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Horse sounds and communication behind them

June 02, 2019

People usually communicate through sound and speech. Horses also create various sounds, but how does this work and what does it mean?

“Sound is the most frequently used method of communication”, explains behavioral analyst Machteld van Dierendonck. “With strenuous exercise horses will produce sound, but this is more of a by-product, similar to people who start panting when exercising. It is noticeable that horses more frequently produce sounds in uncertain situations.”

So what are our horses trying to tell us?

The Squeal

The squeal is a typical sound a horse makes during an aggressive interaction or sexual encounters. It’s a scream that can last anywhere between 0.1 to 1.6 seconds. The horse usually produces the sound with a closed mouth, sometimes just opening the corners of his mouth. You can hear a squeal from over 100 meters away. A mare’s squeal to call her foal will be less loud than a squeal of a mare to a pestering stallion

The Nicker

There are 3 types of nicker; the greeting, the sexual nicker, and the motherly nicker. Horses waiting to be fed usually call you over with a greetings nicker, telling you about their presence (feed me!). A stallion approaching a mare will produce a sexually tinted nicker, mouth closed but with his nostrils wide open. The motherly nicker is typical for a mare to call out to her foal. She uses the signal to indicate she is worried and the foal should come closer to her.

The Whinny

This sound is the longest and loudest form of communication from the horse. It can be heard from up to a kilometer away. A horse would usually blink his eyelids, shake his head and raise his head in the air before starting to whinny. Horses would use this sound to keep social contacts at bay.

The blow

This sound is produced by blowing air out of the horses’ nose by force. You can hear a blow of the horse from up to 30 meters. Horses use the blowing sound to express curiosity or when meeting a new horse. Wide open nostrils, closed mouth and a lack of movement are typical behavioral signs accompanying a blow.

The groan

Groans or grunts are short sounds indicating conflict, suffering or physical exercise. Horses would groan or grunt during a fight or when exhausted and laying on his side.

The snort

Typical for a snort is the forceful breathing out through the nostrils. The horse will keep his mouth closed but you can see the nostrils move rapidly. The average snort only lasts for 0.8 seconds. They use a snort to get the dust out of their nose.

The snore

Snores are breathing sounds, and very similar to human snoring.

So, there you have it. Next time your horse greets you with a nicker you know he’s greeting you or when he snorts at that bright pink new food bucket, he’s just expressing his curiosity. Is anybody else out there nickering back at their horse to say hello, or is that just me?

Source: Bit Magazine / Machteld van Dierendonck.

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