Why Do Horses Lick

We know many beginners and even expert horse owners might find it quite ambiguous when their horses start licking their faces all of a sudden. Like seriously, you are on your way to offer the horse treats or just approach to pat their head, and they end up licking you. Has that happened to you, and you wonder why is it so?

Usually, horse licking behavior is harmless, and most of the time, it’s the horse’s way of showing affection. But there could be other possible reasons behind your horse licking you. Horses like us have different personalities, traits, and routines, thus they behave and express their emotions differently.

We have compiled this guide to let you understand the unusual behavior of your horse. So, keep scrolling for more info!

5 Reasons Why Horses Lick

A horse licking its owner’s face isn’t always a negative thing. Here are five possible reasons why your horse is licking you.

1. Licking Is in a Horse’s Instinct

Horses primarily lick people out of instinct, humans also have this to a certain extent, but horses have an immense chewing instinct. You might have seen horses spend a lot of time foraging in the wild. It’s because this beast needs plenty of food to feel full and energized. That’s why you will mostly see wild horses chewing all the time.

Domesticated horses also have the same chewing instinct as wild. So if your pet horse doesn’t find forage, it can immediately start chewing or licking anything else available, including walls, wooden fences, etc. However, it can be extremely dangerous for horses’ teeth.

Try feeding your horse a low-calorie forage and straw rather than oats; it’s better. Or, you can put the horse in a grazing muzzle.

2. Your Horse May Be Salt Deficient

Horses sometimes lick because they like the salty taste of our skin. However, there might be another reason your horse is licking your face, which is a salt deficiency. Horse feed, such as hay, contains insufficient amounts of salts and other minerals an equine might need. This lack of salt and nutrients might result in different licking behaviors.

Also, exercising horses usually need diets rich in vitamins and minerals as their body loses a lot of the nutrients during exercise, and they might lick you for salt replenishment. If that is the case, it’s best to get a horse salt lick or mineral lick to fulfill its needs. So instead of licking you, the horse may want one or the other of those.

3. A Sign of Affection

As we have mentioned, like us, horses too have distinct personalities, and they all have their unique methods of showing affection. Often, horses lick their caretakers out of love and devotion.

However, in some horse breeds, if you don’t discourage the licking behavior, it might lead to biting. So it’s always good to pay attention to your horse’s every licking action before assuming licking is just a way of showing affection.

Horses May Lick When Not Feeling Good

Besides mineral deficiencies, sometimes horses lick their owners to indicate an underlying health issue such as TMJ. Temporomandibular joint disease or TMJ is a condition that causes pain as well as behavior problems and results in poor performance in horses.

Usually, neurological disorders appear in a horse’s gait, but this illness manifests in the mouth. If you think your horse is faced with such health problems, it’s better to consult a vet. It could be something as simple as buying a salt block or maybe the beginning of a serious problem that needs to be diagnosed before it becomes more dangerous.

May Be Your Horse Is Bored

Often horses bite and lick out of boredom. If you observe your horse chewing unusual things such as stable wood and think it is doing it because of instinct, you are wrong. It’s because your horse has less social interaction or activities to do and maybe suffers from stable vice (a behavior that arises due to boredom or isolation).

Also, if you confine a horse into a stable alone without another horse, or if your horse doesn’t have sufficient activities to burn its energy, then they develop undesired habits like licking or chewing.

People Also Asked

Do horses lick humans to show affection?

Many people believe that horse licking behavior is a way of showing affection to their owner or rider. However, this might seem adorable, for some horses, licking becomes a bad habit and may lead to biting.
But horses, like humans, have individual personalities. Therefore, their licking may have different meanings, and as a horse owner/trainer, it becomes important for you to interpret its body language to further analyze the meaning of your horse’s licking.

How do you tell if a horse likes you?

Here are five signs your horse will show if it likes you.
1. They feel comfortable and relaxed around you.
2. They approach you.
3. When a horse likes you, it nickers for you.
4. Your horse will lay its head on you.
5. They nudge you with their nose.

How do horses show their affection?

Just like humans, horses also have several ways to show their love and affection to one another and their owners. Some horses are nippy or pushy, constantly placing their lips or teeth on other horses and humans. Also, horses standing near each other, playing, or caressing might be a way to show affection.
Other methods for horses to show affection to humans include grooming, licking, rubbing, and resting their heads on their owners.


In short, horses may lick to express affection, boredom, a lack of mental stimulation or when wanting a treat, as well as health concerns such as pica, a lack of salt, or other nutrients. We hope this guide will help you understand the reason behind your horse licking behavior.