In fact, when given the chance, they do it quite well. And they do it all through body language—the use of their faces, ears, legs, backs, tails, and entire bodies to communicate information. So this is not a one-sided or imaginary con- versation. And your fellow barnmate isn't nuts. On the contrary, when humans make an effort to learn to read their horses, they can create pathways toward a stronger and safer interspe- cies relationship. Your Horse's Native Tongue While vocal communication between horses has its place in herds, we know most of their daily communication occurs via body language. It's through seemingly subtle movements—of the ears, the nostrils, the eyes, the mouth, the tail, the feet, or even just shifting weight or tensing up—that they convey information to each other. "This is just how they've evolved, and it's how their body language has evolved, as well," says Sue M. McDonnell, PhD, certified applied animal behaviorist and founding head of the equine be- havior program at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine's New Bolton Center, in Kennett Square. And it makes sense, she says. These are prey animals, and subtle communication can mean survival in a world where any kind of noise could draw attention from predators. If we can tap into that "horse language code," we can find a plethora of useful information. Language Lessons: Breaking the Code If a horse swishes his tail, is he agitated or happy? If he half-closes his eyes, is he squinting in pain or relaxing? To understand equine body language, first we have to be aware that there's communication to start with—which isn't always a given. "It's surprising to see how some people, regardless of their background with horses, don't notice that body language is happening at all, while others seem to pick up on it intuitively," says McDonnell. Second, we have to read the cues without projecting or, worse, guessing. Good "listening" comes from knowing the science behind equine body language, says Rachele Malavasi, PhD, of the School of Ethical Equitation, in Moncigoli Di Fivizzano, Italy. It also comes from spending lots of time simply watching your horse. "I recom- mend that every horse person observe horses," she says. "Spend some time doing nothing but observing your horse in the field. Horse people need to know how horses communicate and especially how their own horses communicate." While each horse is different, with our sources' help we've come up with common things your horse might be communicating to you through body language. It doesn't matter if some of these aren't intentional communication. Even if the horse isn't making an effort to "talk" to you, he's SHELLEY PAULSON Language Speaking the Same CHRISTA LESTÉ-LASSERRE, MA

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