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.

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 17 of 51

18 January 2019 The Horse | Lansade agrees, citing that about 25% of equestrian-related hospital visits result from accidents on the ground (Wolynce- wicz et al., 2018). "Horses often threaten before striking—it's part of their body language between each other," she says. "If humans would pay attention to the laid-back ears and the threats, like pull- ing up a back foot or lunging toward the person with open teeth, there could be a lot fewer accidents." 6 "I love this!" Much equine research has focused on the communication of negative emotions. It's time to give thought to what constitutes the expression of posi- tive emotions in horses, says Lansade. And that, she says, we can see in their "smiles." "Horses have relatively complex facial muscles that allow them to have a wide variety of facial expressions, almost what we'd see in most primates," Lansade says. "As scientists, we can't really use the words 'smile' or 'happy' referring to animals, but when you look at the facial expression of a horse with positive emo- tions, that's essentially what we're seeing." Happy horses create the "equine smile" by half-closing their eyes, stretching out their upper lips, and pointing their ears backward, almost in line with the nose, she says, based on a new study her team just released about desirable grooming techniques. Sometimes they keep the upper lip still; sometimes they twitch it a bit. In combination with that smile, they usually lift or tilt their necks slightly. "It's not enough to avoid negative emo- tions in our horses; we need to be actively seeking signs of positive emotions, as well," Lansade says. "If we can read their body language, we can recognize what makes them happy." 7 "I need some help." While most of the body language we've described so far might be expressed without any effort to actually "commu- nicate," horses do communicate with us intentionally. "They clearly try to talk to us, especially if they want something from us," says Malavasi. In fact, if they don't succeed in getting their message across, they'll keep trying, she says. Her group recently tested horses trying to "ask" for help from humans to access food in a bucket that was out of their reach. "The horses in our study dem- onstrated that they could be very flexible in their communicative strategies," she says. "They nodded their heads, turned their tails, moved their heads quickly toward the reward bucket. … And they did it all only if the human was paying at- tention. So if your horse uses two or more of these signals together, he may be trying to communicate something to you." However, if you never pay attention to your horse, he might eventually give up trying to communicate with you, Malavasi says. "That's a very sad situation, but it can be fixed," she adds. "If you don't know what your horse wants, be creative and test solutions. Learning your horse's com- munication strategy is like trying to know a person. You'll never stop learning, but the more you know, the more you love." Take-Home Message Horses naturally rely on good com- munication through body language. It's what solidifies their social networks, lets them live in peace with each other, and helps protect them from predators. If we encourage these exchanges by paying attention to our horses' visual cues, say these sources, we can deepen our inter- species connections and have healthier, safer, and more rewarding experiences with our horses. h SPEAKING THE SAME LANGUAGE "Happy" horses might half-close their eyes, stretch out their upper lip, and point their ears back almost in line with their nose. SHELLEY PAULSON

Articles in this issue

Links on this page

Archives of this issue

view archives of The Horse - JAN 2019