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I've been writing a story since May where one of the main characters is a Percheron mare named Camille. Early on in the story she gets pregnant (from a Clydesdale), and I've been treading fairly cautiously about how a pregnant horse acts (among other things) since I know precious little about horses. Basically I've had her being a bit irritable, since that seems common with pregnant animals of all kinds; Camille is also a horse of no nonsense, especially from uppity little stallions (and for her, little usually does mean literally!).

Basically, I know that dray horses tend to be calmer compared to breeds like Arabians, that horses are pregnant for a couple months longer than a human, and that mares lead a herd. But I'm writing more with Camille now, and I need to know a bit more than I've been able to find on the internet. What are the various signals horses send? I know an annoyed rabbit turns away and ignores the person he's miffed with, and that if a rabbit is very afraid he will freeze and thump his foot, but what does an annoyed, afraid, aggressive or jubilant horse do, as far as body language and sounds?

Are there certain behaviours in horses when they are pregnant, the way human ladies will get cravings or be very tired during their pregnancy?

E. N.


Wow! You don't ask much, do you? That's almost like asking what all of the body language signals of a human are! The behaviors of a draft horse, as you correctly state, are somewhat different than those of the lighter saddle stock. The more docile draft horses are loosely classed as "coldbloods" as opposed to the more spirited "warmblood" light breeds.

You also have to remember that a horse's emotions don't exactly correlate to human emotions, Here, however, in general terms are a few signs of the four emotions you mentioned:

Annoyance -- A common sign of annoyance is turning the rear end toward the source of the annoyance. It's a clear signal to stop -- unless, of course, you don't mind being kicked into the next county! If the horse is just antsy or bored, it may tend to paw at the ground or even nudge the human with its head.

Fear -- A fearful horse will often lay its ears back against the head, flare its nostrils, show white around the eyes, and become very skittish. It may also try to turn its back and kick at whatever it fears. In other cases, it may seek shelter behind an equine or human protector. I remember the first time Fanny had a farrier trim her feet. She was generally well behaved, but was a bit worried about this new procedure. I was holding her lead rope, and at one point she tucked her head under my arm -- like she might have tucked it under her dam's belly. I had the strong impression that she was trying to say, "I'm scared -- protect me, Bob!"

Aggression -- An aggressive horse will pin its ears back, narrow its eyes and nostrils, stretch out its neck and attempt to nip at the object of its aggression.

Frisky horse in spring Jubilation -- When a horse opens its mouth and rolls back its lips, it's easy for us humans to mistake it for a "horse laugh." In truth, it's usually just a yawn. When a horse is really "feeling its oats," it will often buck, rear, or even nip at other horses as an invitation to play a game of equine tag. You'll most often see this sort of behavior when the weather warms up in the spring.

One of the early signs of a pregnant mare is that she may become a bit "stand-off-ish" -- to other horses as well as to humans. She will also become a bit more wary, more defensive of her feed, and a lot more hungry. She will also appear lazy, which probably just indicates that she tires more easily.

Many times, the best way to calm down an overly-spirited mare is to have her bred. Just as a "wild" human female usually settles down to a "domestic" life after having a baby, a mare will generally become more calm after having a foal.

By the way, I've noticed (at least among warmbloods) that when a mare becomes "interested" in a stallion (or even a good-looking gelding) she will make a squealing noise like a stuck pig, nip, and make half-hearted kicks in an attempt to make the object of her affection pay attention to her.

As a mare nears the time of birth, she will begin to "wax up" -- producing a thick, waxy secretion from her nipples. Nine out of ten foals are born at night -- most of them arriving between nine at night and two in the morning. The normal gestation period for a horse is usually given as 330 days (about 340 days for coldbloods), but a normal birth may occur at anywhere from 310 to more than 370 days.

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