#MasterclassMonday is a collaboration between Horse Network and NOELLEFLOYD.com to empower equestrians. Every Monday we’ll bring you a new lesson from a leading trainer or professional to help you troubleshoot your training, master your mindset and up your game. This month’s instructor: biomechanics expert Carolyn Cohen.

We all know that one horse that pins his ears back, nips the air, or side steps when you try to put the saddle on.

Maybe you’ve heard that the horse is just “girthy” or protective of his space. Or, maybe you’ve been told that the horse just isn’t great on the ground, or it’s “just how he is.”

In my opinion, we need to debunk this.

We know that our horses are always communicating how they feel with us through their body language, so ignoring those cues or chalking it up to “that’s just how he is” is only detrimental to the horse. 

In this series, we’ll talk about some of the observations that you can make about your own horse and what his body is trying to tell you about his comfort and health. This will help your relationship with your horse, his performance, and his happiness. Isn’t that what we all want?

You can tell a lot about a horse just by looking at their head

When you first go to observe a horse, always start with the head. It’s true when they say you can learn a lot about a horse just by looking at their facial expression and the same holds true for the structure of their head. Start by looking to see if the horse’s ears are even and if their eyes and jaw are parallel with one another.

Unevenness in these areas can be a sign of muscle tension, which can become exaggerated during a stressful period such as tacking up. Unevenness can also be a sign of undeveloped muscles, resulting in the pulling on one side of the horse’s body. This can cause the horse discomfort during activities such as putting the saddle on, tightening the girth, and even simple tasks like moving them over to pick up a hoof.

No detail is ever too small when it comes to determining the root cause of a horse with discomfort or undesirable behaviors.

A tense mouth = a tense horse

Have you ever heard that licking and chewing, or a big yawn, are signs of a horse “releasing”?

It’s true; horses release tension through their mouths and it can be quite obvious or rather subtle. And just as they release tension through their mouth and jaw, they can also hold a great deal of tension and stress there, too.

Sometimes a horse will noticeably grind his teeth while others will simply lock their jaws during stressful periods. A tense jaw may mean there is a tense or sore muscle, or it may simply indicate that there’s something about the tacking up process that makes your horse uncomfortable. Licking of the lips and chewing are all good signs.

Tacking up is a great way to learn about what bothers your horse so that you can make a plan to remedy those discomforts with your veterinarian, equine bodyworker, and/or tack fitting specialist.

This is just the teaser! Learn all things biomechanics and bodywork with Carolyn’s Equestrian Masterclasses: Equine Biomechanics and Bodywork 101.