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Franklin Levinson's

Horse Help Center

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Interpreting Equine Behavior

Hi Frank,

I was just wondering if you would be able to recommend some books that explain what my horse is thinking. For example stamping feet and putting his ears back. Also something on technique and teaching neck reining.

Regards, Alex

Hi Alex,

With all the myriad number of equine books out, many offering interpretations of equine behavior, it can be daunting. Also, as interpretating animal behavior mostly is subjective, you are subject to the views and beliefs of the human doing the interpretation. Just as interpreting Chinese into English, etc. (for example) can be difficult as at least some information/feeling/intention, is usually lost in translation depending on the translator.

For me what works best is to use my intuition, as free from prejudices and projections of human behavior as possible. Also, horses are very honest which does help. For instance, when a horse lays its ears back, it takes on a menacing appearance. It really does look like it is saying "keep away" or "not now" or "I'm upset." The specifics of why it may be upset or wanting to be undesturbed are somewhat less important than the overall message. Seeing this body display a human should be cautious. Stomping of the feet is a noisy and obvious attempt at getting attention - showing impatience. "Hey, I am here, look at me, pay me attention, attend to me.." may be reasonable interpretations of that behavior. Swishing of the tail, twitching of the ears, pacing around, eyes wide, nostrals flared, quick movements, looking nervous and somewhat or a lot afraid...are all body 'talk' showing a horse is afraid, nervous, insecure, etc.. Be careful of projecting human traits onto horses. Example; horse looks mean (Horses are not mean, or bad. They react defensively out of fear which makes them appear mean to a human). Never judge a horse as bad. They are only feeling afraid or feeling safe. A horse (prey animal) with its head held high is looking for the lion or wolf that wants to eat it. A horse with its head down, eating for example, is feeling safe enough to eat or drink and is therefore, relaxed and feeling safe.

Horses, and all animals, think in pictures with an emotional content. The picture either makes the animal feel good (safe) or afraid. Just like us, our thoughts have emotional attachments like computer files. Our thoughts either prompt us to feel good or not. I believe horses send these pictures to each other and, thus, the accompaning emotional content (feeling). When interpretating animal behavior, try to clear your mind of the normal chatter that happens and allow your mind to go quiet. This is not always easy, but does get easier with practice. Then just attempt to stay open to receiving an image. Anyone can do this. You have to believe you can and then practice. The biggest problem is the nature of humans wanting to project their humaness onto non-human beings. Horses have two basic internal ways of being; afraid or trusting it is safe. When we can help a horse to feel safe with us, it will follow us around and want to stay close and attempt to be compliant. It begins to treat us like the herd leader in the wild horse herd. I have written a lot about developing trust with horses and it is all there on within my website's essay and articles section as well as a lot of info in the help center archives (there is an easy to use search engine feature within the help center). There is enough material within my website for several books on the subject. Also, any of my DVDs addresses the issues you are interested in. A DVD is a great way to get education about horses, their behavior and how to develop trust with them.

If you Google 'Western Riding' or go to, there will be books and websites that come up on that topic. There is little variation of appropriate riding and training skills and it is mostly technical and method. So that one is easier I think. Again, a DVD would prove very helpful. It really is better, I think, to be able to view something as compared to merely reading about it. But with developing trust with horses, I think both reading and viewing are very helpful. Again, please review what is on the website and in my shopping corral. I have spent years compiling these writings, making teh DVDs and a lifetime with horses. Take advantage of it. Remember to never overdo anyting with a horse. Know when to end a session (on a positive note) and always immediately reward the horse for trying to comply. Take things slowly. Horses are easy to speed up and not so easy to slow down. Again, I have wrtten a lot on all of this. Use the website. The info is free. Good Luck.

Sincerely, Franklin

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