12 Reasons Why Horses Show Their Teeth

What does it mean when a horse shows its teeth? You might think that the only time a horse would show its teeth would be when it intends to bite, but you would be wrong. There are actually a number of reasons why a horse might show its teeth. Among them are aggression, tiredness, stress relief, discomfort and more. In this article, we explore the reasons behind this behavior. Read on to learn more.

What Does It Mean When A Horse Shows Its Teeth?

reasons why a horse might show its teeth

1. Whinnying

Naturally, when horses vocalize, they may show their teeth.

Horse Sounds – Noises

2. Slack Mouth

Sometimes a horse’s teeth may be showing because of the way he is holding his mouth. For example, a horse with a slack mouth or drooping lips may simply be relaxed, or it may even be sleeping. During this time, the horse’s teeth may naturally show.

If you notice a horse standing with its head drooping and its mouth slack, be sure to speak before approaching the horse. This will help prevent frightening it and possibly being kicked or bitten in the process.

A horse that has a slack mouth when awake and alert may also show its teeth perpetually. This is not normal, and you should seek your veterinarian’s advice.

3. Chewing

When your horse is chewing, his teeth may naturally show. Horses chew when eating and also as a sign of submission. When a horse is very relaxed and ready to receive information, he may chew or lip smack. This is a good sign during the training process.

As a sign of submission you may sometimes see a very young foal push its head forward, curl its lips and click its teeth. This is a signal to other horses that this little one is a baby and should not be hurt.

4. Smelling

When a horse is exhibiting Flehmen response, you will see its teeth. This is a funny looking facial expression that horses show when they smell something unusual.

A horse exhibiting the Flehmen response will raise its head and curl back its upper lip while simultaneously breathing in and then blowing loudly. This process enables the horse to push the unusual scent through part of the nose called the vomeronasal organ.

This action enables the horse to easily detect pheromones and other chemicals in the air for identification. This is a common behavior in stallions when they are trying to determine whether or not a mare is ready for breeding.

A mare who has recently given birth may also exhibit the Flehmen response when smelling the new baby.

All horses exhibit this behavior from time-to-time if they smell something that they aren’t used to. You’ll also see this type of response in other animals, such as cats.

5. Anxiety and/or Anger

Of course, a horse shows its teeth when it bites. To prevent seeing this, you must learn to watch for the signs that precede biting. Look for flared nostrils and/or a pursed or tight, pinched mouth.

These are both signs of tension and excitement or nervousness in a horse. If your horse is showing signs of being anxious, take steps to relieve the anxiety to avoid or serious problems such as biting and kicking.

A gaping mouth will also show teeth and is also a sign that your horse may be ready to bite. Watch out for pinned ears and angry looking eyes in this case.

6. Pain

If you don’t see other signs of aggression or anger, the gaping mouth may be an indication that your horse is in pain. A horse that is in pain may wince and curl its upper lip, showing its teeth. Check to make sure that any tack your horse may be wearing is properly fitted.

7. Choking

If your horse exhibits this behavior while eating, he may be having trouble swallowing. Watch carefully to make sure he is not choking. If you do see signs of choking, separate your horse and the food and call your vet.

Another reason your horse might show its teeth when eating is if some food gets stuck the teeth were on the hard palate at the top of the mouth. Your horse may need to show its teeth while trying to dislodge food that has become stuck.

If your horse does not like its food, it may show its teeth and stick out its tongue to show that the food does not taste good.

Horses may exhibit this behavior and being given medication or deworming products.

8. Mouth and Tooth Trouble

Horses with a lot of white markings, such as paint horses may tend to have chapped skin around the lips. This can cause the horse to hold its mouth open and show its teeth.

Horses with dental issues may show their teeth and may need to be seen by the veterinarian to have their teeth floated or otherwise corrected.

9. Warning

If your horse is startled, or if other horses are harassing him, he may show his teeth in warning. A horse may bare its teeth to warn other horses away from its food.

10. Making Acquaintance

When new horses are introduced to one another, they may bare their teeth and even nip or kick as part of the establishment of a pecking order.

If a horse bears its teeth, tosses its head and then runs, it is a signal to the horses around it that it is not interested in confrontation.

11. Submission/Self Calming

Horses make clack or champ their teeth as a sign of submission in unusual surroundings or around unknown horses. When this is the case, it may be a self calming behavior and a signal to the strange, new horses that clacking horses not presenting a threat.

A Young Horse Shows Submission By Teeth Clacking

12. Yawning and Relaxation

When horses yawn, they naturally show their teeth. When a horse shakes its body as a way of shaking off flies or relaxing the muscles they may also shake their heads and show their teeth.

1 thought on “12 Reasons Why Horses Show Their Teeth”

  1. The above article adds additional educational knowledge and
    Respect for horses and offers an appreciated glimpse into their behaviors, in part. Horses are wonderful, beautiful, enchanting animals sometimes whom body language is misunderstood. This research helps clear it up. Thank you for your time invested in the topic.


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