Why Do Horses Roll In The Dirt?

Horses have a number of odd habits, and one of them that is both comical and perplexing is rolling in the dirt. Why do horses do this? Sometimes, it seems to be triggered by getting wet (e.g. after a bath) and sometimes it seems like a reaction to a new situation. Still other times, it seems to happen for no reason at all. In this article, we explore a dozen possible reasons why horses roll in the dirt, mud, grass and even snow! Read on to learn more.

12 Reasons Why Horses Roll In The Dirt, Mud, Grass & Snow

Reasons Why Horses Roll In The Dirt, Mud, Grass & Snow

1. Sweatiness

When a horse sweats, his skin may get itchy, so a hot, sweaty horse may roll in the dirt as a way of scratching his back. This may be especially true right after a hot, sweaty ride.

When the saddle comes off, the hair coat under it is sure to feel sticky and itchy, so rolling could relieve that sensation and provide a bit of self-grooming.

Grooming your horse and giving him a rub down with a coarse towel after a hard ride is always advisable and could help him feel less desperate about setting his coat straight.

2. Drying Off

After a bath or a rain, a horse might want to roll as a way of drying off excess moisture. This is why it’s important to cross tie your horse after a bath and use a sweat scraper or a curry comb to scrape away excess moisture. Keep your horse tied until he’s dry to help prevent rolling on a wet, clean coat.

3. Fly Repellent

When a wet horse rolls in the dirt, or when a dry horse rolls in the mud, he or she is creating a nice, thick coating that keeps flies off naturally. Regular use of fly spray and/or a fly sheet might help prevent this behavior.

4. Sun Block

A good coat of dirt and mud also helps block the hot rays of the sun. Always provide your horse with shade. In some cases, use of a UV protection fly sheet may be called for.

5. Insulation

Just as a coat of dirt can help keep heat out in hot weather, it can also help keep heat in during very cold weather. A thick winter coat filled with dirt is a bit warmer than that same winter coat brushed nice and clean.

If your horse runs right out and rolls after grooming in cold weather, it may mean he‘d like a blanket.

Conversely, if your horse rolls while wearing a blanket, it may mean he’s too hot and wants the blanket off.

6. Stretching

Rolling around is a good stretch. That’s one reason why horses roll even when there isn’t dry dirt or mud. It just feels good.

7. Fun

Horses like to roll, and they may do it just for fun or as part of play time with other horses. Horses at play often roll in the snow just for the heck of it.

8. Fitting In

If one horse rolls, those around him are more likely to join in. Interestingly, the dominant horse in the group will usually roll last. This is because the most dominant horse typically wants to leave its scent over that of other horses to mark the area as its own territory.

9. Social Structure

When a horse arrives at a new place, he or she may drop and roll quickly as a sign of submission to let other horses know not to expect any trouble.

10. Contentment

When a horse feels safe and comfortable in its environment, it is more likely to indulge in a nice long roll.

11. Sun Bathing

On a warm sunny day at the end of winter, your horse may stretch out on his side, bask in the sun and then roll over to enjoy the sun on the other side.

12. Pain Relief

A horse with a bellyache or colic will often roll as a way of attempting to get fluid and gas in the intestines to move. If your horse seems to be rolling in pain, don’t stop him or her (as long as the horse is in a safe area for rolling) but do call your vet.

This is especially important if your horse is showing other signs of colic, such as looking at or biting his sides or flanks, pacing, grinding his teeth and/kicking at his belly repeatedly.

What Does It Mean When Your Horse Rolls?

Refer to the list above for some of the reasons, but also understand that good, strong rolling is a sign of a healthy horse. A horse who is injured or experiencing some internal pain may avoid rolling.

This is why old-time horsemen and women used to joke that you could determine the value of a horse by the number of times it could roll over completely – $100 a roll!

What If Your Horse Doesn’t Roll Over Completely?

Not all horses roll all the way over, one side to the other. Some horses will roll and wallow on one side, stand up and switch to the other side. This is alright and doesn’t indicate that your horse is ailing.

Lying down, rolling, standing up and then lying down and rolling again takes quite a bit of strength and coordination on the part of a horse.

If you notice that your horse rolls differently on one side than the other, this could be an indication of a problem. This is especially true if your horse grunts, groans or otherwise expresses pain while rolling. If this is the case, let your vet know. Weak or uneven rolling can be a sign of trouble.

Why Do Horses Roll?

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