We at Instem pride ourselves with mastering the technology to support the pharmaceutical, medical device and veterinary profession, bringing their life enhancing products to market faster. But that is not all. We also pride ourselves with being able to understand our clients’ patients, and this includes animals.

The need for getting a better understanding of animal patients.

When it comes to understanding our clients’ patients, animals are no exception. In the human world physicians can ask patients about the pain they experience, about a body ache or headache that requires treatment. Patients can usually explain how they feel, where they experience pain and what symptoms they have.

With animals, this is entirely different. Animals communicate using their own language – much more difficult for humans to read and understand. Different breeds communicate in different ways, but with time and experience, humans can begin to interpret signals. Let’s look at a few examples with horses.

Horses communicate largely via body language, a language they themselves understand very well of course.


The first thing most people will notice are the ears, always in motion, acting like two independent radars. With ears forward the horse generally signals relaxation. When the ears go back, the interpretation is more challenging: the horse might be listening to the rider, it might be listening to something else behind it. But if the ears are flat to the back, this could signal aggression.


The tail is another very visible part of the horse used for body language. Especially in the summer, horses are used to using their tail to get rid of flies. However, when tucked in it can signal nervousness or even fear. A fierce swishing can signal something more alarming, usually a sign of irritation or frustration.


Horses’ legs are somehow fragile, the same as the legs of many other species such as zebras or antelopes. But horses’ legs can also tell a story. Resting a hind leg is very common using a locking mechanism (the “stay apparatus” mechanism) and is how horses can sleep. Resting or even putting forward a front leg though is uncommon and would need investigating.

How to recognise the all important “I am really not well”?

There could of course be many symptoms a horse might display to let you know something is not quite right. Pawing the ground, lying down and getting straight up again might indicate colic. Defensive or even aggressive behaviour during brushing or saddling might indicate back pain. Frantic up and down head tossing might indicate discomfort, especially with a ridden horse. All of these are clear indications that something is not right. To be able to help, we humans have to read and understand the body language of animals.

In summary

At Instem we are proud of not only understanding our clients, but also our clients’ patients, enabling our clients to bring life enhancing products to market faster. Having the ability to better read and understand the body language of animals is key to enable our veterinary clients to provide better treatment for their patients.

Published by Olaf Schoepke

Passionate about sharing ideas with regulatory professionals in the human and veterinary medicinal product space.

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