Why Do Horses Stick Their Tongues Out?

Horses, with their enigmatic behaviors and gestures, often leave us both puzzled and fascinated. One of these intriguing behaviors is the tendency of horses to stick their tongues out. In this comprehensive guide, we delve into the world of equine expression, exploring the reasons behind why horses engage in this curious behavior.

Tongue Sticking: A Natural and Learned Behavior

Understanding Equine Actions

Equine behaviors can be categorized into innate actions and learned behaviors. While some behaviors are hardwired in their DNA, others are shaped through interactions and experiences. The act of sticking out the tongue can fall into both these categories, encompassing both normal tongue movements and deliberate, learned actions.

Reasons Behind Tongue Sticking

Physical Comfort and Relief

Horses might stick out their tongues to alleviate discomfort or to find relief. Sometimes, it’s a simple response to an itch or irritation in the mouth area. The tongue’s movement could provide a soothing sensation, akin to how humans might rub an area that’s bothering them.

Reaction to Tastes and Sensations

Tongue sticking can also be a reaction to new tastes or textures. Horses are naturally curious creatures and often explore objects through their mouths. When introduced to something unfamiliar, they might react by extending their tongues, attempting to gather more information about the sensation.

Expressing Discomfort or Pain

Horses communicate their discomfort through various behaviors, and sticking out the tongue can be one of them. If a horse experiences discomfort, especially around the head or mouth area, they might exhibit this behavior to signal their unease.

Coping with Dental Issues

Dental problems can lead to horses sticking out their tongues. Tooth pain or discomfort can result in unusual tongue movements as the horse tries to find a position that minimizes the pain. Such behavior can also be a response to difficulties in chewing due to dental issues.

Environmental and Emotional Factors

Stress and Nervousness

Similar to humans, horses can display physical responses to stress or nervousness. Sticking out the tongue might be a manifestation of their anxiety, akin to nail-biting or fidgeting in humans. When horses encounter unfamiliar or intimidating situations, they might resort to this behavior as a coping mechanism.

Social Interaction and Communication

Horses communicate with each other through body language, and tongue sticking can be part of this communication repertoire. It might signal submission, appeasement, or simply be a way for horses to interact and establish social bonds.

Playful Behavior

Just like playful behaviors in dogs or other animals, horses can also engage in playful acts. Sticking out their tongues might be a way of expressing lightheartedness and engaging in interaction, especially during moments of relaxation.

Tongue Sticking Under Saddle

Tack and Bitting Considerations

Tongue sticking can sometimes be influenced by the equipment a horse wears. Ill-fitting tack, particularly bits, can cause discomfort and prompt horses to respond with tongue movements as they try to find relief from the pressure.

Sensitivity to the Rider’s Aids

Some horses might stick their tongues out in response to cues from the rider. Sensitivity to the rider’s aids, including the use of reins and bit pressure, can influence how a horse responds, including tongue movements.

Rider and Horse Relationship Dynamics

The dynamics between a rider and a horse can affect the horse’s behavior. A tense or uneasy rider might inadvertently trigger tongue sticking in the horse as a response to their rider’s emotions.

Medical Considerations

Dental Health and Oral Sensitivity

Dental health plays a crucial role in a horse’s overall well-being. Dental issues, such as sharp points or abnormalities, can lead to discomfort in the mouth, causing horses to exhibit tongue-sticking behavior.

Evaluating Physical Wellness

Before attributing tongue sticking to behavioral or environmental factors, it’s important to rule out any underlying health concerns. Regular veterinary check-ups and dental evaluations can help identify any physical issues that might be contributing to the behavior.

Consulting Equine Professionals

When horses consistently display tongue-sticking behavior, seeking guidance from equine professionals, such as trainers, veterinarians, or equine behaviorists, can provide valuable insights. These experts can evaluate the behavior in the context of the horse’s health and environment.

Responding to Tongue Sticking

Distinguishing Occasional and Persistent Behavior

It’s essential to differentiate between occasional tongue sticking and persistent behavior. If the behavior is occasional and doesn’t appear to cause distress, it might not warrant immediate concern. However, persistent or extreme behavior should be investigated further.

Addressing Discomfort or Dental Issues

If discomfort or dental problems are suspected, taking appropriate measures to address them can significantly alleviate the behavior. Regular dental check-ups and adjustments to tack can make a positive impact.

Ensuring Comfortable Tack and Equipment

Ensuring that the horse’s tack, including bits and bridles, is properly fitted and comfortable is crucial. Ill-fitting equipment can lead to unnecessary discomfort and contribute to tongue-sticking behavior.

Preventing and Managing Tongue Sticking

Consistent and Patient Training

Consistent training that focuses on developing a strong bond between the rider and horse can help manage and minimize tongue-sticking behavior. Patience and understanding are key when working with horses exhibiting this behavior.

Establishing Trust and Communication

Building trust between horse and rider enhances communication and reduces anxiety. When horses feel secure and understood, they are less likely to exhibit stress-related behaviors like tongue sticking.

Enrichment and Mental Stimulation

Providing horses with mental and physical stimulation is essential. Enrichment activities, such as interactive toys or varied riding experiences, can engage their minds and decrease the likelihood of anxiety-related behaviors.

Common Misconceptions

Dispelling Myths

Understanding that tongue sticking can have multiple motivations helps dispel misconceptions. It’s not solely a sign of behavioral issues, and various factors should be considered when interpreting this behavior.

Recognizing Individual Variation

Horses, like humans, exhibit individual variations in behavior. Some horses might stick out their tongues more frequently due to their personality, while others might do so due to specific circumstances.

Why do some horses race with their tongues out?

Physical Comfort and Relaxation

Horses racing with their tongues out might be a result of seeking physical comfort and relaxation. When a horse stretches its tongue out during a race, it can help alleviate tension in the mouth and jaw, providing a sense of relief. This can be particularly important in high-stress situations like races.

Bit Pressure and Discomfort

The use of bits in a horse’s mouth during racing can sometimes lead to discomfort. Horses might respond to this discomfort by extending their tongues, which can help them find a more comfortable position for the bit in their mouths. This behavior can be a way for horses to cope with the pressure exerted by the bit.

Escape Behavior

Sticking out the tongue can also be a form of escape behavior. Horses experiencing discomfort, stress, or even frustration might resort to sticking out their tongues as a way to release tension and momentarily divert their focus from the race itself.

Individual Variation

Just as humans have individual habits and behaviors, horses also exhibit unique traits. Some horses may naturally have a propensity to stick their tongues out during races, regardless of the specific reasons. This individual variation can be influenced by factors like genetics, past experiences, and temperament.

Why does my horse open his mouth?

Bit Comfort and Acceptance

Horses may open their mouths in response to the presence of a bit. Opening the mouth can be an attempt to find a more comfortable position for the bit and reduce pressure on the sensitive bars of the mouth. It’s a way for horses to adapt to the sensation of the bit in their mouths.

Tension and Anxiety

Horses might open their mouths due to tension or anxiety. In stressful situations, such as unfamiliar environments or training activities, horses may respond by opening their mouths as a sign of nervousness or discomfort. This behavior can also be a response to the anticipation of an event.

Communication and Feedback

Opening the mouth can serve as a form of communication between the horse and the rider. Horses might express their feelings, whether it’s resistance to a cue, a request for relief, or an attempt to convey their emotional state. Riders can learn to interpret this behavior as a feedback mechanism.

Dental Issues and Oral Sensitivity

Dental problems or oral discomfort can lead to horses opening their mouths. Sharp points on teeth, dental abnormalities, or other issues can create discomfort that prompts horses to respond by moving their mouths in various ways, including opening them.

Bit Fit and Tack Considerations

The way a bit is fitted and the design of the bridle can influence how a horse responds. If the bit is improperly fitted or the bridle exerts uneven pressure, horses might open their mouths to find relief from any discomfort caused by the tack.

Rider’s Hands and Aids

The way a rider handles the reins and applies aids can impact how a horse responds. Excessive or inconsistent rein pressure, as well as abrupt cues, can prompt horses to open their mouths in response to perceived discomfort or confusion.

Lack of Training or Conditioning

Horses that are not properly trained or conditioned to accept the bit and respond to cues may open their mouths as a form of resistance or confusion. Proper training and building a trusting relationship with the horse can help address this behavior.

Medical and Health Considerations

Before assuming that mouth-opening behavior is solely related to training or behavioral issues, it’s crucial to rule out any underlying medical concerns. Dental health, oral sensitivities, and overall wellness should be evaluated by a veterinarian.

Conclusion: Unveiling Equine Expression

The behavior of horses sticking out their tongues encompasses a range of motivations, from physical comfort and communication to environmental influences and learned behaviors. By delving into these complexities, we gain insights into equine expression and interaction. Embracing the intricacies of horses’ behaviors allows us to respond with empathy, knowledge, and an appreciation for the diverse ways in which horses communicate their thoughts and feelings.