I thought it would be good to look into this particular body language in horses a bit more closely. I find it discussed quite a bit and thought I’d share my experience with it.
Horses and cats share a common expression with their tails with the exception of horses also obviously use their tails for fly protection as well as communication. I have observed horses tail swishing for a number of reasons.
- Communication with other horses or animals
- unique momentary communications
In order to understand the source of the swishing and the communication behind it. I usually observe very carefully the exact time the tail swishing occurs.
I am working with a mare right now who swishes her tail in the canter because it hurts her. She also bucks in the canter so she is giving a communication of discomfort and therefore a warning that she may buck thereafter. This is clear communication. I learned this by observing her carefully at Liberty and on a Lunge line and noticing precisely the timing of this communication. It is helping know how she feels about things as I am rehabbing her for her owners. I also observe when I am grooming if a particular area I touch gets a swish. I need to see if this is a painful spot or if the horse is defensive/protective of a spot for some reason.
I have observed horses swishing at each other in their herds when they are communicating over various interactions. A horse may move another horse and swish at him or the horse being moved may swish at the request of being moved.
This leads me to dominance and swishing. Sometimes when we make requests that are new or are learning to be better Leaders, our horses will not be so thrilled at this change in the pattern of things. I often work with new students and their horses are quite content in their postion of “Leading their person. There may be some Swishing around Leadership Exercises and requests that usually diminish over time.
Sometimes in training when work is challenging or difficult, there will be momentary swishes. If this were to carry on with regularity, I would examine the practice and see where it needed to be adjusted.
Horses being very sensitive in general are likely to swish and new things touching them or touches that feel like flies or bugs landing or biting. For that matter they may even kick out or bite at it. Once they understand a touch or feel they will most likely stop unless they are extremely reactive types.
In instances of Annoyance or as I sometimes say a horse is Miffed. They can be expressing toward you emotions that are unique to that horse and it is on us to really tune in and “Know” our horses to interpret that communication. So watch for this body language in your horse and observe and see if you can find the different meanings. More oats for thought.