Why Do Horses Neigh? Recognize and Interpret Horse Language!

Horses can make a whole range of sounds to express their state of mind. Whinnying plays a central role in horses’ communication with each other and with their caregivers. In this guide, we will explore the whinnying of horses together. In this way you will learn to understand your horse and to respond better to its needs.

Interplay of body language and sounds

Just like humans or other animals, horses also express their condition with their body and their language. If you take a closer look at the subject, you will find that horses have a very diverse body and sound language.

The most impressive, especially because of the volume, for most people is the neighing. Whinnying can be of different pitches, i.e. very high, but also rather low, drawn out or short. You can compare the pitches with the emphasis in human speech. Thus, the same sentence can be stressed happily, sadly, tensely or amusedly. The content of the sentence remains basically the same, but the different pitches give each statement a different meaning.

It is the same with horses, which emphasize neighing differently depending on their current state of mind. Horses that are excited, for example, communicate differently with their peers, that is, when they encounter their friendly stable neighbor in the yard. In order to correctly interpret the state of mind of a horse and generally of an animal or human being, you must pay attention to the interaction of body language and spoken language.

Do horses neigh in greeting?

Horses are social animals that depend on and (usually) enjoy contact with conspecifics. However, it is in the nature of things that horses also like some conspecifics better than others.

When horses meet other members of their species, for example at the horse farm, they sometimes neigh to each other as a greeting. You can compare this to “Hey, how are you?” or “Good to see you!” when, for example, a horse sticks its head out of the stall and greets its stable neighbor. If you lead your horse to the meadow where other, familiar horses are already, you can often observe the spectacle as well. Horses that are friendly to each other greet each other from time to time and sometimes call out to each other from a distance.

Horses also greet their rider and their caregivers with a joyful neigh. These people are part of their herd for the horse and are therefore also received in a friendly manner. If horses are happy and the neighing is friendly, the ears are pricked, the facial expression is interested. Horses let their tails swing loosely.

Communication between mare and foal

Horse mothers recognize their children by smell and language. Thus, out of a whole herd, they can recognize their offspring by the pitch of the neigh alone. Of course, this also works the other way around: the foals recognize their mothers shortly after birth by their neighing and by their smell and thus unerringly find their mothers again. This communication between mother and child is present in nature in many animals whose offspring need the protection of the mother. In addition, many animals have rather poor eyesight, which is why they rely on recognition features other than appearance. Horses, for example, perceive their surroundings blurred and somewhat magnified. In a blurry, brown herd, it is sometimes difficult to find one’s own child or the mother at first go without calls.

If mare and foal are in the meadow, you can sometimes hear a neigh. If the foal has disappeared from the mother’s eye contact, she calls for it. This is her way of making sure that the offspring is still around.

By the way, you cannot compare the neighing between mare and foal with the welcoming neighing at the riding stable! If you have the opportunity to compare the two, you will notice that both calls are clearly different from each other. The intonation here literally sets the tone for what the horse is trying to express.

Do horses neigh out of fear?

That horses neigh loudly out of fear and panic is not always the case. Whinnying is rarely used in fear, instead snorting is more common. But again, in addition to the sounds, body language and, of course, the prevailing external circumstances are crucial in determining what a horse wants to express. If horses are fearful, the exclamation is high and long. The head is raised high. In addition, if the horse is anxious, it often stamps its hooves.

One possible situation why fearful horses neigh is when they have lost connection with their herd. The lost horse then calls out to the herd. Horses are shy and depend on the feeling of security of a group. If the herd answers, the horse can locate the direction in which the others are and thus find the connection again. It can also estimate the approximate distance and then quickly catch up with the group.

Stallions among themselves

As much as horses enjoy the company of others of their own kind, they can also be competitive. For example, it is not uncommon for two stallions to be rather skeptical of each other and first have to clarify the fronts. First, there is an insistent neighing warning: “I’m the boss here!” If that doesn’t help, the point of view is enforced emphatically, downright battle cries follow. The clarification of the hierarchy within a herd is for horses part of their social behavior. Sooner or later, a stallion must submit, which he expresses with a shrill, submissive neigh.

Why do horses neigh? – Summary

Horses have a complex body and sound language and use it in a variety of situations. Here you have gained a little insight into the possibilities of what your horse wants to express with its neighing. In the future, you may be able to respond better to your horse and know how it is feeling at the moment.

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