Horses display many responses and behaviors that are similar to humans. One such behavior is yawning. While many new horse owners are quick to assume that yawning is simply a sign of tiredness in their horse, this is not necessarily the case. In fact, exhaustion is one of the least common reasons why your horse may be yawning!
Why do horses yawn? Horses yawn for a wide variety of reasons including excess stress or anticipation, relief from gastrointestinal distress, physical pain or discomfort, or as a social behavior signaling dominance. Your horse may also yawn following a time of quiet or rest. A horse’s yawn can provide us with important insight into both their physical and mental health.
If you suddenly find your horse yawning at a more frequent rate, you may be concerned about the origin of their yawns. While your horse’s yawns are likely nothing to be concerned about, it is wise to educate yourself on the various things that could be causing this new behavior. In this post, we will look at several reasons why horses yawn. We will also share some great tips on determining the cause of your horse’s yawn! We hope this information will equip you to provide better care for your horse’s mental and physical health.
Everything You Need to Know About Why Horses Yawn
Regardless of how long you have been around horses, you will always find yourself wondering about various behaviors your horse begins to display. One behavior that many equestrians question is why their horse is yawning so much. This may be a consistent behavior or it may suddenly increase due to outside pressures.
As equestrians, it is important to educate ourselves on various aspects of equine care, allowing us to interact more effectively with our equine companions.
Reasons Why Horses May Yawn
Like humans, there are many reasons why a horse may yawn. However, unlike humans, the primary reason is not that your horse is tired! Let’s take a look at some of the most common reasons why horses may yawn.
Horses May Yawn to Lower Stress
Perhaps the most common reason why horses yawn is to lower stress. You may find your horse yawning most frequently in the middle of a strenuous ride or training session. They may yawn when they are placed in an overwhelming or stressful environment. While occasional stress is not a cause of concern, it is wise to eliminate unnecessary stressors.
Things such as a new stalemate, an unfamiliar setting, or extreme training can cause a horse to experience high amounts of stress. It is important to pay attention to the situations in which your horse often yawns to determine if stress is the primary culprit. If your horse is yawning because of stress, you may notice other calming cues such as licking, stretching, or chewing.
Horses May Yawn As Social Behavior
Equestrians throughout history have had questions about why a horse yawns. This has encouraged many studies of the yawning habits of horses. Through these studies, professionals have deduced that more dominant horses may yawn as social behavior.
When groups of horses were studied for an extended period of time, it was found that stallions yawned with greater frequency, especially when they were placed in a situation near other stallions.
Horses May Yawn Following a Time of Rest
When a human yawns, it is because there is a drop in their blood oxygen level. This is not the case with horses. However, horses may occasionally yawn when they are tired. More frequently, however, horses yawn when they are aroused from a time of rest or quiet.
Horses May Yawn to Relieve Gastrointestinal Distress
There are not many human pains that are more uncomfortable than gastrointestinal distress – the same is true for horses! Unfortunately, gastric ulcers are quite common within the equine community. Strangely enough, gastric ulcers may be causing your horse to yawn as they seek relief from the stress and discomfort of this condition.
In some cases, a sudden increase in yawning is the only sign that your horse is suffering from gastrointestinal distress or gastric ulcers. If you suspect this could be the case, it is important to contact your equine veterinarian for treatment as quickly as possible.
Horses May Yawn Due to Discomfort
In addition to gastrointestinal distress, many other types of discomfort or pain could be causing your horse to yawn excessively. Horses often yawn as a result of colic pain, oral pain, inner ear pain, or TMJ pain. Yawing can help the horse stretch the area and relieve the pain, even if it is only temporary relief.
This is another reason why it is important to carefully observe your horse’s yawning habits and contact a veterinarian if you believe discomfort could be the cause of this newfound habit.
Horses May Yawn as a Sign of Tension Release
As an equine massage therapist, I notice that many horses tend to yawn as a sign that there is tension being released throughout the body. The massage works to loosen up their muscles and any stress or tension that may have developed throughout their bodies. Other signs that your horse is releasing tension is chewing, stretching, sighing, and even farting!
Determining Why Your Horse is Yawning
As with any other habit or behavior, it is important to carefully assess why your horse is yawning. While it could be a harmless response to their surroundings, it may also indicate a much more serious problem that requires professional attention. Here are a few practical steps to take in your quest to determine exactly why your horse is yawning.
To learn more about how your horse may try to communicate with you, visit our article How Horses Communicate: Complete Horse Body Language Guide.
Observe the Environment
When you notice your horse yawning, take a few minutes to observe the environment. Was there a change in your horse’s location that prompted the yawns? Are you in the middle of an intense training session? By observing your horse’s surroundings, you can get a great insight into the cause of your horse’s yawning.
Identify Possible Causes of Stress
As you are observing the environment, look for possible causes of stress. Have you altered your horse’s living situation? Are there new horses in the stable or paddock? Has there been an increase in noise around your horse? Oftentimes, the cause of your horse’s stress remains unidentified for weeks simply because it is such a subtle change.
If you believe stress to be the cause of your horse’s yawns, take a few moments to carefully think through possible changes that have been made within the past month. Once you identify these possible stressors, strive to alleviate the stress. Observe whether or not these changes impact the frequency of your horse’s yawning.
Investigate Potential Distress or Discomfort
The most important reason to determine why your horse is yawning is to eliminate any potential distress or discomfort. Many conditions or ailments can cause your horse to yawn in an attempt for relief. From gastric ulcers to TMJ pain, yawning can be an important warning sign, allowing you to get professional care before the problem escalates.
Conduct a thorough physical examination to identify any other warning signs to properly inform your equine veterinarian. Remember, it is always worth the investment to receive professional advice on a situation such as excessive or sudden yawning. Because your horse can not clearly communicate what ails them, it is important to carefully observe your equine companion for signs of illness, discomfort, or pain.
While it is easy to assume that horses react in the same way as humans, this is not the case. Unlike humans, horses do not yawn because they are experiencing a drop in their blood oxygen levels. Rather, they often yawn as a calming signal, attempting to seek relief in a stressful situation. Your horse may also yawn as a response to pain or discomfort caused by a variety of conditions.
Although it is normal for horses to yawn occasionally, it is wise to investigate any sudden increase in your horse’s yawning habits as it may be indicative of a much more serious issue. As a horse owner, it is your responsibility to observe your horse and acquaint yourself with their normal behaviors so that you can quickly recognize when something is not quite right.
What are the signs of colic in horses? Yawning is just one sign that your horse may be suffering from colic. A condition that can range from mild to life-threatening, it is important to educate yourself on common signs and symptoms. Some of the signs of colic in horses include yawning, loss of appetite, tight lips, terse facial expressions, or a tight abdomen, to name a few.
If your horse is suffering from colic, it is important to provide them with timely relief to avoid an escalation of the condition. While certain medications can provide relief from colic, it is important that you do not give your horse any form of medication unless it is prescribed by an equine veterinarian.
What are the signs of stress in a horse? Like humans and other animals, horses often experience stress from a variety of situations. Yawning is just one of many calming signals that your horse may exhibit. Other signs that your horse is stressed include weight loss, pacing, tooth grinding, bad behaviors, runny manure, inability to urinate, excessive licking or chewing, sweating, high pulse, and trembling, to name a few.
It is important to quickly eliminate stressors from your horse’s environment to avoid undue psychological or physical harm to your equine companion.
Want to know more about horse behaviors? Check out these articles:
- Why Horses Eat Dirt: Essential Behavior Guide
- Why Horses Toss Their Heads (And What to do About It)
- Can Horses Throw Up? What You Need to Know
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