Tuesday, October 24, 2006

body language of a horse

Part Two: Straight From the Horse's Mouth

The horse may not be the most articulate animal on earth. Theirs is a very simple language of nickers, neighs, squeals and snorts - but these few sounds that they make can tell us what mood they are in. All in all there are five mains sounds which horses regularly reproduce:

The Greeting Nicker - "This is a low-pitched, guttural sound with a pulsating quality that is employed as a friendly 'come here' signal." A horse makes this sound when it is greeting another horse or a human friend (particularly when someone they know is bringing them food)
The Neigh - This sound starts out as a squeal and then ends as a nicker. "It is the longest and loudest of horse calls, lasting an average of 1.5 seconds and being audible over a half mile away." The neigh is the horses' way of audibly distinguishing between eachother. One horse will neigh and another will respond with an "identification" neigh. If you listen closely to each neigh, you will notice that they are all slightly different. It is even possible to tell a male from a female horse by the little grunt that the stallion adds at the end of its call.
The Snort - The snort is the first of the horse's two "defensive signals." It is usually made when a horse is curious about something, yet afraid at the same time. "The snort is a powerful exhalation of air through the nose, with the mouth held shut. It lasts between 0.8 and 0.9 seconds and has an audible fluttering pulse created by the vibrations in the nostrils."
The Squeal - The squeal is the second of the horse's two defensive signals. It is performed by a horse that is "fed up" with the situation. (Generally, it is a protest against something that the horse finds annoying.)
Now we have two sections covered: ear movements and vocal communication. The next time you're watching horses in the paddock area, pay attention to these two details. A horse's mood can be an important clue as to whether or not they are ready and willing to run.

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