9 Common Horse Sounds & Their Meaning (With Audio) (2024)

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Horses are naturally quiet animals that primarily communicate via body language. However, when they fail to convey a message this way, horses will resort to sounds and noises to express themselves.

Horses make a variety of sounds, but the most common is a neigh. Horses also snort, sigh, whinny, nicker, grunt, squeel, screen, and more. They are able to make a whole range of vocal, guttural, and nasal sounds that tell us about what they’re experiencing.

While horse sounds act as a secondary language, the same sound can mean different things in different situations. You have to look at the whole picture and see what body language accompanies the sound to really grasp its meaning.

However, once you get to know your horse it will be easy to figure out what he’s saying. This article gives you a general look at what each sound can mean, so you can apply it in everyday life.

Here are the most common horse sounds:

Neigh

A neigh is the loudest noise a horse can make. It’s unique to horses and can be heard from over half a mile away. The loudness, duration, and pitch of the neigh can vary depending on its purpose.

There are a few different reasons why horses neigh. Most often, they are calling out to a horse out of sight. Many horses will do this on trail rides when they get to an unfamiliar area and don’t feel safe with the rider alone.

If the call reaches another horse, they will neigh back to say “I am here!”. Depending on how nervous your horse is, this can go back and forth for a short while. In this situation, it’s a good idea to divert your horse’s attention by giving him something to do.

Neighing is an excellent way for herd members to keep in touch over long distances. As each horse has its own unique voice, they can easily identify each other using this sound. Moreover, they can also tell if a stranger is in the area.

Close horse friends who are separated will almost certainly neigh for each other. This desperate, high-pitched call may be constant for days until they both settle down. It’s especially typical of mares and foals in the first few days after weaning.

Horses also neigh excitedly when they are reunited with a beloved horse or human friend. These shorter neighs are usually accompanied by a raised tail and forward-facing ears. This sound can also serve as a warning to other herd members when a strange object or animal is in sight.

Whinny

A whinny is very similar to a neigh, although it’s usually associated with mares and foals. A lot of people use whinny and neigh interchangeably, but whinnies are in fact more delicate than neighs that are higher-pitched and louder.

Mares and foals use whinnying to keep in contact with each other over long distances.Hearing her mother’s call helps the foal locate the mare in a herd environment. If the whinnying becomes too loud and intense, it usually means the two can’t reach each other and it’s worth checking if everything is okay.

Blowing

Blowing is a horse’s noise when they blow air out through their nose. It can have various intensities, from a soft exhale of air to a more rattling sound.

To know the difference between blowing and snorting, take a look at the horse’s lips.When a horse is blowing heavily, their lips will move and vibrate. On the other hand, during snorting the horse’s lips stay pressed together while the nostrils vibrate, following sharp inhales and loud exhales.

Horses could simply be blowing out their noses to get rid of something stuck inside. These are generally louder blows that make their lips move. However, they can also blow their noses softly when they smell something familiar.

You may have noticed horses bringing their nose close to something and sniffing loudly as they inspect the new object. Unlike humans, horses learn a lot about their environment through smell. Whenever they breathe onto something loudly, they’re basically just collecting information about what’s in front of them.

The most relaxed blows happen when a horse sniffs something they know and love. They may blow into their friend’s nose or onto your neck as they nuzzle you. It’s a way for them to say “I trust you, you make me feel safe.”

Snorting

Snorting is a medium-range sound that is much louder than blowing. When horses snort, their lips will be pulled tight. Their nostrils will also dilate as they inhale and vibrate loudly as they exhale.

When a horse snorts, there are two things going on in his head: he detected something exciting, but he is also cautious about it. Snorting is frequently accompanied by an alert posture, with the head and tail held high.

In the wild, horses snort to alert other herd members of a potential threat. It’s loud enough for nearby horses to hear, but it won’t give their position away to a predator. Snorting also allows horses to clear their airways so they can run at the first sign of danger.

On the other hand, snorting can also happen during play. In this case, the sound represents excitement and a call for play. You might’ve also heard your horse snort excitedly during a ride if he hasn’t had much exercise lately.

Another situation when horses might snort is when they meet a new horse for the first time. Stallions also snort at each other to say “I challenge you to a fight!”

Be wary if your horse makes this sound while you handle or ride him. It can mean that he feels threatened and is about to act out. Try to loosen your horse up by asking him to yield his hindquarters and speaking calmly.

Nicker

A nicker is a softer, lower-pitched sound than a whinny or a neigh. Horses use their vocal cords to create this sound but keep their mouths closed.

Nickering is how horses welcome a pleasant sight. If your horse nickers to you, it means he’s happy to see you! His head will also be raised with eyes and ears following your every move.

Mares often nicker to their foals when they wander off to try and bring them back to safety. Foals instinctively respond to this sound and will quickly return to their mothers’ side.

A different type of nicker can be heard from stallions that are trying to get a mare’s attention. This sound is longer, deeper, and quieter than a nicker you hear from a mare or a gelding. It’s unique to each stallion and helps the mare identify which male is approaching.

Occasionally, horses will also nicker when something frightens them. This frustrated nicker will accompany fearful behavior such as eye-rolling, pacing or tense muscles. If you are nearby, remove your horse from the stressful situation and reassure him with gentle words or strokes.

Groan

A groan is a strained exhale followed by a short, low-pitched sound.Depending on the context, it can consist of a big inhale, a slight pause, and then a long exhale with a groaning noise. Other times a groan might slip out in between breaths.

Like humans, horses groan because they’re uncomfortable or in pain. If your horse groans during ridden work, it’s worth checking that all tack fits correctly. If that doesn’t eliminate the sound, consult your vet about what to do next.

Groaning is most certainly a sign of pain if your horse also flattens his ears, tries to throw you off or is visibly lame. However, some horses groan more than others, so the problem might not be as bad as you’d first think.

Groaning while standing still can be a sign of gastric pain or colic. If your horse is sweating profusely and is clearly distressed, call your vet immediately. On the other hand, if your horse groans while standing quietly in his stable, he’s probably just bored.

Horses can also groan out of pleasure. This can happen when they’re having a fun time rolling in the grass or sand, or feel relaxed.

Sigh

A sigh, just like a human sigh, is a long exhale of air. It can be anywhere from fairly loud to barely audible.

Horses sigh to relax. You might’ve noticed your horse uttering a sigh of relief every time work finishes. This is to say that he’s let go of the tension and is now calm.

You can also hear this during lunging or ridden work when the exercise is making your horse supple and relaxed. However, another interpretation could be that your horse finds the work too repetitive. In this case, try to mix things up and introduce some variety to your routine.

Similarly, if you hear your horse sighing in his stable, there’s a good chance he’s bored. A small-holed haynet or stable toy might be just what he needs.

Sighing can also be a sign of pleasure. Some horses let out a satisfied sigh when being groomed or massaged. They might also do it in the field while sunbathing or relaxing with their buddies.

Squeal

Squeals are high-pitched, short noises that are mostly associated with mares. The horse’s mouth will be closed and their posture will be tense when they squeal. The sound will also be aimed at something threatening, like a new horse or another intimidating animal.

Mares will squeal at just about any horse they don’t like. This is to express their dominance towards the other equine. That horse can either back down and admit defeat, or stand his ground and challenge the mare.

This will also happen between horses that meet for the first time. The dominant horse will squeal first, and a kick will follow if matters don’t resolve within a few seconds. This is usually a strike with a front leg and can quickly escalate to a fight if the horses are not separated.

Squealing is simply the horse’s way of saying “Get out of my personal space or else!” Mares will often reject stallions that approach without permission by emitting this sharp sound. Other threatening behavior may also follow, such as pawing, kicking, head tossing or flattening the ears.

Scream

Screams are loud, guttural sounds that might happen after squeals. A lower-pitched version of a scream is called a roar. It’s a heart-stopping sound that you hopefully never have to hear.

Screams are normally emitted by wild stallions as a final warning before a fight. It usually only happens after the snorting, squealing, pawing, and striking have taken place to intimidate the other horse. A horse might also scream if he’s badly injured.

A horse screaming is rarely heard in captivity as two stallions will almost never share the same field. In the wild, screaming will mostly come from dominant members of the herd, unless a subordinate calls for a challenge.

9 Common Horse Sounds & Their Meaning (With Audio) (2024)

FAQs

What do different horse noises mean? ›

The whinny seems to be a searching call that facilitates social contact from a distance. Snorts and blows are both produced by forceful expulsion of air through the nostrils. The snort has a rattling sound but the blow does not. The snort and blow communicates alarm and apparently serves to alert other horses.

What does it mean when a horse nickers at you? ›

Vocalization 2: Nicker

What it is: The soft purring sound your horse makes implies “Come to me.” It can also mean “Look at me” when a stallion is showing off to a mare. What it Means: It's most purposeful between a mare and foal; if the foal wanders off, the mare will nicker to the youngster to call him back.

What does it mean when a horse huffs at you? ›

When your horse inhales quickly, then puffs the breath out through his nostrils so they vibrate with a loud purring sound, he's excited and hoping that something will happen.

What sound does a horse make when it's annoyed? ›

Squealing and roaring

It can be a sign of anger and exuberance, but it can also be a warning.

What does it mean when a horse snorts at you? ›

The noise could also be a signal to other horses that a danger has passed, said McDonnell. In many other places, horse experts and caretakers have put forth their own ideas about horse snorts: It represents excitement, it's a greeting, it expresses curiosity or hesitation.

How do horses tell you they love you? ›

A horse may nibble at your shoulders or head, lay his head on your shoulders, or nudge you in the back, like a mini “back massage.” A loving horse will follow you without a lead rope or halter. When you enter the barn and your horse hears you, he will whinny or nicker in greeting.

What does it mean when a horse stares at you? ›

What does it mean when a horse stares at you? Your horse may gaze at you while relaxed to connect with you or to see if you've brought tasty treats. On the other hand, if your horse is staring at you with high alert signs like a raised head and flared nostrils, she might be spooked by you or something you're wearing.

What does chuffing mean in horse? ›

Most often it's a full mouth-closed, nose-blow to clear dust out of the nose and throat. Horses breathe through their noses only and can inhale dust from hay and grazing, so this kind of chuff-blow is as normal in horses as humans clearing their throat for as many reasons.

What does it mean when a horse gently nudges you? ›

A nudge can be a gentle tap, a polite way of saying, “Hey human! My bowl looks a little empty. How about tossing in a few Equimins Tasty Treats?” Or, if they've recently come across a fellow horse sporting some snazzy new riding boots, they might be hinting, “Hey, I wouldn't mind a pair of those.

What does it mean when a horse raises its lips at you? ›

The flehmen response (upper lip curl) in the horse exposes certain smells directly to the vomeronasal organ. Healthy horses engage in this behavior in a variety of circ*mstances. Stallions perform the flehmen response when investigating or detecting a mare in heat.

What does it mean when a horse leans on you? ›

Leaning – If your horse carefully tries to lean on you from time to time, this indicates that they want to feel tender contact. Horses love to feel any kind of body-contact they can get with their loved ones and you will often see them trying to lean into other horses when in the wild.

How do you tell if a horse dislikes you? ›

An angry or very unhappy horse

If you ignore these, they may bite. A mildly annoyed horse may have wrinkled, elongated nostrils and their ears held slightly back. For a mid-scale threat, they may have wrinkled, elongated nostrils, ears back towards the top of the neck, head raised and turned towards the target.

What does it mean when a horse stomps at you? ›

Stomping. Unlike pawing, stomping is raising and lowering a foot forcefully in place. Horses stomp to indicate irritation. Usually, it's something minor, such as a fly they're trying to dislodge.

What sound does a horse make when it cries? ›

The sound that a horse makes is called a neigh. A horse's happy neigh is sometimes a greeting to other horses. You can use neigh to talk about the noise your horse makes, also known as a whinny or a bray.

Why do horses make grunting noises? ›

Summary. Horses that grunt or groan when they breathe are usually responding to pain.

Why do horses make dragon noises? ›

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.

What do the different types of horses mean? ›

Horse breeds can be divided into four groups: light horses, draft horses, gaited horses, and ponies. Light horses are suited for riding and racing, draft horses for heavy work, gaited horses for smooth, long rides, and ponies are small yet strong and versatile.

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