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10 Signs Your Horse is Reaching Threshold

Updated: Aug 29, 2023

The more subtle signs of stress and frustration.

The idea of noticing signs of threshold is to be able to redirect before your horse is forced to pull out the bigger signs of anger that might result in you or your horse getting injured. When we miss the more subtle signs of threshold in our horse, he or she will take things to the next level such as biting or kicking to help us understand we are asking to much at this time.

Here are some of the most common indicators that a horse is reaching threshold...

#1 - Flared nostrils

This one is pretty easy to spot. Your horse's nostrils will be open in wide circles as opposed to soft in their natural state.

#2 - Showing the whites of their eyes

Some horses naturally show some of the whites of their eyes. We are looking for a noticeable amount of white we do not normally see. This occurs because their eyes are open wider than usual.

#3 - Triangulation of the eyes

When horse are stressed, nervous, or worried, the lids above their eyes form a point or triangular shape above the eye.

#4 - Nervous pooping

This one takes a little finesse to differentiate between a normal poop. Generally you will know it's a nervous poop because you are seeing other signs of upset and the droppings will be softer and a little more wet than usual.

#5 - Pawing

Pretty self explanatory - horses will paw at the ground with their front feet when they are frustrated.

#6 - Dropping (in males)

In this case, dropping means that a horse is extending his male parts. This is another sign that requires a little finesse. Sometime dropping can be an indicator of relaxation, but if you are seeing other signs of stress and your male horse drops, you can add this to frustration signals.

#7 - Tight Lips

Generally your horse will have soft lips. Very soft lips if they are very relaxed. If your horse's lips are tight and clenched, this is a sign of stress.

#8 - Snorting

Not all horses snort, but those who do will let you know you are approaching or crossing threshold with them by snorting.

#9 - Ears pinned

Ears pinned do not just mean ears facing the back. Ears facing the back usually just means they are listening/looking behind them. Ears pinned means laying flat to the neck.

#10 - Head High - Tight Neck

When your horse's head is high and its neck muscles are tight, this is a sign that their tension is rising. Horses hold their heads in a more comfortable moderate to low position when they are feeling relaxed.

Each horse is different

It is important to get to know your horse(s) to get a feel for how they will signal that they are reaching threshold. Generally, we recommend that if you see three of the above signs, you should pause or stop the training/interaction and begin again at a time when your horse has relaxed. They cannot learn when they are in an activated survival state.

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