You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Horses, How They Communicate

By Susan F. Craft
Author, An Equestrian Writer’s Guide

For writers researching about horses for their novels, the following are excerpts from the Long Riders’ Guild Academic Foundation’s An Equestrian Writer’s Guide. This is copyrighted material and should not be reproduced without the permission of the Long Riders’ Guild. (Visit the website at for more information.)

Sounds/Ear Positioning/Posturing
Relaxed, resting tip of hoof
Neigh – a loud squeal followed by a nicker, with head high; done when looking for other horses or people, also called a “whinny.”
Nicker – 
vibrating sound with mouth closed using vocal cords; means “hello” when made softly  and moving toward a person or horse; means he wants a mate when made more intensely and accompanied by shaking of head; a mare will nicker very softly to her foal.
Resting foot
 – When a horse rests one foot slightly on the hoof tip, it generally means he’s relaxed and comfortable with you and his surroundings.
 – while fighting with another horse.
Snort – 
exhaling through the nose with mouth shut and producing a vibrating  sound in the   nostrils; often with head up; when accompanied by a stare, he is checking for danger.
Squeal – 
squeals with his mouth shut; usually means “no.”
Hollywood Fantasy
 - Movies often add horse calls as sound effects in the most unlikely situations.   These cinematic horses who neigh and scream on a regular basis are largely fictional.  Horses are generally rather silent, though they will whinny if parted from their fellows, or nicker softly in greeting at feeding time.
Attentive, ear perked forward
Angry, ears back and pinned flat
Blow – exhaling through the nose with mouth shut, when curious, when meeting nose to nose another horse in greeting; if done gently followed by nuzzling, the horses are friendly; if accompanied by a nip at other horse or stomping of front feet, striking out or squealing, horses are enemies.
Breathing – A healthy horse at rest should breathe in a slow, rhythmic manner. Accelerated breathing means he's either in the midst of physical activity or he's becoming anxious.
 – Horses will rotate their ears towards whatever their attention is focused on.  They can hear high and low pitched noises that humans cannot hear; picking up sounds from further away and long before humans.
Ear position – 
alert and interested (ears are up and pointed forward); sleepy, tired, unwell or submissive (ears are pointed out to the side, almost v-shaped to head); relaxed, unwell or bored (ears are pointed up and to the side); angry and aggressive (ears are back and pinned flat against the head).
Eyes –
 Fearful horses will generally have wide eyes surrounded by white; a soft, relaxed eye indicates confidence.
Head position
 – A nervous or excited horse will hold his head high with tense neck muscles.
Horses rear, jump, backup, paw, move sideways and diagonally, buck, and frolic.  Horses can also be playful, graceful, reluctant, bored, uninterested, uncooperative, afraid, and upset.  Many have a very strong flight response to the unknown – for some horses, plastic grocery bags and blue tarpaulins are very scary.
Note also that if you have a group of horses, they have to be allowed to work out the pecking order, as they all have different personalities.
A horse that is happy and trusting will move in a fluid, loose manner. If a horse’s neck, back, or leg muscles are tight and rigid, it generally will indicate a quick reaction or flight.

Horses require an average of two and a half hours sleep in a twenty-four hour period. They don’t need an unbroken period of sleep time, but sleep in short intervals of about fifteen minutes. They do need to lie down occasionally for a nap for an hour or two every few days. If not allowed to lie down, they will become sleep deprived in a few days. They sleep better in groups, while others stand guard to watch for predators.
Wild horses run in herds, governed by a head mare, who leads. Stallions are there to protect.

Horses are creatures of habit and love to maintain the same pattern.

Question for readers: What is the favorite thing you would like to know about horses in colonial American stories?  


  1. Love your post! We used to have two horses and my horse Soltero Allegro ("The Happy Bachelor") was always getting our daughter's horse Suhuaro Gold into trouble. I didn't realize that horses needed that little sleep--wish that were true for human beings as well! Great blog and I'm now following you.

    1. So glad you like the post, Sandra. If you have time, visit the Long Riders Guild website ( Fascinating group of international equestrians who must have traveled at least a 1,000 mile journey on horseback to be invited to the group.