When I meet a new horse, one of the first things I look at is the expression in the eye. A kind, interested eye attracts me. A suspicious eye repels, a frightened eye concerns, an aggressive eye is a red flag: be on your guard with this one.
A horse whose eye is soft, interested, and inviting? He invites me to walk right up and become friends.
Just like us, horses’ eyes change to reflect their current feelings. Your sweet natured mare may narrow her eyes and look like a she devil when some other horse comes into her personal space bubble. Your good ol’ gelding becomes beady eyed when you ask him to do something he doesn’t really doesn’t want to do.
My usually kind gelding sometimes has what my friend calls “the look of Dragons.” It’s that expression horses get when they are either calculating or adamant about not wanting to do something.
On the other hand, his bright, open eyes can be incredibly soft and interested, especially if he thinks treats might be involved, as below…
Reading eyes and expression on a horse happens over time as we spend time with them. Pretty soon we know what they are thinking (plotting) almost as well as if they were saying it out loud. I’m sure people walking down the barn aisle must laugh to hear the one-sided conversations I have with my horses. I can “hear” what the horse is saying, and I’m keeping up a steady stream of conversation on my end. “No Finn, please don’t nibble my butt. Yes, I’ll be with you in a moment. I have some things to do first. You go play for a moment, o.k.? Outside, by yourself. NO, do not steal your brushes, that is NOT cute…Yes, I know you’re hungry, you’re always hungry. But it’s not time to eat now, that’s AFTER we work. No, we are not doing trick or treat, that is not cute. Go on, get out of here. You’re cute but you’re becoming obnoxious, get out of here!…Yes pony, I still love you… NO, do NOT come back in here. Ponies!” It’s all an amusing game to Finn, of course. And, yes, of course I enjoy it or I wouldn’t play it, now would I?
As my kids remind me, I pick my mischievous ponies because they amuse me.
So the ponies and I converse, me using voice and gesture, them “talking” with eyes, ears, and body language (and occasionally a soft whicker).
Horses speak without words, using eyes, ears, facial expressions, and body language to communicate. As horse people, we must pay attention.
Communication begins when we look at their eyes and read the expression. Eliana, in the picture below, is batting her blonde eyelashes and saying, “Please come be my friend! I’m the sweetest mare you’ve ever met and I love to snuggle. By the way, my nose is kissable, and all treats are gladly accepted.”
What do your horse’s eyes say to you?
What do your eyes communicate to your horse?
Horsemanship is all about the RELATIONSHIP with the horse, and relationships thrive on good communication.