When a horse rests one back leg, what does that mean? . We know we have to take into consideration the language of the whole body in order to interpret what the horse is telling us about how they feel and what they are thinking. Body language is never so simple as “ears back means angry, ears forward means happy” (as discussed in a prior post on this topic) but there are still some forms of body language that are completely misunderstood or ignored.
For example; resting of a hind leg. Many people are under the impression that a rested leg always means that the horse is relaxed. They are surprised to find out that a back leg rested can actually be a sign of high stress. Take this video for example, River is quite frightened in this video. She’s experiencing a lot of anxiety and fear as she tries to figure out why there's a strange horse next to her pasture, her stress levels are through the roof, but she’s resting a leg? The theory behind the rested leg when experiencing stress is that it’s the horse preparing to run or kick. The leg is “slack” but absolutely not “at ease” or resting. The horse is positioning itself to respond in this high stress situation accordingly. In short, it's the body preparing to protect and defend itself.
I see this a lot during some types of “desensitizing” training/work. The horse will appear to be relaxed because it’s not moving its feet away from the scary object, and it’s letting you rub all over it etc, but the back leg is resting. If we look at just the leg, the horse might appear to be relaxed, but when you take into consideration the ears, eyes, muzzle, muscles, breathing rate, etc it’s pretty clear the horse is NOT relaxed in the least. It’s just given up moving away. This doesn't mean that they are always stressed when their have a rested leg though, just that sometimes it's not relaxation at all.. but the complete opposite of relaxation. So next time you see a horse resting it’s leg during a training session or when you’re out on a walk or any time really... take a look at the rest of the body and see what’s going on. Take into account the situation and the environment. A rested leg can tell you a lot about how your horse is feeling.