Horse Vocalizations: Why do Horses Neigh, Nicker, Whine, Snort?

Horse Vocalizations: Why do Horses Neigh, Nicker, Whine, Snort?

So, the other day, I noticed my making a rather unusual sound… more like a whine as opposed to the usual neigh or nicker.

That’s when I really go to wondering about the different types of horse sounds and noises. So, I decided to research and what I discovered was amazing.

Why do horses neigh, nicker, whinny or snort? According to experts, horses make different sounds in order to communicate with other horses and their owners. The variety of sounds are an indication of differing emotions and thoughts. Horse vocalization is an example of social behavior.

Intrigued about why horses make such unique sounds? Read on to discover what they may be saying to you.

The Different Horse Vocalizations and Their Meanings

Experts believe that even though horses are social creatures, they do not like the idea of crying out in pain or discomfort.

Hence, they make a variety of sounds to communicate what it may be that is bothering them.

The reason why they don’t cry out is that in the equine world, crying out in pain is a sign of vulnerability. If you are a horse owner, then you might be confused about the meanings of the meaning of these horse sounds.

The thing about horses is that they are loyal, intelligent, and communicative beings that like to let their owners/trainers know what it is they are going through or feeling.

Since they can’t talk, they voice out what is bugging them through a variety of horse sounds. Experts and equine sound analysts have divided these horse sounds into a few broad expressions and noises.

These include:

  • Neighing
  • Whinny
  • Nicker
  • Snort
  • Sigh
  • Squeal
  • Blow
  • Grunt or groan
  • Scream

The above-mentioned sounds are the ones that you are most likely to hear from your horse. Keep in mind though that the voice of the horse may not always be an indication of communication with you. They may actually be talking to their buddies or even other farm animals.

Take a look at our in-depth article on how horses communicate with one another, and find more interesting facts on the topic.

Being able to tell what your horse is trying to communicate is not only going to improve your mutual relationship, but it would also help you in training your horse better.

Remember, being able to identify the correct horse sound with the correct interpretation is going to take you some time. But with some practice, you will be able to decipher just why your horse is making a neigh, a nicker or a snort!

Here is a detail on all the horse vocalizations.

Neigh or Whinny

This is the most basic noise that horses make. From early childhood, little children are taught that horses make neighing sounds. But rarely does anyone know what it means.

According to researchers, a horse neighs when they are either greeting someone or confirming a location. It is believed to be one of the longest sounds that a horse makes and can be heard as far as a quarter-mile!

Why do horses neigh? They do so for:

  • Communicating with a foal
  • Voicing out and greeting a fellow horse or their owner
  • Communicating their location to their herd
  • Calling other horses when they are lost

Why do Horses Nicker?

This guttural and low pitched sound is one that is produced when the horse is happy.

The nicker can be soft or rather loud depending on what emotion the horse wants to convey.

Even though a nicker is mostly directed towards other horses, it can also be a sign of endearment towards humans as well.

A horse nickers when it:

  • Sees its favourite food
  • Wants to express love for its horse or human buddy
  • Wants to show positive engagement
  • Calls out for courtship

Snort

People mostly believe that a snort of a horse is a negative sound and something that should be feared. Actually, a snort is a sound the horse makes in anticipation or excitement and is strongly related to positive emotions.

A horse makes the snorting sound by quickly exhaling through his nostrils. The snort can easily be heard up to 30 feet away.

Keep in mind though, if the horse snorts with a raised head and tail, then make sure you check if it’s feeling comfortable.

Need some tips on providing comfort to your horse? Here’s an article on how you can take care of your horse.

When you hear a horse snort, be sure to give them your complete, undivided attention to see what it’s trying to express.

Sigh

A sigh is a soft, deep breath that the horse lets audibly out either from its mouth or nostrils.

When a horse sighs, it means that it’s feeling relieved after something that had been bothering it.

There are some horses that sigh when they are bored and feel the need to get out of their current space.

Horses often sigh if they are massaged as it helps in releasing tension from the horse’s body.

So, if you hear your horse sigh, then it means you are doing something right to help it feel better about its current situation.

The Meaning of a Horse Squeal

Mostly a horse squeals when he is agitated or upset.

It is generally a sign of aggression and shows that the horse wants you to calm them or remove the source of discomfort. The squeal can be long or short depending on what it is the horse is bothered about.

When a horse squeals, it is trying to say:

  • Don’t push me
  • I don’t want to
  • This upsets me

Does your horse often bite in anger? Here’s the ultimate guide on how you can stop your horse from biting.

If you hear a loud squeal from the horse, then you will need to make sure that the horse is distanced from whatever is making it anxious or aggressive.

Grunt or Groan

Depending on what situation the horse is in, a grunt or groan can refer to either pain or contentment.

Now, how can you tell the difference? Simply check up on the horse to ensure that it hasn’t hurt itself.

If a horse grunts or groans when training, it could mean they might have injured themselves and you would need to give them medical assistance.

Colicky horses also make groaning noises.

If a horse grunts while on its way back to the stable after a long day of work, it could signal its anticipation for a massage or bath that would help it relax.

Scream

A scream is one of the most painful or scary sounds that a horse can make.

It is a clear indication of either extreme pain or extreme anger. Most domesticized horses do not scream but if they are doing so, they’re certainly in major discomfort.

A horse rarely ever screams even while fighting with another horse. But it might scream if it’s hurt really bad.

So, now that you know what the horse sounds are all about, do you plan to listen more carefully and respond?

The horse will learn to trust you when you respond well to its communication and will make your ride a lot easier.

What’s more, the two of you will be able to develop a bond that surpasses that of master-trainee and become friends in the truest of sense.

Therefore, the next time you are around your horse, listen carefully to see what exactly it’s trying to communicate to you.

Trust me, being able to ‘talk’ to your horse is going to work wonders for you!

Horse Vocalization FAQ

So, you read our horse vocalization guide but still have some questions?

In this section, we’ll be answering all of the most commonly asked questions about horse sounds.

What sounds do horses make when they are happy?

When horses are happy or content, they generally neigh. A neighing horse may also be saying “hello” to other horses. But mostly, a soft and quiet neigh shows that your horse is feeling relaxed and happy.

When do horses nicker?

Horses nicker when they are addressing or welcoming you. Generally, a nicker is accompanied by a soft nudge from the horse’s nose.

Keep in mind though, that a soft nicker is associated with greeting. But if it changes to a squeal, then it might be indicating isolation and anxiety.

How do you know if a horse likes you?

These are a few signs that your horse likes you:

  • Soft snorting signs or breathing through the nostrils when you’re around. This is a clear indication that the horse is happy around you.
  • The nostrils of a horse also indicate its temperament. If they are relaxed around you, then it might indicate that your horse likes you.
  • A relaxed, soft lip line is another clear sign of a horse being happy around its owner.
  • A smiling or dribbling horse is one who likes you and wants to hang out with you.

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