Why do Horses Neigh? - Horse Communication Explained (2022)

Why do Horses Neigh? - Horse Communication Explained (1)

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Since we were little we have been taught that, just like a cat ‘meows,’ a horse neighs. Have you also heard of a horse’s whinny? It’s important to know, however, that there is a slight difference between a horse’s neigh and whinny, which is usually lower in both pitch and frequency. If you are wanting to learn more about how horse’s communicate and the true significance of a neigh and whinny, this article is for you!

For more about, ‘‘Why do horses neigh?’’ keep reading here at AnimalWised and discover everything you need to know about this well-recognized horse sound.

Contents

  1. How do horses communicate?
  2. Horse neigh sound
  3. Why do horses whinny?
  4. Understanding horse communication
  5. Horse sounds in words

How do horses communicate?

Horses communicate largely with their eyes, head positioning, ears, legs and body. A horse’s verbal communication is also incredibly important when it comes to horses expressing themselves. Verbal communication allows horses to express:

  • Distance-contact with other horses.
  • Enthusiasm.
  • Avoiding contact with other horses they don’t like.
  • Keeping a mare and her baby together.
  • Communicate in the dark, keeping groups together.

Horse communication: scent

Horses also communicate through scent and/or odor, especially when it comes to establishing a relationship between a foal and its mother. Scent among horses is also incredibly important during courtship, allowing horses to offer each other sexual information.

Horse communication: physical

Communication through touch, caresses and scratching is also very important when it comes to horse communication. These gestures serve to communicate bonds between individuals. In addition, reciprocal grooming is a form of support among horses to help reduce stress and nervousness.

Body language communication in horses

Horses are highly sensitive to changes in body language (among both their own species and humans). Horses, therefore, react strongly to the most subtle changes.

(Video) What Does That Mean? Subtle Signs of Stress in Your Horse

Horses, as prey animals, are experts in communicating tension. Their alert posture, for example, serves to warn the rest of the pack of a threat. So if your wondering, ‘‘Can horses feel human emotions?’’ The answer is yes. If a human feels stressed or anxious, it would be difficult to hide this feeling from a horse.

Why do Horses Neigh? - Horse Communication Explained (3)

Horse neigh sound

The neigh and horse whinny are just two of the many sounds horses make. Additional horse sounds include snorting, wheezing, roaring, courtship sounds and a mother’s call. Each one of these horse sounds are used to communicate different emotions.

A horse’s neigh is created when a horse passes air through the vocal cords, which changes according to the position of the throat muscles, tongue, opening of the mouth and position of the lips.

Unfortunately, there are certain practices that consist of cutting a horse’s vocal cords to prevent the horse from neighing. This practice is extremely dangerous and illegal. It is used to prevent a horse from distracting the bull during bullfighting. Some riders claim that if a horse neighs it could cause a problem within the ring. This, however, has no scientific basis. This same practice is carried out among falconry birds, other birds, dogs and cats and is highly discouraged.

If you have a horse, you’ll love our article where we list the best names for horses and mares.

Why do horses whinny?

So, why do horses neigh neigh when they see you? Horse sound analysis depends largely on the context. The 5 main reasons horses neigh or whinny include:

  • Neigh: Communicating to the rest of the group a location, especially in the case that a horse has been separated from the herd.
  • Neigh: When two ‘linked’ horses or a rider and a horse have been separated.
  • Whinny: Horses whinny to greet their owner or another horse, this is especially common at feeding time.
  • Whinny or neigh: can also transmit affection (dependent largely on context).
  • Neigh or whinny: When it is frequent and prolonged, a horse is showing its joy. This is usually accompanied by slaps on the ground (without threatening intent).

One of the simplest ways to differentiate a horse neigh and horse whinny is by understanding that a whinny is a lighter and gentler form of a neigh. Did you know that feral, wild or semi-domesticated horses neigh/whinny more than those in captivity? This fact only emphasizes the importance of these horse sounds as a necessary form of communication between these species. For more, we recommend taking a look at our article where we discuss what are wild horses - horse subspecies around the world.

(Video) Animated guide to horse body language | Animated Series Episode 2

Understanding horse communication

In order to fully understand horse emotions, we need to pay particular attention to a horse’s body language. Horse body language chart states that:

  • A horse’s tail is used to show fear, excitement or aggression.
  • A horse’s leg movement and positioning can alert and warn of threats.
  • A horse’s ears, which are one of the most important body parts when it comes to this communication, show fear, insecurity, curiosity, alertness, relaxation, etc. In addition, they can move them independently, which can indicate where a horse’s attention is directed. You should also know that if your horse’s ears are facing backwards, it is not happy and is warning you.
  • The most complex part when it comes to understanding a horse is in the face. A horse’s face can express infinite emotions due to its anatomy. For example, drooping eyelids and lips evoke relaxation. Marked wrinkles around the mouth and nostrils warn that the horse is irritated. When a kind of triangle appears on the mouth, with tightened lips and a dimpled chin, it expresses tension. When a horses is grooming with others, they lose nose tension and their eyes become relaxed.

It’s important to remember that each and every horse is unique and carries different preferences. Not all horses are disturbed or irritated by the same thing. Horses are very complex animals, capable of creating strong links with animals of different species. Understanding a horse’s entire communicative repertoire can take years of dedication.

Horse sounds in words

So you may be wondering, ‘‘Why do horses snort when riding?’’ or ‘‘Why does my horse whinny at me?’’ As we’ve already stated, horses make several different sounds that all mean different things, depending on the context. For more about a general analysis of sounds horses make in words (in addition to neighs and whinnies), keep reading below:

(Video) Cracking The Horse Speak Code - Horse Speak 101

  • Snort: A horse’s snort is quite complicated to analyze. Some believe it occurs as a simple act when a horse needs to clear its nose, while others claim it’s a form of greeting. The general consensus, however, is that a horse’s snort in words means, ‘‘What’s this?’’
  • Squeal or horse scream: this sounds usually has a negative association meaning, ‘‘Stop it!’’ It is often heard during horse courtship between mares and is also used as a warning sound.
  • Groan & grunt: groans or grunts among horses are often associated with a positive emotion of ‘‘That’s nice!’’ or with tiredness, especially relevant after long walks.
  • Roar or trumpet: this sound occurs when a horse is angry, confused or sacred, translating to ‘‘Be careful, i’m angry!’’ or ‘‘Stay away!’’

For more fun horse facts, we recommend reading our article where we analyze how do horses sleep.

If you want to read similar articles to Why do Horses Neigh?, we recommend you visit our Facts about the animal kingdom category.

Bibliography

Feist, J. D., & McCullough, D. R. (1976). Behavior patterns and communication in feral horses. Zeitschrift für Tierpsychologie, 41(4), 337-371.

Goodwin, D. (2007). Horse behaviour: evolution, domestication and feralisation. In The welfare of horses (pp. 1-18). Springer, Dordrecht.

King, S. R., Asa, C. H. E. R. Y. L., Pluhacek, J., Houpt, K. A. T. H. E. R. I. N. E., & Ransom, J. I. (2016). Behaviour of horses, zebras, and asses. Wild equids: Ecology, management, and conservation, 23-40.

McCall, C. A. (1990). A review of learning behavior in horses and its application in horse training. Journal of Animal Science, 68(1), 75-81.

Ödberg, F. O., & Francis‐Smith, K. (1976). A study on eliminative and grazing behaviour—the use of the field by captive horses. Equine Veterinary Journal, 8(4), 147-149.

(Video) Why Do Horses Snort?

FAQs

Why do horses neigh? ›

“Horses generally neigh to attract attention of other horses or of people.” She adds that it can also be “a sign of separation anxiety or a sign of social isolation.

How do horse communicate? ›

Horses communicate through their body using their overall posture—or “body language”—their eyes, their ears, tail, head and neck position, and their facial expressions.

What is it called when a horse is neigh? ›

You can use neigh to talk about the noise your horse makes, also known as a whinny or a bray.

How does a horse neigh? ›

When a horse neighs it's asking “where are you?” The neigh is sometimes referred to as a whinny. It will start as a squeal and then end up as a nicker. It can last on average 1.5 seconds and can be heard for over a half a mile away.

How do horses communicate with sound? ›

While they can vocalise with a whinny, squeal, nicker or snort, they communicate mostly using body language. It's used to show dominance or subordination, to maintain discipline and to alert each other to danger.

Do horses understand kisses? ›

#5 – Kisses

Just like giving hugs, horses can give kisses too. Again, there's no need to feel uncomfortable when your equine friend starts kissing, licking, or breathing on you. These are all often signs of affection and they could mean that you have mastered the heart of your horse.

Can horses communicate with people? ›

Horses can be trained to communicate with humans to express their feelings and opinions, scientists have discovered. Past research has confirmed that some species of animals, including apes and dolphins, can learn to communicate preferences by pointing at symbols, much like humans.

How do people communicate with each other? ›

Our body posture, tone of voice and the expressions on our face all convey a message. These non-verbal means of communicating can tell the other person how we feel about them. If our feelings don't fit with our words, it is often the non-verbal communication that gets 'heard' and believed.

What is a horse communicator? ›

People will call a communicator to find out why their horse keeps bucking, or why their cat won't pee in her litter box. They'll schedule a session to find out if their dog is in pain. They'll reserve some time if their animal is dying and they just need help letting go. And they pay.

What sound does a horse make when happy? ›

The Whinny or Neigh

Referred to both as a whinny and a neigh, horses make this noise for a few different reasons. The biggest reason a horse tends to whinny or neigh is that they are excited to see a human or horse companion — it is their way of being welcoming.

How do you make a horse neigh? ›

HOW TO MAKE HORSE SOUNDS (SILLY!) For Kids LEARN ANIMAL ...

What does it mean when a horse licks you? ›

One way horses often show affection is by licking. When a horse licks you, it usually means that it likes or trusts you. Horses also lick people as a sign of submission. If a horse licks you while you are grooming or riding it, it is probably trying to show you that it trusts and respects you.

What is the sound of horse called? ›

List of animal sounds
AnimalDescriptionSound
Hermit crabchirp
Hippopotamusgrowl
Hornetbuzz0:45 Hummel bee
Horseneigh, whinny, nicker0:03
79 more rows

What do horse sounds mean? ›

Horses are always gentle, quiet, and calm. So, when you hear them make a noise, it means that they are trying to talk to you or themselves. The sounds can mean that a horse is happy, in a problem, or stressed. If you want to treat and handle your horses in a better way, learn about the different sounds they make.

How do horses greet each other? ›

Nickering is a soft sound made when horses greet one another. They make it by keeping their lips pressed together while simultaneously using their vocal chords. It's a sound that means, "Hello! I'm happy to see you!" When horses nicker with happiness, they have an alert expression on their faces.

Why is it important to know how horses communicate? ›

They do this, in part, to help each other survive. By communicating with the other horses in their herd, they can warn when a predator is approaching or provide any information important to the group. They can also move to warmer climates when necessary and signal to others when they find food or other resources.

What sound does a horse make when it is angry? ›

Squealing and roaring

A high-pitched, piercing squeal is also heard from horses in some situations. It can be a sign of anger and exuberance, but it can also be a warning.

Why shouldn't you look a horse in the eye? ›

Never look a horse in the eye

You're only a predator if you intend to eat what you're looking at. Horses can easily tell the difference between a predator looking to eat and predator looking in curiosity and wonder. Horses do, however, struggle to understand the intention of a human who hides his eyes.

Do horses like being hugged? ›

As I say though, most horses prefer to be hugged around the neck, withers, and shoulders but some are also happy for small children to hug their front legs if they're unable to reach their necks. Some horses are also happy for you to cuddle their heads while others don't feel comfortable with people being that close.

What does it mean when a horse pushes you with his nose? ›

Horses can nudge you with their nose for a variety of reasons. The key reasons are likely to be: pushing you out of the way, encouraging you to give them treats, rudeness, itching, and affection. Sometimes it just genuinely means they want to play.

Can horses understand human language? ›

Horses also understand words better than expected, according to the research, and possess "excellent memories," allowing horses to not only recall their human friends after periods of separation, but also to remember complex, problem-solving strategies for ten years or more.

How do horses understand humans? ›

Horses Can Read Human Emotions

Beyond having a natural bond, horses can pick up on and understand human emotions. Psychologists demonstrated that horses could recognize a human's mood from their facial expressions and differentiate between anger and happiness.

Can horses understand human speech? ›

Horses, pigs and wild horses can distinguish between negative and positive sounds from their fellow species and near relatives, as well as from human speech. This, according to new research in behavioral biology at the University of Copenhagen.

What are types of communication? ›

Five Types of Communication
  • Verbal Communication. Verbal communication occurs when we engage in speaking with others. ...
  • Non-Verbal Communication. What we do while we speak often says more than the actual words. ...
  • Written Communication. ...
  • Listening. ...
  • Visual Communication.
12 Jul 2018

What is important of communication? ›

In our daily life, communication helps us build relationships by allowing us to share our experiences, and needs, and helps us connect to others. It's the essence of life, allowing us to express feelings, pass on information and share thoughts. We all need to communicate.

What is the two types of communication? ›

Spoken or Verbal Communication, which includes face-to-face, telephone, radio or television and other media. Non-Verbal Communication, covering body language, gestures, how we dress or act, where we stand, and even our scent.

Why do animals communicate? ›

Animals communicate using signals, which can include visual; auditory, or sound-based; chemical, involving pheromones; or tactile, touch-based, cues. Communication behaviors can help animals find mates, establish dominance, defend territory, coordinate group behavior, and care for young.

How does an animal communicator work? ›

Animal communication most closely resembles telepathy — the ability to send and receive thoughts, images and feelings over a distance. In many ways, animal communicators can serve as a translator between people and their pets, helping to establish a line of communication when problems arise.

What is telepathic animal communication? ›

Telepathic communication assumes that animals are sentient beings with their own purposes, desires, choices, and manner of looking at the world." Webster's defines sentient as "responsive to or conscious of sense impressions," and by that definition, it would have to be agreed that most animals are sentient beings.

What is a male horse called? ›

…male horse is called a stallion, the female a mare. A stallion used for breeding is known as a stud. A castrated stallion is commonly called a gelding. Formerly, stallions were employed as riding horses, while mares were kept for breeding purposes only.

Why does my horse moan? ›

Horses that grunt or groan when they breathe are usually responding to pain. When the diaphragm and ribcage move with each breath, this stretches or moves an injured area, stimulating pain receptors.

What does it mean when a horse snorts at you? ›

The noise could also be a signal to other horses that a danger has passed, said McDonnell. In many other places, horse experts and caretakers have put forth their own ideas about horse snorts: It represents excitement, it's a greeting, it expresses curiosity or hesitation.

What is the sound of all animals? ›

This is a list of vocabulary related to sounds of animals
AnimalsSounds
Catsmew, purr, meow, hiss, yowl
Cattlemoo, low, bawl (calf), bellow (bull)
Chickscheep
Chickenscluck, cackle
66 more rows

How can you tell a horse is happy? ›

Signs Your Horse is Happy
  • Nostrils. Your horse's nostrils are soft, round, and relaxed and breathing is even on both sides.
  • Tail. Your horse's tail will swing freely, evenly, and loosely when happy and relaxed.
  • Lower Jaw. ...
  • Rearing or Pawing. ...
  • Licking and Chewing. ...
  • Yawning. ...
  • Snorting. ...
  • Mutual Grooming.

What sounds do horses make when scared? ›

When your horse squeals, he creates a noise that can either be short and soft, or long and loud. A loud squeal can be heard from quite far away. A squeal indicates resistance to something – your horse may not be afraid, exactly, but he is not happy about what he's being asked to do.

Can horses sense a good person? ›

The findings indicated that horses care capable of detecting when a human is expressing and projecting positive feelings towards them and is likely to reciprocate those positive feelings.

How do you know a horse trusts you? ›

Horses Trust You When They're At Ease Around You

Their bottom lip is tight. Their nostrils are tense. Their tail is moving quickly or not at all. Their ears are pinned back on their head, or alert and facing you.

Do horses have a favorite person? ›

Horses exhibit higher heart rates when separated from a human, but don't show any preference for their owners over complete strangers, the team discovered.

What do you call a female horse? ›

A mare is an adult female horse or other equine. In most cases, a mare is a female horse over the age of three, and a filly is a female horse three and younger. In Thoroughbred horse racing, a mare is defined as a female horse more than four years old.

What is it called when a horse blows through its lips? ›

We call it a lip-trill. Follow this answer to receive notifications.

Why do babies make horse noises? ›

There's grunting, groaning, snorting, and all sorts of other funny sounds that you'll hear out of her. But according to Dr. Levine, all those strange noises are caused by baby's nasal passages being pretty narrow in the newborn stage, leading the mucus that gets trapped in there to create some added sound effects.

Can horses tell if your scared? ›

According to results of a study conducted by researchers at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, horses do seem to read some signals to indicate whether a nearby person is stressed or afraid, at least in certain circumstances.

How old can a horse live? ›

How do you say hello to a horse? ›

1 Use a Knuckle Touch (your hand in a soft fist, knuckles up) to the horse's Greeting Button to say, “Hello,” followed by an obvious turn to one side. Do this to see if the horse will copy your movement (an offer to follow you).

Can horses get jealous? ›

Do horses get jealous? Horses don't get jealous over one another's achievements or go green with envy when another horse secures the best stable. But, they may become possessive over valuable resources and display jealousy if others get too close to their food or owner.

How can you tell if a horse is happy? ›

Signs Your Horse is Happy
  1. Nostrils. Your horse's nostrils are soft, round, and relaxed and breathing is even on both sides.
  2. Tail. Your horse's tail will swing freely, evenly, and loosely when happy and relaxed.
  3. Lower Jaw. ...
  4. Rearing or Pawing. ...
  5. Licking and Chewing. ...
  6. Yawning. ...
  7. Snorting. ...
  8. Mutual Grooming.

What sounds do horses make when they are happy? ›

The nicker. Besides the neigh, a nicker is the most common sound that you'll hear from a horse. It shows that the horse wants your attention, and it's happy.

What does it mean when a horse snorts loudly? ›

Other horse behavior experts say that snorting doesn't mean anything — the horses are just clearing their noses or responding to itchiness and discomfort, just like we humans do. Still, others say that snorting can be a consequence of negative emotions.

What does it mean when a horse licks you? ›

One way horses often show affection is by licking. When a horse licks you, it usually means that it likes or trusts you. Horses also lick people as a sign of submission. If a horse licks you while you are grooming or riding it, it is probably trying to show you that it trusts and respects you.

How do horses show disrespect? ›

What is labelled disrespect usually involves things the horse does that the person does not like: crowding space, ignoring cues, barging over the person, standing too close, biting, kicking, pinning ears, rubbing his head on the person, not standing still, turning hindquarters towards the person, spooking and not ...

Do horses have a favorite person? ›

Horses exhibit higher heart rates when separated from a human, but don't show any preference for their owners over complete strangers, the team discovered.

Can horses sense a good person? ›

The findings indicated that horses care capable of detecting when a human is expressing and projecting positive feelings towards them and is likely to reciprocate those positive feelings.

What does it mean when a horse touches you with his nose? ›

Horses can nudge you with their nose for a variety of reasons. The key reasons are likely to be: pushing you out of the way, encouraging you to give them treats, rudeness, itching, and affection. Sometimes it just genuinely means they want to play.

Do horses like being hugged? ›

As I say though, most horses prefer to be hugged around the neck, withers, and shoulders but some are also happy for small children to hug their front legs if they're unable to reach their necks. Some horses are also happy for you to cuddle their heads while others don't feel comfortable with people being that close.

Do horses like being petted? ›

4- Many horses like to be rubbed on the neck, shoulder, hip, or on the chest. Some horses enjoy having their heads and ears rubbed. Horses often groom each other on the whither, so this would be a good place to try too.

What is it called when a horse blows through its lips? ›

We call it a lip-trill. Follow this answer to receive notifications.

Why does my horse nicker to me? ›

A horse nicker is like a call for attention. Nickering usually happens when a stallion is trying to get the attention of a mare when it is time to mate. Also, mares tend to nicker at their foals when they wander too far away.

Why does my horse sniff my face? ›

Affection. Another reason horses put their noses in your face is to show affection. Horses show affection for one another by gently blowing into each other's nostrils, and your horse may be trying to show affection for you as if you were another horse.

What does it mean when a horse paws the ground? ›

Your horse may paw at the ground for several reasons, including boredom, frustration, playfulness or pain. However, pawing at the ground is also a common sign of colic. If this behaviour is out of character for your horse, call your veterinarian immediately.

What does an angry horse sound like? ›

Squealing and roaring

A high-pitched, piercing squeal is also heard from horses in some situations. It can be a sign of anger and exuberance, but it can also be a warning.

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4. Proper Social Greeting
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