Q&A Questions and Answers:
Hi Cowboy Bob!
First let me say "thank you" for your web-site. I discovered it a couple of weeks ago and have learned so much. I am a first time horse owner at the age of 45 and have a wonderful 13 year old quarter horse gelding. I have had him for about two months now and recently he has started nodding his head up and down when I approach him in the pasture and am talking to him. I was just curious if you know what this means? We have had fun getting to know each other and I'm looking forward to a long and loving friendship with him.
Thank you for your time!
It must be tough to be a critter that can't talk. Have you ever been in a situation where you had to remain silent when someone new walked into the room (listening carefully to something on the phone, for example)? You want to greet the other person, but you can't say a word. What do you do? Most likely, you nod to the other person. Why do you nod? Well, it's a sort of mini-bow, an acknowledgement of your respect for the other person.
You don't mention any other motion or behavior in connection with the nodding, so I'm assuming the old boy just stands there, nodding his head, as you walk up to him. That being the case, he's not exhibiting any signs of aggression or avoidance. What are we left with? Obviously, he likes to see you approach. My guess is that he's doing two things at once:
1. Lowering the head is a horse's way of indicating its submission to another -- much like the bow we discussed above. In general, the lower the head, the greater the degree of submission.
2. A horse -- like some birds or other creatures with eyes mounted on the side of the head -- has limited depth perception. One way they try to compensate for this is by rapidly moving the head up and down. This allows a single eye to "triangulate" the distance to an object.
A third possibility with this type of behavior comes when a horse is frustrated and wants to be more active, instead of just standing around. This signal is often accompanied by pawing or moving around. Since you didn't mention anything of that sort, I'm setting that idea aside.
If I'm correct about this, (and I've seen similar behavior many times) your gelding is telling you that he likes and respects you at the same time that he's getting a better estimate of how far away you are.
If there are other signals that run counter to this idea, please let me know and I'll add them to my reckoning!
Congratulations on getting your first horse! For what it's worth, some of the best rides I've ever had were when I was about your age and Willy was about the age of your gelding!
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