As horse owners, we would like to know whether our horses are feeling well. And if they might want to tell us something. One of the ways to “listen” to horses is to look closely at their eyes. Do you know what every look from your horse says? And what can you pay attention to?
Horses’ eyes are on the side of the head. This allows a horse to look almost all around; only straight behind him he sees nothing. Such a wide view is of course very useful for a flight animal, because it allows a horse to scan the entire environment while grazing. And run away quickly when a predator approaches. This good view is not always practical for riding horses, because a gnome or bush monster is quickly spotted…
Beautiful horse eyes
Horse eyes can give us as owners a lot of information. A “soft” eye is a sign of relaxation. A horse that feels at ease has a calm, soft look. So an open and friendly eye is a good sign. Moreover, if the horse looks this way, it is in the right mindset to learn something.
Staring and hyperfocus
A staring horse’s eye is often a sign of stress. Horses that feel uncomfortable, stressed or anxious often have a very hard, unwavering focus on something in the distance. The muscles around the eyes are tense, often like a roof or inverted V. Such a horse is usually also very tense in the body, the jaw is tight and the nostrils are wide. Such a horse is sometimes almost impossible to reach. As a human, you can’t always figure out exactly what danger lies behind the horizon, but be careful with this horse, he can jump away unexpectedly. A horse that stares straight into the distance and is very stressed cannot teach you anything. So there is no point in getting angry or ‘tackling’ the horse. Try to reassure a horse that is so upset and do not continue your training until the animal is relaxed again.
From staring to curious
Sometimes curiosity starts with staring. The horse stares briefly – for example at a foreign object – because it is taken by surprise. This is normal behavior for a flight animal. But when nothing is really going on, that alertness quickly turns into curiosity and the urge to investigate. There is often still a roof over the eye visible, but the gaze becomes inquisitive instead of fearful. Now a horse is back in a good mental state to learn something.
White in the eye
Sometimes you see the white of a horse’s eye. What does that mean? First, not all horses have white in their eye. If you see it, it is often a sign of anxiety or fear. But not always! In American breeds such as the Appaloosa, you sometimes see the whites of your eyes when the horse is relaxed. You can make the distinction there by looking at the rest of the horse: a relaxed body and a calm, relaxed tail indicate that the white in the eye in this animal is not a sign of fear or stress.
A horse that is not feeling well mentally can often be recognized by its eyes. When a horse is depressed the eyes are no longer lively; the horse often stares into nothingness and reacts little or not at all when something is happening around him. Sometimes the eyes are also a bit closed. It is sometimes quite difficult to see this properly. That is why it is useful to take a good look not only at the eyes, but also at the whole horse. Does the animal isolate itself from other horses, or does it still interact in the herd? Is the horse still interested in things around him and does he still want to investigate strange objects or does he stop responding? Are the ears set to the side and drooping (depression or pain) or forward? Is the horse still eating well? You can help horses that are depressed by improving management, for example: more social interaction with other horses, more free movement, more roughage. Or, for example, by introducing more variety in the training. Make sure there are no underlying physical problems. Physical pain can also be a source of depressed behavior!
You’ve also been hearing regularly about iridology in horses lately. This involves looking at the iris – the colored part of the eye. Differences between the left and right eye are also mapped. With this one tries to see in the eyes signs of what is happening in the rest of the horse’s body. The theory behind it is that all nerve impulses in the horse’s body have an impact on what can be seen in the iris and around it. So you can say something about certain discomfort, shortages or stress in a horse.
How are your horse’s eyes?
It is useful to know what your horse’s eyes look like in different situations. For example, when he is relaxed, or when he is sleeping. Many horses have their eyes half closed. Especially when the rest of the body and head are relaxed, that is often the reason for half closed eyes. But beware: half-closed eyes can also be a sign of pain. Especially if you also see wrinkles at the bottom of the eye.
Eyes say a lot, but not everything. And sometimes a look can mean more than one thing. That’s why it’s always good to look at the rest of your horse’s body language as well. For example the head (head or low), the tail (relaxed or tight or restless), the nose, the mouth and the ears. If you look closely and develop a feeling for what the different signs mean in your horse, you can adjust faster and give your horse a happier life.