Horse’s faces are far more expressive than we often give them credit for.
Capable of 17 separate facial expressions they fall a little short of the 27 expressions humans can manage. 17 is still a good amount and perfectly adequate to show us how they feel.
A happy relaxed horse will have a soft muzzle, without wrinkles or tension. Their eyes will be the same. When a horse is worried or in pain their muzzle will tighten creating layers in the chin and wrinkles around the nostrils and mouth. The eyes will pull to a triangle, with wrinkles over the brow.
This horse is a perfect example of a peaceful relaxed head compared to a later picture where he is clearly showing pain or unhappiness.
He was having behavioral issues. There wasn’t any sign of pain, only a faint memory of a wreck he had gotten himself into in the pasture a month before. Without any limp or obvious injuries the wreck was easily forgotten.
His owner, watching carefully to try to find an answer to recently developed behavior issues, noticed a change in posture and expression as soon as she placed a saddle on his back. He froze, head high, and eyes big. No outright refusal or acting out, no biting or back dropping. Just that freeze. She pulled the saddle and he relaxed again.
That got her thinking about possible causes and she went back through old pictures and found one from before his pasture wreck. Comparing the two was like looking at two different horses. Even without the saddle he was now showing all the signs of discomfort in his expression.
Realizing there is something going on and that he isn’t just being ‘naughty’ as behavior issues are so often thought to be, she started taking steps to fix his pain issues and get him back to the nice horse he once was.
So often these things creep up on us. A horse’s behavior will change so gradually we don’t notice an immediate start of the issue, we just wake up one day, months later, and have a different horse in front of us than what we remember from so long ago.
By taking note of facial expressions we can find root causes and notice when there is an issues. Horses speak loudly to us, if we take the time to notice.