Monday, June 15, 2009

G.E.B.L.E. Results! and Horses Dont Lie

Well, the results of the G.E.B.L.E. (Great Equine Body Language Experiment) are in! Thanks to everyone who wrote in with their interpretation of the body language of the horse in the above photo. I found this photo in a Google Image search and didn't look into where it came from but as it would turn out the photo is the last in a series by an Australian clinician named Norm Glenn. You can check out this page of his website to see the actions that preceded the moment captured in our "subject" certainly lends a greater understanding to the mindset of the horse in question!

(NOTICE: Photos of Harrison Lake, British Columbia and Canadian Geese have absolutely no relation what-so-ever to the Great Equine Body Language Experiment and as such have no place herein....however, I like'em. I wanted to post'em. And so I did! *sticks tongue out*)

But in order to analysing a single snapshot in time we did have to presume a lot, didn't we? And as such there is a large margin for error. We didn't know what happened before or after this photo was taken...but in that split second we all managed to come to a fairly common consensus.

Which is really quite fascinating when you think about it! This horse is not speaking! What we can see in this photo is the frame and bend of his body, the position of his hip and shoulder, the break of his poll, and the set of his ear. And yet, from these simple visual cues we all came up with a like minded interpretation!

Here are the results:

- "I am thinking I know what you want me to do, I am willing and responding to the handler. I am stepping away, paying attention to the handler"

- yielded, respectful, listening. Notice the slack rein, the outside hind leg stepping wide with the inside leg to follow (away from the handler) the cocked ear to the handler.

- The horse is watching his handler. He is alert and paying attention to what is asked of him. He seems to be saying, "You'd like me to (swing my hind end out, turn towards you, etc)?


- I think this horse is listening, attentive and thinking about what is being asked of him. He is not stressed, but he is not quite relaxed either because he is engaged in trying to perform what is asked.

-That horse has his inside ear turned into the man, so I would say he was paying attention to the man. His nose and face seem relaxed, so I would say slightly alert but calm.


- I think this horse is saying "I'm not sure of you but I am interested in you".

-It's kind of hard for me to tell exactly what this horse is thinking, because I can't tell if it's eyelids are wrinkled or if its nostrils are tense or relaxed or if he is licking and chewing, but I do think that he appears somewhat bored. He has one ear on the handler, and one on the camera man, and he may be trying to come off as being stubborn or thinking that this whole training thing is stupid.

...Or he may be nervous and that is why one ear is on the trainer and one is on the camera man. He is definitely not focusing entirely on his handler or the task at hand, and again, it may be due to boredom, stubbornness, or nervousness.

So, there you have it. I must actually see him in person to accurately read this particular horses expression. Maybe because his face is so mottled and I can't read his eyes. You can tell SO MUCH by what their eyes are saying. Sometimes their eyes say more than, or different things than their body language.

- What I see is a horse that is being asked to give to pressure-both by bending and flexing in his poll and by moving his body.

He is using his monocular vision-with his inside (left) eye and ear directed at the man asking for the movement beside him and his right eye and ear looking forward to see where he is going. At this exact moment he looks attentive and thoughtful and appears to be quietly attempting what is being asked of him.

- trusting and open. He's searching for a direction/what is being asked.


These were all great answers! But are they the "right" ones?Do you think that there is such a thing as a right and wrong when it comes to horses?
I do! an extent.

Because I believe that horses don't lie. (or at least it is exceptionally uncommon) They can cheat! They can play! They'll test you every way from Sunday! But they do not lie. The expression of a horses body is always an accurate expression of his feelings at that single moment in time.... but that is not to say that we always read him correctly.

What do you think, do horses lie?

Thanks again for playing along!

I really enjoyed this post and would like to make G.E.B.L.E. a regular weekend feature of this blog. Next Friday I'll have another picture up for your consideration!


  1. That was fun.... I cant tell you how often I was checking to see if there was a posting on the results.

    Good game.

    I agree horses don't lie, they are in the moment and are fairly easy to read. the biggest issue I have is with people applying human thought, emotion and logic to the horses situation.

    As the higher intelligence creature it is our responsibility to understand the horses language, and communicate to him as "HE" understands it.

    Horses will read the flick of an ear or a swing of a head the same as we read a nod of a humans head or the way a girl flips her hair.... its all a matter of paying attention.

  2. It is interesting how the results all came back very similiar. It is hard to tell what a horse is thinking from one picture, but I enjoyed it. This was fun and can't wait for next weeks!

  3. Cowgirl Rae- LOL at your "the way a girl flips her hair" what a perfect analogy!!

    Paint Girl- I know it is hard from one pic...I dont have next weeks yet, I will have to try hard to see if I can find a series of pics!

  4. This was definitely fun, and you can tell that I am used to "thinking"!!!! They always keep you on your toes. :)

  5. What fun! Sorry I missed it.

    Great picture of the lake there. I especially like the first one.

    Umm... well I would say "horses don't lie" but I had a gelding who learn to act tired so he didn't get worked. If you do something or act in a certain way to deceive someone else that equates to lying right?

    I've also known horses that have learned to cough or limp to get out of riding. Now one might say they aren't lying really - they are just repeating an action that previously got them out of work. In a sense we trained them to act "tired" or "limp" or "cough". So I guess it depends. Is that not a motivating factor for humans as well. Ya in sick, so you don't have to work?

    You tell me.

  6. Stephanie- I have heard of horses that have done that which is why I said "or at least exceptionally uncommon" (for them to lie).... because I've never personally known a horse that has done that but know people who know a horse who does or I think is not really common...and those horses tend to be a bit exceptional in other ways, dont you think. Either way, the exception proves the rule right? lol