Years ago, I had thought horses only had two expressions because of their mostly fixed facial bones: neutral and angry. However, Lukas has shown me that he is capable of many more “looks”. By directing an eye here, an ear there or a nostril twitch to create a multitude of combinations, he is clearly expressing different meanings. Sometimes he looks like an innocent child, eyes filled with wonder and glee. At other times, he resembles a wise old traveler, knowing and serene. His expressions also include mischief, intelligence, trust, love, concern, gentleness and jealousy. By paying attention to his facial and body language, I began to recognize what Lukas was thinking and feeling.

A shift of weight, the flick of his tail, a quick glance – these and many more tell a story that, as much as words, show me his inner world. A slightly widened stance and neck tension means that he’s thinking about running. If he flares his nostrils slightly there’s a good chance he’ll be stirring up some dust. If he snorts and raises his tail, he’s planned his getaway and an explosion is next. All of these give lots of advance notice, like reading his skin. “How did you know he was going to do that, Karen?” I’ve often been asked by Lukas’ visitors. Lukas gives me plenty of signs – as if he’s preparing me for the magnificence of his displays.

Not only does Lukas have his ways of telling me things with his expressions, he seems to have a running commentary of actions during my visits. From the day we met, his keen observations of me and involvement in my activities enthralls him no end. After ten years, he still follows me everywhere and delights in each chore. “Now she’s picking up the towel! How I love my towel! Maybe we’ll play a game! No, she’s cleaning now. Uh-huh,huh,huh, leave it, Lukas, that tastes bad.” He angles his body to get as close as possible to me, often leaning into the scene in a ridiculous position. “She’s going outside! OOOOHH, the sunshine is wonderful! This is great! Hey, what are you looking at?!” Lukas pauses in irritation, and pins his ears and bares his teeth at his neighbor who had the audacity to glance over at us. “Get your own girl! Scram! Oh, there I am in my mirror – how handsome I look!” Back inside, Lukas insists on helping. “Here’s another towel! Use it! Use it! How ‘bout another kiss; it seems like days since the last one!”

After our chores are done, I watch Lukas settle into a comfortable spot, and his eyes begin to droop. As he fights off sleep, his eyelids pop open every so often as if to make sure I’m still there. Or he takes turns with each eye, trying to leave one open so as to keep watch. Ordinarily, horses sleep standing up. A locking mechanism in their knees keeps their bodies from buckling. In the very early morning hours, they’ll lie down to relieve the stress on their legs. Because of the vulnerability to predators and tremendous weight on their intestines, this is usually brief.

“I’m not tired, but concentrating so hard is a lot of work; I’ll just close my eyes for a minute and rest.” I watch as Lukas’ neck drops and his lower lip dangles. He drowsily checks on me once more. “Now what’s she doing? Isn’t life wonderful? I’m so lucky!” Lukas’ back leg cocks in relaxation, and his ears flop forward as he sinks to the ground. “Maybe just a short nap; all that thinking is exhausting.” I’ll squat down next to him at this point and let Lukas’ chin rest on the top of my head; then he’ll drop off into a deep sleep. “SNNNNort!” Lukas must be having a horse dream and wakes himself up. His chin slides off my hair with a start, and he angrily tosses his head back and forth searching for the intruder. “Who was that?! Did you snort?” As he looks at me suspiciously, “Somebody snorted…probably that nutty neighbor! How’s a guy supposed to get any shuteye around here with such racket?” He swishes his tail in a final complaint, sighs, and drifts off for his serious afternoon snooze. “I’ll be right back, buddy. I love you,” I always tell him and slip out smiling.

Author's Bio: 

Copyright 2012 Karen Murdock is a retired psychiatric nurse, who has been fixing problem horses for over 30 years. Owner of She uses a combination of shaping techniques, a specialized version of clicker training and positive reinforcement. Her unique approach uses games and play as a way to connect and bond with horses to develop confidence, increase focus, improve performance as well as build willingness and trust. All of her services and proceeds go to benefit the horses.