Last Updated on February 27, 2023
Did you ever wonder what your horse could say to you if he could talk? What sound does a horse make when it is happy, angry, or sad? Learning to speak ‘horse’ might not be as far-fetched as you think!
Horses speak to each other, and 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 into 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 say and help maintain their happiness and well-being.
What Sound Does a Horse Make?
Read any children’s farmyard storybook, and it will tell you that cows say ‘moo’, sheep say ‘baa’, and horses say ‘neigh’! But in real life, the sounds made by these animals are very varied and often can be difficult to interpret.
Some of the most common horse sounds in words include sighing, groaning, neighing, nickering, squealing, and roaring (also called screaming). Each of these sounds is used in very different ways for horses to communicate their feelings, intentions, and warnings to other horses and their human carers.
Knowing how to recognize the different sounds a horse makes can help you to improve communication with your horse, as well as recognize when they are suffering from discomfort, pain, or distress.
Horse Sounds: Sighing
Horse sighs are extremely similar to human sighs – the horse will let out a large breath slowly through the nostrils, producing a gentle snorting sound. Horses sigh when they go from a state of slight discomfort or tension into a more relaxed state, or when they are feeling bored. This can occur during many different activities.
For example, many horses will sigh when they are being groomed. This is a sign that your horse is feeling relaxed about being groomed, and is most likely enjoying the sensation. Horses will also sigh when they are settling down to rest or sleep.
Some horses will sigh during exercise. This will 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 the rider decides to loosen the reins to let the horse stretch after a period of intense exercise, 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 is a louder noise that comes out when a big amount of effort is exerted on a task, and normally means some kind of discomfort or physical effort is taking place.
If you come across a horse groaning while laying down, it is a good idea to check for symptoms of problems such as colic. It is not uncommon to find a horse making grunting noises when they are laid down, but this can also be a symptom of pain caused by abdominal problems.
Some horses also groan during periods of intense physical exercise. For example, some horses make a groaning noise when they go over jumps. If your horse does this it is a good idea to get a veterinary check to rule out any signs of pain or discomfort
Groaning is a completely normal horse sound and reaction, but sometimes groaning can indicate that a horse is in true pain or discomfort. Knowing how to identify these different situations with each horse can help you to recognize if your horse is uncomfortable or unwell.
Recognizing when groans are normal and when they are abnormal for different horses will help you to easily establish 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. However, don’t forget some horses just like to groan when they are laid down – kind of like a huge, relaxed sigh!
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 horse 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 to determine where they are.
For example, one of the most common circumstances that instigate neighing is the separation of one horse from another. When one or two horses are left behind 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.
So, contrary to what you may have seen in the movies, horses do not neigh when they are galloping around! These neighing sounds are usually added in as sound effects, as horses do not tend to neigh when being ridden.
Neighing, or whinnying, is primarily used as a way to locate other horses, and this loud noise can travel over a considerable distance. A horse that is separated from its friends will neigh loudly and frequently, a sure-fire indication that the horse is distressed.
Read more about Why Do Horses Whinny?
Horse Sounds: Nicker
One of the most adorable horse sounds you will ever hear is the nicker. This is like a low chuckling sound, normally accompanied by fluttering of the nostrils. Horses do this to greet another horse they are closely bonded with, and a horse will often nicker when its favorite human approaches. It is not uncommon to hear a horse nicker when you take in its dinner or a treat!
You will also hear broodmares nicker to reassure their foals, and stallions will nicker at mares to show affection during courtship.
Horse Sounds: Squealing
Squealing is something that is typically done by mares, but you may also come across geldings and stallions that squeal. Squealing is a high-pitched noise issued as 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.
For mares that are in their reproductive cycle, the horse squeal meaning is very different! The mare will make distinctive squealing noises if she meets with a stallion, to show him that she is receptive to being mated.
Horse Sounds: Screaming
A scream is a deep guttural sound that will only be heard in very specific circumstances. Domesticated horses rarely scream, but in the wild, it is not unusual to hear stallions make a screaming sound as they battle for leadership of the herd.
Horse Sounds: Snorting
Horses will make a snorting noise when they are alarmed or intrigued by something. They do this by expelling air rapidly through the nostrils. When a horse snorts, its whole demeanor will appear to be on high alert, with the ears pricked forward and tense body language.
Horse Sounds: Roaring
Some horses make a roaring noise, often heard during exercise. This type of roar is comparable to a wheeze and is an involuntary noise – the horse is not making it to communicate. It occurs when a horse is struggling to breathe, normally due to a partial blockage in its throat caused by a condition such as laryngeal hemiplegia.
What Sound Do Horses Make When They Are Scared?
If a horse is scared, it may not make any sound at all. Horses are prey animals, and if they sense a threat they will aim to get away as quickly and as quietly as possible. However, the horse may make certain noises to alert other horses in the herd to the potential danger.
A horse that is alarmed will often make a snorting sound by expelling air rapidly through the nostrils. The horse’s head will be raised and the ears pricked forward, to better visualize the potential threat. Once the horse starts to flee from the threat, you are unlikely to hear any noise apart from the thunder of hooves as they run away.
Conclusion – What Sound Does a Horse Make
So, as we have learned, your horse does speak! It is up to you to be able to translate what it means, and this can reap huge benefits when it comes to training your horse. 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.
We hope that this article has 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!
What sound does a horse make when happy?
Horse's neigh is their main means of communication. It is a high-pitched noise with an almost human quality, and it can carry up to five miles. It has been compared to the cry of a peacock.
Sometimes a horse's happy neigh is a greeting to another horse. The neigh noise your horse makes is also known as a whinny or a bray, and a horse can neigh when cheerful or frustrated.
Horses use their voice to communicate with each other, and the sound of a horse neighing is one of the most common sounds heard in an equine world.
What sounds do horses make when scared?
Horses can make a number of different sounds that indicate he is frightened. They include whinnying, bellowing, grunting, snorting, and hissing. Scared horse might also be pounding on the ground with his hooves.
Horses need to be trained and conditioned to live in the world around them. This includes the ability to handle situations such as thunderstorms, fireworks, and loud noises. It is important to be aware of your horse's behavior around these things.
In the wild, horses have natural predators. Horses are not naturally aggressive animals, but they do have a tendency to kick when they feel threatened. Horses may also bite or kick if their trust has been violated.
What is a roaring horse?
One of the main reasons why horses roar is because they are not able to breathe properly during exercise and it's often caused by a condition called laryngeal hemiplegia. This condition can be caused by a variety of factors. These factors include:
A horse might have a genetic defect or trauma that damages or breaks down the nerve that controls the vocal cords in the horse’s larynx. This nerve, which is usually called the laryngeal nerve, is responsible for controlling the movement of air through the horse’s windpipe (trachea). The nerve that causes this is called the recurrent laryngeal nerve.
The nerve might be damaged by an infection or inflammation, such as laryngitis. A horse might also have a problem with his breathing due to a respiratory tract infection or lung disease, such as pneumonia.
Why do horses grunt when riding?
Grunt is another form of vocalization. It's a way for horses to communicate, just like humans use words and gestures. Horses grunt as a way to indicate their physical state (pain, distress, anger) or to let other horses know that there's danger and they should be alert of their surroundings. It can also be used for training and communication, or even to attract a mate.
Nevertheless, there are many different reasons why horses grunt. Horses make grunt noises when they are in pain or are frightened. If the horse feels pain while being ridden, he will grunt to alert the rider. Horses can also grunt if they have injured themselves or been hurt by another animal. Horses may grunt to warn their owners about dangerous situations such as lightning storms, fireworks, or loud noises. A horse can also grunt if he feels a bit uncomfortable during exercise. This could be due to too much work, too hot weather, or too tight reins. Pay attention to this sound and act accordingly to prevent possible further issues.
Michael Dehaan is a passionate horse owner, horse rider, and lover of all things equine. He has been around horses since he was a child, and has grown to become an expert in the field. He has owned and ridden a variety of horses of different breeds, and has trained many to compete in shows and competitions. He is an experienced horseman, having worked with and competed many horses, including his own. He is an active member of the equestrian community, participating in events and teaching riding lessons.