Horse Anatomy Horse Behaviour

Horse communication points & how to use them like a horse

Your horse is full of pressure points that he regularly uses to communicate with other horses.

It’s incredibly beneficial for you to know what these points are and how to use them for more effective communication with your horse.

Let’s first talk about volume.

This is similar to how you would use your voice; if someone doesn’t hear or listen to you at first, you’d turn up the volume on your voice to make yourself heard.

Horses do the same, but with gesture.

The different volume levels of horse communication, increasing in intensity from level 1-6:

  1. Look at the point
  2. Reach towards the point
  3. Touch the point
  4. Snap in the air just above the point
  5. Pinch the point
  6. Bite/kick the point

I’ve talked before about how horses are incredibly spatially aware at all times. As a prey animal, this is crucial to them.

So if the more subtle requests from your horse go unnoticed – such as looking, reaching towards or gently touching a pressure point – your horse will escalate to snapping the air near the point but without touching it.

This is often interpreted as a “close call” and the human just “got lucky”, when the horse was in fact trying to communicate more clearly.

It doesn’t take much of a stretch to see that if your horse is already snapping the air around your body, but not touching it, escalating to a nip, bite or a kick isn’t far behind – unless you listen and respond.

The reason why it’s important to learn the non-verbal language of your horse, is because when you know what he’s trying to communicate, when he sees that you understand – even if you disagree with him – he will trust your more and he will relax around you.

This will make him less stressed and less reactive in general, making him safer all around.

Pressure points horses use to communicate.

You can download a PDF version of this image here.

Finding the precise spot on your own horse can take some practise, but these are the general points I’ve observed and learned from watching horses interact with each other.

The “follow me” point.

This is located on the poll, just behind the ear.

This is used by a higher ranking horse to tell a lower ranking horse to follow them. You can use this on your horse, if your horse sees you as the one in charge.

The friendship point.

This is the centre of the forehead, just above the point between the eyes.

When a horse offers you this point, the energy is very different than when they’re trying to head butt your or rub their head on you.

They’ll offer this point when they’re feeling calm and relaxed and want to spend time with you.

It’s a vulnerable point because it involves your horse lowering his head in order to give you access to this point; that’s a sign of trust.

The greeting/permission point.

Why I call this the greeting and/or permission point is because it depends.

Since horse’s don’t have hands, they use their prehensile lips to explore the world in a similar manner we’d use our hands.

When a horse is curious and wanting to check something out, they’ll reach out with their muzzle to explore. Horses who greet each other use their muzzles first.

If you train your horse with R+, you can reach out your closed fist to your horse as a way to ask permission to approach or continue with an activity.

If your horse touches your hand or the object, that is the signal that your horse is ready and you can proceed.

Point to move the whole body backwards.

Rather than using the middle of the chest, horses tend to use either side of the shoulders on the front to move another horse backwards.

I’d imagine this is a question of reach and ease; when you have a long body on four legs, and a long neck to boot, reaching around another creature’s long neck is easier when you only have to focus on the side rather than the middle.

It’s also a clear sign that a horse wants the other horse to move that foot away, telling them to step backwards, which will naturally bring the other foot along with it.

When doing groundwork, this is exactly what we do as well – focus on the feet that we want to move, not the rest of the horse.

The up/consent point.

This is a vulnerable point.

It tells a horse to collect, move up out of the way quickly (moving to use this point can be an escalation if the previous point didn’t work) and even to kick.

A stallion looking to mate will “test” this point on a mare.

If she doesn’t lash out, i.e. kick out, she’s giving her consent to mate.

We use this point to teach horses how to collect and round their back, and using this point is always risky because a horse can lash out with a hind hoof.

If you’ve got a piece of tack touching that point, such as a long whip, you might get a horse that’s constantly reacting to that spot being touched by kicking and bucking.

The point to move the hind quarters out of the way.

A lot of pressure points can be found where muscles meet each other, the spot to move he hind quarters to the side is often like that.

When asking your horse to move his hind quarters away from you, this is the point to use.

The point to drive your horse forward.

This is the point a stallion or lead mare in a herd will use to drive other horses, often those lagging behind, to move forward.

It’s different than the point asking to move the hind quarters, as it specifically instructs the horse to move forward, usually at a good clip.

This is the point to use when lunging your horse and driving him forward.

The point to move the entire body sideways/out of the way.

This point is used to move the entire body out of the way.

When riding, we use this point to do the same; ask the horse to move sideways.

It’s a central point that functions as a key point to move the entire body.

The grooming point.

This is the point horses use to initiate allogrooming.

They’ll typically start by rubbing their lips on this point, if they then want more pressure from the other horse, they’ll signal this with a quick, painless nip.

Eventually they’ll use their teeth to really get in there.

The point to move the forequarters away.

The point is in the middle of the neck, and works much like the point to move the whole body, but only moves the front feet.

This is a good point to use when you want to ask for space, but not move your horse too far away.

If your horse is crowding you during times like feeding or when you have treats, this point can give you space.

The point to move the head out of the way.

When you just want to move the head out of the way, use the communication point in the middle of your horse’s cheek.

This will cause him to move his head out of the way and give you space.

Hopefully, these communication points will have given you some insight into the non-verbal language of your horse.

Remember, to use these points always begin by looking at the point and then gradually increasing the pressure on the point as outlined in the beginning of this article.

Happy communicating!

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