Nicky's Own Art

Close encounters

"When studying horses, I often bring a camera", says Nicky. "Sometimes certain scenes play out so fast, that it is impossible to capture them on paper right away. On occasion the herds became very curious about what my person was doing in their territory. I typically do not approach horses actively, as I want to prevent influencing their natural behaviour. I am just as fulfilled watching them from a distance. And I also believe that they can totally do without me in their life... But when one ventures out to say 'Hello' I will respond. In the scene above we see a lead mare coming to me. I am not looking at her but I make sure that I keep her in my peripheral vision. Had she approached me in a straight line I would have up and left, withdrawing. A frontal encounter signifies dominance in horse language and I am never prepared to take a risk with that."

"After getting closer step by step from the side, this mare finally comes around and reaches out to me; her body language is friendly, curious and forthcoming and I feel completely safe, offering my hand, fingers together, keeping my eyes low , imitating her. It was an excellent moment to observe the mare up close and personal. So that a future drawing of a relaxed mouth or a sudden move to relieve an itch can be set up in a field sketch... After getting my smell, her curiosity was satisfied and she went her own way again." On this particular day Nicky was lucky enough to be accompanied by a photo enthusiast, who committed this scene to memory. Thanks, Neil!

A word of caution

All horses can be astonishingly quick. They can change direction in a heartbeat and their mood sometimes follows the same pattern. Once hormones are in play during the time of year the mares are in season, they can even become somewhat unpredictable and it is important to try and see the signs that warn you to get out of their way. They live in social groups and are very sensitive to non-verbal communication and as humans we sometimes forget that we are transmitting a lot of messages unconsciously. But the horses read us like a book and have no hesitation to react. They are quick learners too. Which is why, as with all wildlife that shares living space with humans, they should never ever be fed. It would turn them into spoiled, pushy and dominant creatures, demanding food even if you have none with you. Remember that they are big animals with big teeth and feet and that we, as humans, are not really at the top of the hierarchy when we are in their natural habitat...

In the wild, horses are very courteous, much more so than most humans, and usually announce their "change of mood" quite clearly and there is little doubt about the message that is sent once you know what to look for. The body moves to a frontal position, eyes stare directly into yours, legs are stamped, the ears are flattened and the head is going down. If you ignore all of these signs and do not move out of the way, you may get a quick nip or shove. "Move, or else..."  Of course, with horses being the size they are, a "quick nip" can be less than innocent when delivered to a vulnerable area of your body...

When you take the time to observe a herd with inquisitive ( and naughty! ) young ones, you will see the same behaviour happen as well. Horses speak the same language to us that they use to communicate with the foals and fillies and fellow adults. A young one will venture out, crossing the invisible boundary of the family group and before long the lead mare or the dominant stallion will follow it. Usually just dropping the neck and head is enough to bring the young horse back into the fold.


In the scene above we see what a gentle reminder looks like.... If the lower-ranked horse decided to not obey, the mare or stallion will walk towards it, nose lowered. The response is predictable: the little horse will understand, be contrite and make a licking and chewing motion with its mouth. This symbolizes an apology and submission. Horses will seldom attack unannounced and without a reason. But they will act if you do not respect the signs. If you are interested in learning more about the language of the original horse, have a look here:


Fight between competitors; you do not want to meddle with that. Keep your distance.