The Eye of Eagles

It is often said that “an eye is the window into the soul,” but there is little known about the possibility that horses communicate with each other through eye expression. However, there was some reference to this fact in Robert Vavra's book, Such Is The Nature of Horses, where he he refers to the rolling of the eye as a warning signal to other horses. I myself have been able to judge character, intelligence, athletic ability, vigor, health and a horse that would make a champion. I also know what a horse is thinking by the expression in his eyes. But, before I read Robert Vavra’s book, it never occurred to me that horses communicate to each other through eye expression even though I knew the way they communicated was with body language, and my life study has been horse behavior and communication.

I thought eye rolling, when the whit of the eye can be seen on a horse who has a normally solid eye, was a sign of fear not aggression. I never guessed that horses instinctually communicated to each other with their eyes. It seemed strange to me because body language is so effective.

I then went about trying to prove Robert Vavra’s theory. When I tried to communicating with a horse in this manner by opening my eyes wide as sign of threat when confronting a horse I found it worked better if I used body language.

I have since learned that halter horses are much more attentive when I use eye expression and stallions are quicker to better behavior when they got out of hand. I have now learned that body language not only includes facial expressions, it also includes eye expressions.

Here are four basic eye expressions in horses, so that you may develop your ability to communicate and understand your horse better. I will be as descriptive as I can to help you. These observations came from my training journal of a young, aggressive two-year old stallion. I keep records of horses I am training as a reference journal to help guide me in my training programs. I chose these particular ones to share with you because fear, aggression, apprehension and anger are the least subtle and the easiest to recognize.

Normal Relaxed Eye When the young stallion first arrived at my ranch he had a frozen look in his eyes expressing aggressive fear. His normal relaxed eye did not appear for six weeks. In a normal relaxed eye, you may still lines from past negative thoughts and feelings. But you will also see a pleasant, hopeful look created by the softening in the upper and lower lids.

What caused me to do a study of this young stallion’s eyes was that he would ‘freeze’ or wear an expression that is usually only momentarily seen in horses. His frozen expression made it possible to do an in-depth study of horse’s eye expressions. I have learned from this study that all horses have a frozen expression but these expressions are so subtle they are overlooked and are often considered part of the natural confirmation of the horse.

This young stallion went through four major changes before he was brave enough to relax and give up his aggressive behavior of attacking anything that got too close to him. I didn’t treat him like an aggressive horse, however, because his behavior was fear based (I made this determination based on his eye expression), I spent hours with him, just visiting. I made it possible for him to watch me training other horses. I let him greet every horse that passed his stall. In a few months of a lot of attending and love and direction, he came around.

I pay attention to the behavior of each horse I have in training by eye expression, body language and behavior. These are the the three windows I draw upon. Eye expression can sometimes be the most important.

The Fearful Eye The fearful eye is wide open, the eye even pops out slightly, upper and lower lids are tense and hard. Every muscle around the eye is hardened. All white areas are exposed. That the pupil becomes small, due to the protrusion of the eye allowing extra light that enters the eye from the telescoping effect to the eyeball and the wide open eyed expression. A fearful horse can be either aggressive or shy. This colt was fearfully aggressive, showing white sclera all around the iris.

Some horses will have the white of the eye showing as their normal confirmation, which must not be read as an expression of intent. You can determine this by the upper and lower lids. If the eye looks relaxed and the upper and lower lids are soft, the white that is showing is a natural condition. When a horse has natural areas that are white, its fearful expression will expose greater areas of white.

The Angry Eye When a horse gets angry the lower lid pulls up and sinks in. The outside corners of the eye open to increase the size. the horse seems to be able to pull down the white sclera to give a ghost-like appearance to intimidate. Upper lid opens wide to increase the size of the eyeball. The eyeball takes on a darkened look as it flashes a mirrored reflection of light. The eye does not telescope like it does on a frightened horse. In some horses the angry eye even takes on a sunken look. Angry horses will either raise or lower their heads to what they are angry at.

The Apprehensive Eye A form of what many people call a “bright eye.” There are many kinds of bright eyes. When I observed this eye, the young stallion was apprehensive. He was no longer afraid. he was more concerned about what could take place than what was truly happening. The upper and lower lids are tense as in the fearful or angry eye. The upper and lower lid are only as tense as to create an ability to see better He is alert to the surrounding areas. Not as much white of the eye showing but still a little white is exposed around the whole area.

It is important to be able to read the eye expression of a horse to predict his conduct.

Maybe someone will write a book on eye language. What I have learned is that there are as many different expressions as there are words in the dictionary because of the combinations that can be used. The combination includes upper lid, lower lids combined with where the eye is looking in relationship to the situation the horse is addressing.

Since I read Robert Vavra’s book I’ve discovered most horses pay attention to eye expressions, especially dominant horses who are generally more observant than less aggressive horses. I now do horse evaluations through eye reading. Not only do I do evaluations for character analysis, you get a program to balance any problem you might be experiencing with your horse. If you are interested in sharing your experiences on eye reading or in having your horse evaluated, let me know at Thanks.

Speak to you on Thursday