Why does my horse do that?

Is your horse telling you something when he's yawning, pawing the ground or licking and chewing?

Horses may perform strange behaviours in a bid to alert us (or other horses) that they are stressed, worried or in pain. Often these behaviours are overlooked or misunderstood as they are normal behaviours, but displayed in an unusual context. For example – perhaps your horse yawns excessively when the farrier is trimming their feet, or they paw at the ground whilst in the horsebox at a show. These unusual displays are called 'displacement' behaviours – a horse may perform these behaviours when they are stressed or frustrated and can't escape their situation.

Displacement behaviours are not just performed by horses – they are seen in all animals, even humans. However, humans have a different behavioural repertoire so our stress manifests itself in other ways.

In stressful situations humans may clench their fists, rock backwards and forwards, tap their feet, bite their nails or even pace up and down as they struggle to sit still. We often see people doing things like this in stressful situations such as a job interview, when public speaking or even if they are stuck in traffic.

Performing these behaviours goes some way towards satisfying our physical need to move when we are trapped in a difficult or scary situation – they help us to cope with the stress we are feeling.

Horse magazine have very kindly agreed for me to share my article looking at displacement behaviours in horses. You can read the article here.

You can find more information about the current issue of Horse magazine here.