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Most horse people will look at a horse's eye to determine its mood or whether it is in pain, alert or frightened. While working on a horse, I frequently look at the horse's eye to see what the response is to my work.
I can tell if a horse is becoming upset, or if he is becoming more relaxed, the eye will begin to glaze over. Sometimes I can see it in the eye before I feel it in the body. Animal expressions are pretty similar to human expressions. Because of this I have always incorporated the face and eyes in my bodywork, even before I became a TTEAM Practitioner. If a horse is becoming upset, I go to the head and use gentle stroking around the eyes and face to gain their trust. This even works on horses that are "head shy"!
Other techniques can be used around the eyes. A gentle stroke over a closed eye is very relaxing, TTOUCHes around a swollen eye can help the swelling go down, or aid in healing an injury.
There are some signs that can help understand the best way to approach a horse. The classic sign is the horse with the big, round clear eye. This says I am healthy and interested. Or there is what is referred to as the sharks or hard eye, which clearly says stay away. A vacant look to the eye could indicate I am not interested or could show the horse has withdrawn. As always, a sensitive handler can influence the mood and change the look in the eye just by acknowledging the horse and continuing with the work.
There are other characteristics the eye can present. The tissue surrounding the eye can also give the body worker clues.
The hooded eye is simply a hood over the horse's eye. This hood is skin over the eye that looks and feels thick. I owned a Thoroughbred off the track with a hooded eye. He was very quiet and willing to do whatever I asked. I noted a thick hood over his eyes but at the time just thought that was part of his features. I was looking for a quiet horse and he fit the bill. Within a year, the hood over his eyes receded as a very distinctive personality emerged. What made this change? While on the track, this horse never won a race. He was kept in training as he was well bred for racing. The trainer felt he was a late bloomer. He eventually suffered a hind tendon injury. He was then purchased by my trainer, and turned out for a very cold, icy winter. The horse became withdrawn but still maintained his good manners and workmanlike attitude. I purchased the horse before any training was started. Once this horse found he greatly enjoyed being owned by a single person who actually listened to him and found his antics amusing, he blossomed. I asked an Animal Communicator what he thought of the track; in one phrase, "Hated it." He also saw his job as taking care of me. Interestingly, once he became more secure, he showed a very amusing, quirky personality. He would take charge if need be but remained very trustworthy.
The hooded eye can also form if the horse is having chronic pain, is in an unhappy situation, or is exposed to anything that creates persistent stress.
The triangle eye is a thickening of the skin around the eye but it gives the appearance of a triangle. This horse is generally a chronic worrier. This is a horse that frets over anything new or a change in routine. They will generally be labeled as stupid or a problem horse as the worrying will make them non-functional. Plus the triangular look to the eye can make them look dull.
A lesser version of this are wrinkles above the eye. This also indicates a worrier.
The triangle eye will recede just as the hooded eye will. The wrinkled lines may come and go.
I know a horse who had a reputation of bucking his riders off. This included amateur as well as professional riders. At age 6 he was large, clumsy, barely ridden, as he was difficult to ride and labeled as stupid. He was returned to the breeder after several years of this pattern. When I first saw this horse, the very pronounced triangular eye struck me. In gathering information about him, I discovered the horse was allowed to walk in and out from the pasture to the stall. At his old farm he was rarely handled due to his inability to cooperate or understand what was asked of him. As this horse fell into the new farm's pattern, led in and out from stall to pasture, lightly ridden without any preconceived notions, he became easier to handle. There was still an element of caution around the horse but it never interfered with how the horse was perceived. An older gelding in the field actually adopted this horse and put him through an "orientation" of the pasture. The older gelding was the same gelding I used as an example for the Hooded eye. He stayed with him all day actually nudging him to move with him. Eventually the older horse incorporated him with the rest of the herd. The triangular appearance of the eye receded. It still comes and goes but as long as this horse is in a work program, he is much easier to ride and handle.
Both horses redeveloped the hooded/triangular eye when they were injured and on stall rest. Both had to be put in a light-riding program to keep a sense of a routine.
What do you do if you come across a horse like this? First do not jump to conclusions. The appearance is due to a long-term process and even the horse's perception of a situation. What one horse may accept another may become despondent over. Many horses are on the track and then turned out to pasture for a winter. Many other horses live their entire lives without a set routine and do not develop a hooded or triangular eye.
A few simple questions may enlighten both you and the owner.
Look at the horse's environment; does the horse seem bothered by activity? By an overly quiet environment? How does the owner interact with the horse? Are boundaries set? Too many boundaries? Does the owner seem flighty and scattered? Or is the owner demanding and exacting? Horses will reflect the personalities of their owners.
Another thought, how do the rider's goals for this horse come into play? Goals are great but only if the proper tools are being used to achieve these goals. The owner may have had great success on another horse but the tools used may not be appropriate for this particular horse.
There may be ways to change the horse's environment. If it is a busy farm with a lot of activity and the horse seems edgy, it may not be the place for the horse. Like people, some horses thrive on activity and others need quiet time. Exposure does not necessarily guarantee the horse will become used to a situation.
TTOUCHes are very useful around the face and eyes if the horse is holding stress. If you are not familiar with TTOUCH, then gentle stroking over the eyes from top to bottom is very soothing. The TTOUCHes will actually change the holding pattern of the tissue and help give the horse a new behavior. There are many other characteristics that could indicate what is going on with a horse. The two mentioned in this article are the ones I see most often.
For more information: www.tteam-ttouch.com
Information on the facial appearance and how it correlates to your horse's mood and personality: Getting In TTouch -- Understand and Influence Your Horse's Personality by Linda Tellington-Jones.
Maggie Moyer has been an ESMT since 1992 and began TTEAM training in 1998. She is now a Level I TTEAM Practitioner, and is located in south-central Pennsylvania.