What Does It Mean When A Horse Yawns?

What does it mean when a horse yawns? Just like people, horses often yawn when they are tired; however, this is not the only reason they yawn. A horse may yawn because of:

  • Stomach trouble
  • Physical pain
  • Discomfort
  • Insecurity

…among other reasons!

In this article, we explore the reasons why your horse may yawn. Read on to learn more.

Anxious Horses May Yawn

Yawning is a self calming behavior. Horses often yawn as a way of coping with stress. For this reason, you may find your horse yawning during very challenging training sessions or strenuous rides.

In very stressful environments, a horse may yawn more frequently. When a horse is put in an unfamiliar setting or given a new pasture or stable mate, yawning may be a common behavior.

If you think that your horse is yawning as a method of stress control, watch for other calming behaviors such as:

  • Stretching
  • Chewing
  • Licking

If your horse is a stallion, he will be more likely to yawn around other horses, especially other stallions. Stallions are typically more excitable than other horses, and being side-by-side with other stallions only exacerbates the situation.

In the wild, aggressive stallions yawn more frequently than less dominant ones. In a domestic situation, horses typically yawn more often when they are engaging with one another than when they are alone.

Pain Relief

A horse who has gastric ulcers may yawn as a way of relieving the pain caused by this condition. If you notice your horse raising his head and yawning, you should contact your vet as this is a sign of gastric ulcers.

Excessive yawning could also indicate other types of pain such as:

  • Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) pain
  • Toothache or other oral pain
  • Inner ear pain
  • Colic

Horses yawn as response to this pain because the action of yawning helps them to stretch the painful area.

Stress Relief

If your horse yawns while you are riding, it may be doing so to calm itself or to appease you. If your horse is attempting to calm itself but while being ridden, something is wrong.

If your horse feels the need to appease you, something is also wrong. When riding, you and your horse should be in accord with one another your horse should not feel stressed or frightened.

Muscular Tension Relief

Horses that are under the care of an equine massage therapist may yawn during treatment. This is thought to be a response to the loosening of muscles and the tension and stress relief occurring throughout the horse’s body.

During treatment by an equine massage therapist, you may also see your horse sighing, stretching or chewing.

How Can You Tell Why Your Horse Is Yawning?

It’s important to remember that horses do not always yawn for the same reasons as people. Instead, they frequently yawn as a self calming behavior and a way of seeking release from stress. Yawning may also be an indication of discomfort or pain.

To determine why your horse is yawning in a given situation, step back and observe the entire situation as a whole. Look for changes in the environment that may have caused your horse anxiety and prompted yawning.

Think about whether or not your horse is engaged in activities, such as intense training, that might be causing stress.

Think about any changes in your horse’s environment ranging from a move to a new paddock, a new stablemate or even food changes.

When you identify a stressor that may be causing your horse to yawn excessively, take steps to correct it.

If your horse continues to yawn excessively, seek the advice of your veterinarian. Your vet will want to perform a complete physical exam to look for other warning signs of illness or injury.

Be sure to observe your horse on a regular basis so that you will notice an increase in yawning and other behaviors. When you are very familiar with your horse’s normal behavior, you can quickly spot abnormal behavior and take necessary steps to prevent problems.


  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4992016/

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