Funny Faces During A Massage

My horse makes funny facial expressions when it gets a massage. What do they mean?

Behavioral scientists have done research on equine facial and behavioral expressions related to their feelings about the job they were doing or about to do or had just finished doing. Here’s what they say;

Relaxed snorting is related to expressions of happiness/positive feelings and is done deliberately.

Licking and chewing are related to cognitive understanding and acceptance. When the horse feels good about what is happening and mentally understands it, his brain chemistry changes in a way that induces salivation and thus the jaw and tongue movement. If you watch carefully horses will often swallow after a lick/chew to avoid drooling the saliva out.

Droopy eyes, ears, lips and head show the horse is relaxed and in the moment and might even be very close to sleeping.

Yawns are automatic and specifically related to parasympathetic nervous system (not deliberately done but rather “allowed” to happen as the horse relaxes).

The sympathetic nervous system is involved in preparing the body for stress-related activities. It’s triggered when your horse feels anxiety.

The parasympathetic nervous system or rest/digest, repair, operates when the horse feels safe and relaxed. Regular massage has been shown to restore balance between the SNS and PSNS. Massage can help your horse feel stronger, calmer, and be more able to fight infection. It also retrains the body to move more readily into PSNS which can be especially helpful for high strung or spooky horses.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: