Body Language in Horse and Human Interactions

Understanding body language when working with equids can improve how we interact with and study them.

Body Language in Horse and Human Interactions
Body language is a primary source of communication between horses. | Photo: iStock
Do you and your horse speak the same language? Not neighs and words, of course. But the international—or, rather, “interspecies”—vernacular: body language.

Having good communication through body language with your horse can lead to a stronger relationship, heightened safety, and better training and performance. And when scientists keep horse-human body language in mind, it can also improve research results.

“Horses living in close contact with people learn to recognize human body language, whether they are aware of it themselves or not,” said Jan Ladewig, DVM, PhD, professor in Animal Welfare and Ethology at Copenhagen University’s Department of Large Animal Sciences, in Denmark. He gave a plenary talk on horse-human body language communication during the 2017 International Society for Equitation Science Conference, held Nov. 22-26 in Wagga Wagga, Australia.

Regardless of species, individuals show body language when they intend to do something, though they’re often unaware of it themselves, Ladewig said. This very subtle movement—often consisting of just a tension of muscles—before an intended action is referred to as “intention movement.” And while we might not necessarily be observant enough to pick up on it, horses

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Passionate about horses and science from the time she was riding her first Shetland Pony in Texas, Christa Lesté-Lasserre writes about scientific research that contributes to a better understanding of all equids. After undergrad studies in science, journalism, and literature, she received a master’s degree in creative writing. Now based in France, she aims to present the most fascinating aspect of equine science: the story it creates. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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