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Horse Sounds - What Do They Really Mean?

horse sounds what do they really mean
horse sounds what do they really mean

The horse does not have a sound language as we understand it, but they can actually make quite a few sounds – but what do those sounds really mean? Follow along here and read which horse sounds we here at Malgré Tout recognize in horses. Maybe your horse has even more sounds?


Most people, even non-horse people, know this sound, but it can mean incredibly many things. And sound in many different ways. Most often it is used as a call and a way to locate other horses. In fact, a constantly neighing horse can be a pretty good clue that the horse is nervous, out of its comfort zone and away from its companions and where it feels safe. It could also be that the horse is calling for another horse that has been removed from the herd. It can also call when it recognizes a horse or a person. Some horses are rarely heard to neigh, others neigh often. Maybe a bit like us humans, where some just talk more than others for various reasons.

The horse neighs through the larynx, and the sound comes out through the nostrils, but most often the mouth is also slightly open or trembling. Moreover, it is a quite impressive loud sound, which we humans can have difficulty reproducing.

Did you know?

Did you know that most neighs last about 1.5 seconds and can actually be heard almost a kilometer away? Horses that have been in the same herd for a long time develop a more uniform neigh than if they are from different herds. Maybe it's a way so they can recognize each other even at long distances.


Most people – also non-horse people – know this sound, and it's quite funny when non-horse people get scared of that sound because it's something we horse people hear a lot from the horses. It is a sound that can mean many things. It can simply be dust, snot, dirt, or other particles that disturb the horse's airways in the nose, but it can also be a sign of well-being and relaxation.

As contradictory as it sounds, it can be an expression of stress and unrest. You may have heard the horses that snort many times in a row. Often it has become a coping mechanism in stressful situations. Here the horse will also show other signs of unrest such as pacing, tensing up, holding its head high, and it may be that the horse rarely blinks, and when it does, it is often quick blinks.


Most of us can probably recognize that this sound is a really pleasant sound that gives us a good feeling in the stomach when we hear it.

Like with the neigh, there are some horses that purr more than others. Maybe some horses have associated it with treats and make the sound to get you to give them food? Stallions often have a tendency to purr and sometimes neigh to attract the attention of mares.


The horse's sigh is actually very similar to humans' sigh. It can come when they are relaxed, or when they have been tense and finally breathe deeply and release the tensions that may have been in the body.

If the sigh sounds more like a groan, you should be aware that it can be an expression of pain. Especially if it occurs during riding, or when the horse is being saddled up. For some horses, it can also have become a habit, but it is still a good idea to get the horse checked to be on the safe side.

However, there are also many horses that groan when they pee. It is a completely normal sound that we may also recognize ourselves?


All horse people have probably heard the whinny. The deafening whinny, which is often attributed to mares. But it can just as well come from a gelding or a stallion. The whinny is something most of us horse people can predict, as it often happens when two horses greet each other. It's as if you wait in the seconds before it comes. And remember to watch out for the front legs, which can come flying along with the whinny. The reason many attribute it to the mare is that when she is in heat, there is a greater likelihood that she will whinny, even though she herself has approached the other horse.


Fortunately, the scream is not something we hear often, but for many of us, it gives an unpleasant tug in the stomach. It is an ugly sound that can be heard if horses, for example, fight with each other, and the sound can often make horse people start running. When the horses make this sound, it can be because the horses are fighting and sustaining injuries. They can use the sound as a scare tactic, and it can be part of establishing their place in the herd.


Yet another of the best sounds our dear horses can make. There is almost nothing more relaxing than when the horses have been fed or are eating hay, and there is chewing and smacking. It is a fantastic sound that provides well-being for both horse and human. The horse can also smack when it is not eating. It can happen, for example, during ground work, treatments, or grooming. It is an expression of relaxation, and it can actually be a sign that the horse is resetting its nervous system and therefore moves into the parasympathetic nervous system, which is also called the relaxing nervous system. However, our horses are again full of contrasts, and constant smacking can also be a sign of insecurity and stress. Check again the horse's other expressions and the situation the horse is in so that you can assess the cause.

Dragon Breath

Finally, we have the sound that is often called a dragon breath. It happens when the horse has held its breath in a nervous, tense, or nerve-wracking situation, and at the same time has to get it all out. It is most often a way to warn other horses of potential dangers, and in rarer cases, it can happen when the horse is excited.

The dragon breath is often associated with high head carriage, a tense body that is almost frozen until then there come very fast, stiff, and powerful movements, where there is rarely consideration for people.

Sources: Why do horses neigh? H&H investigates… / What’s My Horse Saying? Interpreting Horse Sounds / Why Horses Neigh: Essential Behavior Guide


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