Horse Sounds and Meanings

Ever wonder what your horse sounds could say to you if he could talk? It might not be as far-fetched as you think! Horses speak to each other, and to us, using different types of sounds.  They don’t speak words as humans do, but their body language and the types of sounds they use can give us insight to what they are thinking and how they are feeling.

Horses emit certain sounds when they feel certain things; fear, comfort, discomfort, anxiety, restlessness, etc.  Knowing which sounds match up with which feelings can help us understand what our horses are saying and maintain their happiness and well-being.  

Some of the most common horse sounds include sighing, groaning, neighing, nickering, squealing, and roaring (also called screaming).

Horse Sounds: What Sound Does it Make?


Horse sighs are extremely similar to human sighs.  Horses sigh when they go from a state of slight discomfort or tension into a more relaxed state.  This can occur during many different activities.

For example, my horse often sighs while I am grooming him.  Whether this is because I itch an itchy spot, or maybe rub a sore muscle, I can never be sure.  But, something about what I am doing relaxes him, so he lets out a sigh.

Horses will also sigh during exercise.  Sighs during exercise happen under the same circumstances as sighs at rest;  the horse is either allowed to relax or rest and becomes more comfortable. For example, when a horse is going around in a frame quite awhile, and the rider decides to loosen the reins to let the horse stretch, the horse will often let out a sigh.

Sighs can occur in any situation in which a horse becomes more relaxed, the same as when people sigh.  Horses tend to sigh when they are around people, as opposed to when they are around other horses.

Horse Sounds: Groaning

Groaning is a bit more complicated to interpret than sighing.  A horse groaning sounds similar to a human groaning; it’s a nose that comes out when a big amount of effort is exerted on a task, and normally means some kind of relative discomfort.

Similar to people, the amount of times a horse groans depends on the horse. I know a horse that groans over every jump.  He is not in pain (he has been vet-checked); he just feels that every jump requires enough effort to yield a groan.

However, my horse doesn’t groan over jumps, but he groans when you kick him too hard as if it surprises him.  It puts him in a temporary state of discomfort and causes him to make an unexpected motion.

Groans such as the ones in these two examples are completely normal horse sounds and reactions.  But, sometimes groans can indicate that a horse is in true pain or discomfort. Knowing how to separate these situations will rest on your experience with each individual horse.

Knowing when groans are normal, and when groans are abnormal for different horses will let you know if a horse is groaning out of discomfort.  If you think this is the case, keep track of when and how often your horse is groaning, and consult with your trainer and vet.

Horse Sounds: Neighing

Though a “horse neigh” is what everyone thinks of when they think of horse sounds, it is a pretty uncommon sound for a horse to make.  Some horses neigh more than others, but even then, most horses don’t neigh nearly as much as they sigh or groan.

Neighing or “calling” is a sound horses use when they are trying to get the attention of another horse.  Typically, horses neigh when they are calling to their friends across the pasture, or calling to their friends that are not visible in order to determine where they are.  

For example, one of the most common circumstances that instigates neighing is turnout.  When one or two horses are left in their stalls, while the others are turned out in their pastures, the few remaining will neigh to call for their friends.  

Or, vice versa; when one horse is left outside when its friends have been brought in, the one left behind will call for its friends because it doesn’t want to be left behind. Neighing is a sound shared between horses; horses do not neigh at people.


Squealing is something that is typically done by mares, female horses. Squealing is a type of warning, indicating that the horse is unhappy.  Mares typically squeal when they feel that their space has been invaded by another horse.

Squealing is often accompanied by head tossing, pinned ears, and sometimes even kicking out.  Mares will squeal in their stall, in the pasture, and under saddle, depending on the circumstance.  

Roar (i.e.- Scream)

A roar is a deep guttural sound that can mean one of two things.  When a horse roars loudly, it is also called a scream; this is a sound a horse makes when it is in severe distress or anguish.  It typically indicates extreme pain or extreme stress. It only happens in the worst of circumstances.

A more quiet roar occurs when a horse is having trouble breathing.  This type of roar is comparable to a wheeze. The sound itself, in terms of how the sound is created, is the same as the roar a horse makes when it is in extreme distress. 

But, it will be quieter, and it occurs when a horse is struggling to breathe, whether it be because of a blockage in its throat or other reasons.


Your horse speaks, it’s just up to you to be able to translate what it means!  Horses don’t use specific words as people do, but we can tell how they are feeling and what they are thinking through the sounds that they communicate with.

I hope this article helped you understand the basic types of horse noises and what they mean.  If so, please share this article and share with us your interpretations of and experiences with horse noises!

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