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INTERPRETING HORSE BODY LANGUAGE
Horses clearly don't speak in fact rarely vocalise anything when it comes to communicating especially with humans. Sure they use body 'language' but let's be careful how we interpret that. 'Language' is a very emotive word and carries all sorts of connotations that body 'language' simply does not live up to. There are all sorts of ways a horse communicates with its body but as humans we do not have an innate understanding of these as we are a different species. Ask 10 people what they think a horse is saying and you will probably get at least 8 different answers. Firstly, context is key. What is currently going on and what happens immediately afterwards are very important signals. Horses don't have the human cerebral cortex and therefore are beautifully in the now. They are of course unconsciously formed and controlled by prior experience and genetic patterns but cannot and do not consciously link one with another although it may look like that. This is why we end up teaching horses often the very thing we don't want to. Every interaction you are teaching them to do or not do something whether you like it or not.
In my experience you need to take a variety of body signals into consideration (and the before and after) in order to correctly interpret a signal. Recently, I got on a very nervous horse, who was licking and chewing and had its right hind 'cocked' in the 'relaxed' position. We took this as a good sign that she was indeed relaxed but as it happens was still very nervous. It turns out the cocked hind leg in this instance was not a sign of her being relaxed but of being immediately ready to move off. In this instance the tail also showed signs of being 'nervous' and the rest of her face was also showing some signs of nervousness.
The moral of the story for me was a) take ALL the signs into consideration and b) always go with your gut in the end which in this case was telling us that she was still very nervous but one of the 'key' body signs we thought was telling us the opposite.