Take a Moment: Listen to a Horse

A horse is perhaps the most regal, beautiful, fascinating, awesome animal to grace our lives. I have learned legions since owning a horse; not only about horses, but about my self. His greatest gift to me was teaching me how to be In the Moment. In the Moment with Odin not only keeps me safe, but opens the door to perceiving his world as he does. Since a horse is a relatively silent animal, in order to 'hear' Odin, I had to learn to listen for his 'voice.'

The eyes of a horse are the window to the soul and a mirror at the same time, so they say. Each eye can see and process very different images at the same time (monocular), a true multi-tasking mechanism. They have no depth perception, yet can see great distances, even in the dark. Switching to binocular vision along with their full attention, a horse can almost predict your every intention. Even while asleep, the eyes continue to send messages to the brain. These incredible eyes are expressive and communicate much about the horse, and the expressions can change rapidly.

Odin will tell me that he knows he goofed up by giving me that baby look, the way his eyes looked when he was very young. Along with a sagging lower lip and floppy ears, his eyes will about close as he falls asleep with his head against my chest. I get a half-closed, sullen look when I ask him to do something he isn't thrilled about doing. His playful look creates little dimples around his eye, and it won't be long before he's running and bucking around. When his full focus is on me, both eyes, it is almost always certain to throw me into gales of laughter. It looks like a little boy deeply smitten by his kindergarten teacher. When he understands something new, he will blink several times. Those eyes will look like they've turned off as he throws his head up and refuses to look at me when I've asked too much of him too fast. He doesn't understand and doesn't quite know what to do about it.

The ears are a constant radar for a horse, swiveling 180 degrees, and the cupped shape captures sounds way beyond a human's ability to hear. Like the eyes, the ears work independently of each other, but work with the eye. Where a horse's ear points is where his eye is looking and his brain is focusing, even while asleep. Their rapid movements are a visual representation of just how fast things change for a horse in his world. And, they communicate and express much too.

Odin's ears flick back and forth as he tries to listen to me talking to him through the glass in a window. With both ears forward, he focuses on listening for my voice, then his ears will flick to his reaction to what I say. His ears will flick back as though he is listening for something behind him when I ask him a question, or even just when I'm looking straight at him, and especially when he is confused. They will pin flat against his neck at a dog or cat too near his food dish. With both ears straight forward along with his eyes, he waits for the next cue as he is very interested and willing to do what is asked for next - if I can stop laughing long enough to give him a cue.

Body language is the next level of communication for a horse. To another horse, this is an escalation of severity of meaning in what the horse is communicating. Though a horse learns to tolerate much of a human's inability to 'hear' him through what is conveyed via the eyes and ears, he makes sure that he raises his 'voice' in perceptible levels to us, and won't insist with kicks and bites, even when startled.

The level of a horse's head works together with his eyes. Raised high, this allows the horse to focus on something almost miles away. When Odin is excited and focused on me with both ears and eyes, his head is high in anticipation and his whole body is ready to move. A more level neck and head show his relaxed state of mind since his flicking ears aren't telling him there's anything to be concerned with. The tail can swish contentedly at flies while asleep, raise out of the way when he's moving (or farting) or swish hard in irritation. A hind foot can be lifted and curled a bit as a warning to me or a dog. I will get this level of warning from him if I'm touching a part of him that he doesn't like being touched, though I insist he tolerates it anyway. It seems that dogs are far more stupid than humans, because none of them will back off until Odin lets that back foot fly. It is so lightening fast that if Odin were truly aiming, the dog would be launched.

Since Odin is my only horse and I am his primary companion, he has learned to communicate with me in more human ways, so to speak, than other horses with another horse for a companion. In a way, he has learned to teach me in much the same way as I teach him: one step at a time and via release of pressure. At first, when he wanted the top of his rump scratched, he'd keep backing into me until I finally figured it out. Now, he will slowly and politely back to me, one step at a time, until he is in range of my reach. When he wants his belly or back scratched, he will point at the place with his nose. As soon as he figured out I was trained pretty well, he began to point to the hocks on his back legs and even his ankles. He'd keep pointing if I didn't figure out it was the back, not the front, of his hock or fetlock that needed scratching.

I am Odin's main source of safety and comfort. He will literally run to me if he is concerned. But, one hand on his neck or shoulder and all four feet are planted. It may take awhile for his head to come down, but "easy" and that hand on him means, to him, that he is safe. He will run to me to get that nasty horsefly off the top of his rump where he can't reach. One time, he picked up a thorny vine with a mouthful of grass and came running to me across half a 50 acre pasture. He kept giving me his mouth until I saw the end of the vine showing in the corner and removed it. A heavy sigh came, then he turned and walked back to where he was.

Being with my horse is the greatest source of joy for me. I've been able to feel that joy because he has taught me how to be In the Moment with him. If my day is overwhelming and my mind is filled with thoughts of my own concerns, I can go out with Odin and my stresses are gone. If I don't stay In the Moment, things can happen fast around this horse. Trust me, a 1600 pound horse standing on your foot, or bumping into you is a pretty loud reminder to stay in the here and now. Being In the Moment is an immediate release, and because of a horse, I am able to experience what has always been there and available to me without my knowing: peace and joy.

I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it!


  1. I loved reading this post! I must have said awww, like ten times.

    What a wonderful relationship and communication you have with your beautiful horse. You are doing a fantastic job, and therefore able to enjoy him the way a horse was meant to be enjoyed.

    Thanks for sharing your Odin with us.


  2. Thanks, Deanna!

    By the way, readers, Deanna has a wonderful blog at Improving Communication Between Horse and Rider, and she also talks about safety by being aware - and learning from mistakes!

    Enjoying a horse safely is the way they are meant to be enjoyed.


  3. Odin is such a goof! I was talking on the phone and pacing the kitchen as usual, right around the time that Odin thought I should be out there feeding him breakfast. He kept looking in the back door with the most eager look on his face, then those big ol' sad eyes to make me feel guilty. If I walked up to the back door to reach out and pet him, he'd walk away. When I'd walk away, he'd come right back up to the door.

    I think I made him wait too long. He stood there looking at me, then pawed, then laid down right in the muckiest, sloppiest mud there was! He knew that would get me, and he was right. I spent an hour with a curry yesterday scraping chunks of mud off him, so he knew being muddy again would get me outside there with him!

    What a goof!