How to Tell if a Horse Is Happy

Horse happiness is important because it is a sign of good health and contentment. Unhappy horses may be sick or injured. They should be approached with caution.


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    Look at the horse's head while it is in its box. A happy horse has a relaxed, alert expression. The eye of the horse is very revealing. An open, calm, friendly eye is a good sign. The nostrils and lips are also good indicators of a horse's mood. A sick or worried horse will have a "pinched" nostril or even signs of respiratory distress. The lips of a sick or worried horse are often tense and the face has an unhappy expression.
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    Next, look at the whole horse. Lame horses often have swollen legs. Injured horses may be bleeding. A horse that has torn off a shoe may not want to put weight on its foot.
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    Note any lethargy. Sick horses with fever are often lethargic. They may not want to move or interact with their surroundings. They may hold their heads down and fail to notice you when you approach.
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    Watch what the horse does. Sick horses with colic lie down and roll, walk the stall aimlessly, look at their sides, paw the floor, and show other signs of pain. This is a serious situation and a veterinarian should be consulted immediately.
    • Horses that unhappy and bored in the stable (but not sick), may stall walk, kick the walls of the stable, paw the floor, and otherwise destroy their boxes. Always examine the horse's stall for signs of damage.
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    Look at the horse's feeder. It should not contain uneaten feed. Horses should eat their feed right away. A good appetite is a good sign that the horse is happy and healthy. If feed and/or hay goes uneaten, there is a problem. First, look at the feed to make sure it is ok (you should do this BEFORE you give it to your horse). Then, inspect the horse for signs of sickness.
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    Note the horse's interactions with others. A happy horse will often greet its people by coming to the front of the box with an alert, happy expression and maybe even a soft nicker. You can encourage this nice behavior by giving the horse a treat or a pat when you approach the box.
    • An unhappy horse may not greet you when you approach its box, but may instead go to the back of the box and turn its tail to you. If this happens, open the door, but do not enter. Instead, call the horse to you with a treat. Repeat this a few times without riding the horse. It need to learn that its contact with you is pleasant and fun.
    • A very unhappy horse may pin its ears, show its teeth and behave aggressively when you approach. This is serious and dangerous and you should get a trusted professional to help you.
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    Give your horse some companionship. Some horses hate to be separated from other horses. If a horse has "separation anxiety", it may be helpful to find a companion for it such as another horse, pony, goat, or even a barn cat. Horse toys, such as exercise balls, can also be helpful.
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    Try to turn the horse out as much as possible. Horses need fresh air, sunshine, exercise, and companionship to be happy.


  • Make sure that the time your horse spends with you is pleasant. Greet it with a kind word and a pat on the neck. Put some special treats in its feeder. Groom it occasionally without working it.
  • Turn the horse out in a pasture or paddock. Do not keep it in the stable all of the time. Horses need fresh air and the chance to move freely around.
  • There are two common causes of horse unhappiness in the stable: sickness and behavioral, training problems. Horses should always be inspected for signs of sickness first, especially if they are normally friendly and then suddenly change their behavior.
  • Happy horses are alert, relaxed, and friendly. They will come to the front of their boxes to greet you and may even nicker softly in welcome.
  • Unhappy horses will often go to the back of their boxes when you approach. They may turn their tails to you. If this happens, just wait in the door and talk to the horse until it becomes curious and turns to face you. Then you can approach and reward it. If it does not eventually turn toward you, get a trusted professional to help you.


  • Always speak, whistle, and make noise to let the horse know you are approaching. Even happy horses may kick if startled.
  • Never enter a horse's stall and close the door behind you! Always leave yourself an escape path.
  • If an unhappy horse behaves aggressively, get a professional to help you at once.
  • Colic is an emergency. Contact a vet immediately if your horse is unhappy because of pain.

Things You'll Need

  • Some horse treats. This can be bite-sized bits of apple or carrots or you can buy bagged "horse cookies".
  • Some horse toys, such as exercise balls, to reduce boredom in the stable.
  • A nice turn-out pasture or paddock, preferably with some horse companions.

Article Info

Categories: Horse Care