What the breath of a horse says

I often wonder, what do horses communicate with breath?

Breath is used when they greet, reassure, communicate. So what is it they transfer through breath, and how do they do it? Is breath just a small part of the equation? Or is it even breath that transfers the information?

And have you noticed how horses look in each other’s eyes when they do it? I never did for many years, although I would often share breath with a horse, not knowing what it meant, but seeing it as a horse greeting that I could participate in. And over time I realised that they always look in my eye when they do it. And then wondered how often I, a human, had shared breath with a horse, pretending or wanting to know and not knowing at all.

These days I do still share breath with a horse, but only when they initiate it. My greeting is firstly to meet with the eyes, and then when they seem ready, to offer my open hand, palm up, to their muzzle in greeting. First the eyes, then the muzzle. And wow, I sure get communication from that greeting of hand to muzzle. I don’t know what I am communicating to them in return, or what they hear from me. But some of the things that horses tell me with their breath during our greeting helps me to firstly know them a little, and often to better help them. That greeting, and listening, helps us to bond.

Here are some examples:

Pain, huge amounts of pain (from a horse that needed a lot of bodywork, and changes to how it was being worked, and a different saddle)

Pain and confusion, in not understanding the pain (from a young horse who had been previously injured)

Betrayal, they felt betrayed by their human (they were experiencing, among other things, a lack of release from pressure, punishment like shaking the rope for no apparent reason, tight reins that insisted they hold their head in, and a belief that the horse would deliberately be a problem or nuisance when it was actually communicating it was very worried about things)

Playfulness (from a foal, which was part of its nature).

Fear, great fear and mistrust of humans (from prior bad handling).

Humour (from a horse known to bite and that could be a bit of a devil but was also a gentleman)

Sweetness (from horses that have a very sweet nature)

Sweetness and humour (from horses that are sweet and also ratbags)

Feeling better (from a mare that had difficulties post foaling, after those difficulties were resolved)

And sometimes nothing at all! When I have to listen over time to what they have to say. 

I wonder, how much of what horses say to us are we simply missing? Not hearing? It is said that horses communicate through body language. But there is much more than that. Much more that might be scoffed at, or disbelieved, or simply that we cannot understand. I do not even pretend to understand it all; how it happens, what they say, what they don’t say. I accept that I am not a horse so can never fully understand a horse. But I feel very blessed to understand a small amount of what they offer, and to feel closer to them and better able to help through that communication.

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