Mother Nature

The Language of Horses


In contradiction to what we often see in movies and on TV, horses do not constantly make noise. They don’t whinny every time someone rides them, nor do they “scream” if they are hit by a whip (as one misguided author wrote). As prey animals, they tend to be quiet, not wanting to attract attention. They do, however, have very effective communication, using both vocalizations and body language.

small_2645376508A mare talking to her foal uses a low, soft whicker to show affection. She greets a friend, of any species, with a slightly louder, rumbling nicker or, if she’s excited, a higher pitched whinny. If you walk into a barn at feeding time, you’ll probably be barraged by both loud and soft greetings, according to the different personalities and how hungry they are.

Squeals are also a common way that horses communicate. When horses meet for the first time, they sniff noses, sometimes getting quite noisy about it, then often they’ll squeal and strike out with a front foot—a dominance behavior. Mares in season tend to squeal a lot too, usually adding a slight, threatening kick to tell others to keep away. The squeal and kick also say “stay away from my food!” My mare Glory has to assert herself this way whenever the gelding in the next stall looks at her while she’s eating her grain. You’ll also hear squeals as an expression of high spirits and playfulness.

Horses are herd animals and bond very strongly. If they are separated from one of their friends they’ll often neigh repeatedly, calling to them. If another horse answers, it may start a “conversation” that doesn’t end until the looked-for horse returns. Since a neigh is a high-pitched vibrating sound that can be quite loud, this can get old very quickly. My Portia had a bellow that could hurt your ears.

About the only time you might actually hear a horse scream is when a stallion is challenging a rival. A fight is a noisy affair.

small__6087150424The one sound you don’t ever want to hear from your horse is a groan. Horses tend to be quite stoic and tolerate a lot of pain. By the time they hurt enough to groan, they usually are in big trouble and you’d better get the vet out ASAP. The groan associated with colic is one of the scariest a horse owner can hear. However, the hurting groan is different from the grunt and groan you often hear when they roll. That’s just a “oh that feels so good” sound.

I had originally intended to talk about body language too, but that would make this post too long. I’ll save it for next time.

So the next time you see a movie where the horse whinnies as it does something, you can shake your head and mutter “Hollywood.” What silly things have you seen horses do on screen? Or have read about in a book?


Mare and foal: photo credit: <a href=””>nomanson</a&gt; via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a href=””>cc</a&gt
Photo: photo credit: <a href=””>NatureNerd (probably outside)</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a href=””>cc</a&gt;
Categories: animals, horse care, horse personalities, Horses, How horses talk, Mother Nature, outdoors, riding, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 24 Comments

Cues from Mother Nature

Glory #2


Last evening as I was grooming my horse Glory, I was shocked to see she had already started growing a winter coat. It’s the middle of August, was 102 degrees the day before, and her coat is thickening? My immediate thought was “we’re going to have a cold winter.”

Then I mused about how someone living in 2013, just outside a major city, still looked to the old farmer’s indicators for clues to the weather. Almost everyone else I know listens to or reads the weather reports. With satellite photos, graphs and charts, the meteorologists predict our climate—with about fifty percent accuracy. Those of who deal with animals probably have a slightly better record.

Early this summer the people at the barn where I board Glory were all commenting on how their horses weren’t losing their winter coats. Normally by June, they are sleek and shining, with all the long hair gone. This year they took much longer to shed and some of the older horses never did sleek out.

Turns out the horses knew something even the meteorologists didn’t. It was going to be a cool summer. In fact, in spite of a few high temps, this has been one of the coolest on record for our area. Since thirty degree drops in temperature overnight are common here, those older horses that had lost their muscle and bulk really did need the extra warmth their shaggy coats72 dpi - Lightning storm provided.

Now it appears they are preparing for a early, cold winter. Shorter days, with less light, provide a physiological signal for animals to shed their short summer hair and replace it with a longer, denser coat. Because of this many show barns leave their lights on at night in an attempt to keep their horses sleek. (The lights also affect the reproductive cycle, but that’s a topic for another time.) The rest of us just live with the heavy coats, and maybe use blankets to try to keep them from getting too dense.

But what causes animals to grow heavy coats one year and much lighter ones the next? How did they know to hang onto their extra hair this summer? How does Nature know what the climate will be? I’d really love to know the answer to those questions.

Until then, I’ll continue to monitor my animals and prepare for a cold winter this year. I’ll be curious, come Spring, as to how accurate their predictions are.

How about you? Are there any unusual happenings that you pay attention to? Any cues from Mother Nature?


Weather plays an important part in my novel Forewarning. Take a look at an excerpt to see how.

Categories: Horses, Mother Nature, Romantic suspense, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

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