Body Language 101 - Part Two: The Eyes and Nose

Friday, June 26, 2009

This is the second posting in a series on equine body language, and the single most important thing you can learn about horses. If you haven't already, please read Part One (it all kind of goes together, you see :o)

The Eyes Have It

A horse has beautiful eyes; when the eye is calm it seems to hold an expression of utter peace and tranquility.

The Worry Line - A series of wrinkles that appear above the eye. It occurs when the horse is worried (obviously), uncomfortable, feeling pain, depressed, distressed, or concerned. This is often the very first sign a horse will display out of all body language.

Whites Showing - Fear, alarm (accompanied by flared nostrils, ears pointed toward the source of the distress or flicking, and the head is up and pulled back) or anger (accompanied by pinched nostrils, pinned ears and a lowered head with nose thrust forward, chin tucked or head to the side).

Frightened vs. Fretting

While both horses in the picture above are showing worry lines, the horse on the left has his head up (showing fear). The horse on the right, however, has worry lines that are more clearly pronounced, his head is down and his chin is pulled in toward the chest (indicating distress).

Appaloosa vs. Afraid

It is important to note that while both these photos show the whites of the eye, only the horse on the right is afraid. The sclera (white part) of the Appaloosa's eye is visible but it's an identifiable characteristic of the breed. He does appear to be somewhat "concerned" about the photographer though (note the ears and worry line).

The Nose Knows

The nose is usually a secondary sign and almost always paired with other body language. The more pinched the nose, the more intense the feeling and the more pronounced the wrinkles become just behind the nostril (toward the eye).

Flared - Alarm, fright, after heavy exercise, or the obvious strong/unusual odor (see "Startled vs. Scared photo (L) further down this lens :o)

Pinched - Anger, pain or very serious business (at feeding time Lady will follow me to her stall with ears laid back and nostrils pinched; mealtimes ARE serious business (we're talking food here, don'tcha know :o)

Pinched vs. Plain Jane

The pinched nose (the dirty one on the left :o) can sometimes be harder to spot than some of the other language (note the teeny tiny wrinkle that appears behind the nostril).


Not only are this horse's nostrils pinched, he appears to be grinding his teeth. Someone obviously got on HIS last nerve today, and he is giving it some serious thought (note the wrinkle behind the nose and the additional wrinkles around his mouth :o)

Photo courtesy of: Photos of horses


This horse has probably been working hard for awhile; note the reddish hue inside the nostril.


Take a pair of pinched nostrils, throw in a couple of pinned ears and what do you get? A pretty peeved pony. I don't know what has aggravated this pretty girl, but she looks mad.

Up Next: Part Three....


  1. Awesome! Can't wait for part 3!!

  2. Wonderful!!!
    what an excellent write up and great photos to match. Your horse observation skills are superb indeed.

    Just a thought - that last photo looks like a photo shoot set-up for the nice rug the horse has on - maybe too many times 'prancing' in the snow??

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