5 Common Horse Behaviors Explained

Angela Vuckovic
by Angela Vuckovic

It shouldn't come as a surprise to learn that horses are very intelligent animals. In fact, they are amongst the smartest out there! But even so, they can’t really speak to us in a language we understand – as most animals, they use different behaviors and body signals to communicate. However, while some nonverbal signs can be easy to decipher, some behaviors are difficult to understand at a first glance, especially if you are a new horse owner. To clear up any confusion and help you improve your relationship with your horse, we’ll go over the 5 most common horse behaviors and their meaning.

#1 Rolling

No matter if you are new to the world of horses, or an experienced horse owner, you must have seen your horse rolling around the ground, especially if it is strewn with fresh straw or similar stuff. You are bound to see this behavior often, so it is important to address it. Why do horses roll around? Interestingly, there are multiple reasons why horses roll, and they can be both positive and negative. Most of the time, however, they do it out of simple enjoyment and leisure. Think of rolling as a good solid stretch or a scratch. Horses do it as it feels good, but can also help them get rid of excess coat hairs, pesky flies, and can scratch an itch. In the pasture or a field, a horse might eagerly roll around the dirt and the dust. This is a natural inclination that helps lower their temperature or repel insects. However, in some rare situations, rolling can indicate colic troubles, especially after a horse ate too much. If you notice that rolling is out of the ordinary, check it out with your vet. It might be your horse’s way to get rid of that nasty gas buildup in their belly. 

#2 Yawning

Yawning in horses is not yawning in the usual sense – i.e. they don’t do it because they are sleepy. It has a multitude of reasons, some common, others not so much. In contrast to humans, horses can yawn after they have rested and they feel a new rush of energy. Some specialists say that it can also be a social behavior, especially when several horses are together. But sometimes, however, it may be a sign of gastrointestinal problems, such as colic or ulcers. In these cases, the horse may yawn in relief. If you notice that they do it too often, get in touch with a vet. Likewise, a horse may yawn when they are feeling pain, such as inner ear pain, toothaches, and similar. Again, if you notice it often enough, schedule a check-up.  

#3 Bucking

We all saw those cowboy movies where horses buck wildly in an attempt to throw off their rider. This behavior, however, is not something you will only see on film – you can spot it often, especially with pasture horses. The most common time when you can spot it is when horses are feeling playful and energetic. Fresh out of the stall and into the field, a horse may buck and jump with that newfound energy. Some situations, however, can cause your horse to become mad or annoyed, and they’ll buck to let you know. If you are an inexperienced rider or do something wrong, the horse might buck to “get rid of you”. In some rare cases, a pasture horse might suddenly buck when bitten by a pesky fly, but also when they are in pain. A strong and acute pain might leave them feeling helpless, so they buck from pain and frustration. Take all these circumstances into account before deducing the cause – it might be innocent lively behavior, but it might be more serious as well. 

#4 Neighing

Neighing might seem like the most common and natural horse behavior, as it is the horse’s “call”, after all. But this is a more complex behavior that can have different meanings. The simplest explanation is that neighing is a horse’s way of expressing their emotions and feelings. It is their “voice”, and they use it in many situations. When happy and excited, a horse might neigh to announce it. But they might do so when frightened, irritated, or uncertain of things. In simplest situations, a neigh might be a simple greeting, either to you, or the horse’s partner. This unique vocalization can also communicate a horse’s confidence. Simply put – it all boils down to the situation and the environment. Facing a ditch or a precipice? The horse might neigh due to fear. But running full speed in a race? That would be a sure sign of confidence and excitement.

#5 Snorting

In horses, snorting is a sure way of expressing moods and conveying emotions. Similar to neighing, the “message” of snorting depends on the situation. If a horse snorts in common and relaxing situations, it is their way to communicate a positive mood. But if they do so when hard work is to be done, it might be their way of saying “Not this again!”, or “Do we have to?”. Some experts say that snorting in horses is simply their reaction to various physical needs. But, whatever the case, it is rarely – if ever – a sign of physical discomfort or pain. The most common times to see it are in relaxation and enjoyable situations, which indicates a positive mood in your horse.

Angela Vuckovic
Angela Vuckovic

A proud mama to seven dogs and ten cats, Angela spends her days writing for her fellow pet parents and pampering her furballs, all of whom are rescues. When she's not gushing over her adorable cats or playing with her dogs, she can be found curled up with a good fantasy book.

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