Drawing attention

Knowing horse language allows us to enter into communication with them, as well as build a relationship of trust and a solid bond

  • #horsemanship
  • #communication

Horses express their intention and needs through body language first, and then through behavior. Horses have well developed senses: sight, hearing, smell, touch, and taste, are their means of communication and learning.
Sometimes, we are not able to understand what they are saying or asking, or what they expect of us. Recognizing 'why they do that' through the interpretation of their gestures, allows us to tune in to horses and create a relationship of mutual trust.
To draw attention, horses use optical, acoustic, and tactile signals. First, they direct the head and the ears toward the object of their interest. Body posture may vary according to the type of attention: alertness, invitation, close exploration, or exploration at a distance. Acoustic signals include snorting, tapping the hoof on the ground, neighing, blowing, pawing. Tactile signals are biting, pinching, retracting, or pushing with the nose. When they are with the herd, horses draw and call the attention of their peers in different contexts: to report a danger when watching out for the herd, or to report an unknown object during exploration, or to invite others to play. The attention of the members of the herd is primarily addressed to the leader, because he keeps an eye on what happens nearby and reacts accordingly.
​As the dominant animal, the leader focuses his attention on all that is relevant to the herd and to himself.

In domestic horses, the habit to draw attention is often learned and due to the fact that man reinforces certain behaviors through conditioning and the use of rewards. For example, passing in front of the box and giving them a sugar cube, or passing by and placing the feed, are strong calls for horses. Among the most common ways to draw attention are pawing the ground, raising and lowering the head while tapping, knocking at the box door, pinching, retracting, threatening, pushing with the nose, nibbling the bars of the box, and emitting different vocalizations.
​These behaviors may be associated with the reduction of attention to external stimuli, (reduced alertness) that may be signs of a disease caused by a life that is monotonous, boring and without stimuli. When faced with these behaviors, we need to immediately meet the needs of exploration of the horse, offering a diverse natural environment with appropriate stimuli. For example, letting them spend a few hours per day at the paddock with other horses (even in neighboring paddocks, if they are not accustomed to being together) is the perfect cure for all horses, as well as a necessity inherent in their nature.

Communication with man: attracting and keeping the attention of the horse is a fundamental condition for a lasting and effective partnership, in which the human can intervene on the horse's behavior at any time. A signal that a horse is being attentive is the erect position of the head and of the ears: at least one of the two ears must be directed towards the object of attention, or the man, when this is the horse's partner.
In any case, even a very good relationship between man and horse can be damaged and challenged in stressful situations. To keep the horses' attention in these cases, it is important to understand their behavior, recognize their reasons, remain calm in order to be convincing and communicate a feeling of security and confidence.
Our request for attention by the horse should not be expressed with aggression but not even with docility, to avoid arousing aggressiveness in turn, or being ignored. We can use optical, acoustic, and tactile signals. Optical signals can be a straight posture and rapid or very slow gestures. Acoustic signals can be voice commands, the 'frog', the 'whistle', the tone of voice.
​Be careful with tactile stimuli, such as touching sensitive points, which can sometimes be considered as a threat by the horse.... If we are not experienced and do not know horse behavior and language in depth, the best way to draw their attention and remain in communication with them is to stay fully focused on them, on interacting constantly without distraction. Let us listen to them and let's try to understand what they are saying.