A Guard Dog Trainer Taught Me About Horses’ Eyes

A Guard Dog Trainer Taught Me About Horses’ Eyes

horse-eyes2The guard dog trainer was watching a young excitable horse who was being a bit cheeky while being lunged. The man had previously told me that he had very limited knowledge about horses so I was explained that the horse was not naughty, just being a bit fresh and playful. I explained that once the horse had the initial play then he would be fine to ride.

The dog trainer replied “Yes, I can see that in his eyes”. I knew I should listen as I could learn from this man. He went on to explain that although all animals were different, they have very similar expressions in their eyes.

He explained that he liked a soft kind eye, the type of dog who thinks that being a guard dog is a game. The type of dog that can play with the kids but on command can also be very protective of them.

A mean nasty type of dog who hates the world can never be trusted. They have had bad experiences with people and do not trust them. They are the type of dog who can turn on the trainer and attack them without a moments warning. These dogs are dangerous and they take a long time to train and gain any confidence around.


This one conversation taught me so much about horses’ expressions. Although this knowledge carried on into the horses’ body language, it is always the eyes that give you the true meaning of the way the horse is feeling.

There are times when a horses’ body language can conflict with the eyes. Think of a situation when someone has reported to you that the horse was ‘just standing there and then he went beserk’. Had they looked at the horse’s eyes, they would have seen that the horse was frozen in shock and then the slightest movement or noise pushed them to the point where the horse did everything they could to get away from what they were terrified about.

When you are loading a horse to travel, does their eye tell you that they are genuinely worried about moving into a dark enclosed space, or do they have a large smile, very quiet eyes that blink confidently while they simply say “make me”? They training and consequences for these two horses are vastly different and a good horseman will know the difference by looking at the horse’s body language, which includes their eyes.

Does your older, beginner type of horse have a kind, knowing expression that they understand they need to look after this beginner rider even though the rider is likely to balance on their mouth occasionally and land a little too heavily on their back? If a horse shows a worried expression in their eye when a rider is not well balanced, they are also telling you that they are not confident enough to have a beginner rider on their back.

Does your show jumperlove the game they are playing? When they see a jump do they draw towards it focusing on the take off point with lots of eagerness and ready to spring into action over it? They may even hump up on the other side, still with a playful expression in their eye. However if a horse has a worried expression in his eye and rushes over jumps and away from them, he could be a dangerous jumper. This type of horse can panic under pressure instead of using a clear head to get them selves (and their rider) out of trouble.

A great dressage horse is not one who goes through the movements in a dressage test like a machine, with sunken eyes and a dull depressed eye but one who is ready to play. They will listen to the slightest signal from the rider to do the next game and although they may occasionally anticipate and get it wrong, they love the game . . . the rider asks the questions, they know the correct answer by giving the correct movement and then they are given an immediate reward. Watching a horse who loves to communicate with their rider like this is a joy.

The next time your are down at the stables have a look at your horse’s eye and let them show you the type of trust they have in your partnership.

May you always have wonderful communication with your equine partner!



  1. Rebekah Green says:

    As an animal lover this article has been very helpful. I will definitely be starting to pay more attention to my animals’ eyes.

  2. This is really important because you can tell a lot by looking into a horses eyes, or any animals eyes for that fact. This article should be read by all animal lovers.

  3. Zyia Sheveleff says:

    This is so interesting and it is important to watch your horses eyes.

  4. Zyia Sheveleff says:

    This is so interesting and it is important to watch your horses eyes.

  5. Paige B says:

    Horses are truly fantastic creatures. What I believe that non-equestrians don’t understand, is the complex system of a horse. They don’t compare to any other animal, the way they are built is magnificent. Their eyes are such an important aspect, you can see everything they think with just a look. Their natural design is so cleverly manipulated for their own expression, survival and safety. It’s brilliant.

  6. I love the comparison between the horses and dogs to show that they are all animals and they all have similar ways of communicating. So true and looking back on experiences with certain horses, I can tell the ones that were genuinely scared and the others that were just playing the game. 🙂 Such a great article!

  7. Keeley B says:

    This article was largely interesting. Not many people acknowledge how their horse may be feeling just by looking in their eyes nor with any other animal. Animals have their own way of communicating to humans and this is just one example of what can be learnt about an animal’s behaviour.

  8. Kerry A says:

    This is so interesting. I’ve never thought to look at a horse’s eye to help understand how they feel. I’m definitely going to look at my horse’s eye next time I’m at the stable!

  9. Lynny s says:

    It is so important to watch the expressions in a horse’s eye, it is their way of showing how they are feeling. you need to understand this to be a great horse trainer, every horse is different and deals with situations and confrontations that are thrown at them, body language, especially the eyes really do say it all.

  10. This article was amazing! it opened up my own eyes and by using the dog analogy it showed that all animals great and small will show you how they feel! I personally have a horse who will tell you everything by the look in his eyes and at first he was deemed dangerous by many but now I have learnt to work with him and read the signs he is truly one of the hardest working most loyal horses I think ive ever owned! Truly enjoyed reading this article!!

  11. This just shows how intelligent and understanding animals are and why we need to pay attention to how they communicate.

  12. Jaimee-Lee M says:

    This was really worth reading! It also helps when buying a horse you can see what sort of personality they have through their eyes, and i often rely on body language, but eyes a little less then their overall body, but hopefully now i will tune into their eyes more.

  13. Becky Read says:

    Fascinating article highlighting the importance of understanding an animal’s state of mind by reading his eyes. So many people fail to do this, and make the wrong and often dangerous assumptions. Animals are living, breathing creatures with fears and emotions – just like us. It is therefore vital that we take the time to learn to understand the animals in our care in order to create harmonious relationships that safeguard these creatures – it’s our duty!

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