Why Do Horses Snort?

Last Updated on December 1, 2021

If you’ve been around horses, you’ve likely heard them snort before. Horses can be vocal animals, with each sound meaning something different. Though hearing this is quite common, you might wonder: why do horses snort?

Horses can be heard snorting in different situations. Depending on the situation, the reason for their snort can have various meanings.

Understanding Why Do Horses Snort

There are a few different reasons why scientists believe this. Researchers believe the most common reasons horses snort is as a coping mechanism when there is social tension, communicating, portraying emotion, such as happiness or fear, and simply just clearing their nasal passages.

There is still a lot of uncertainty about the reason why horses snort. Though there have been many studies performed recently about horses snorting, there is still a lot of debate to the reasons they do it.

This video talks about why horses snort and make other vocalizations. Snorting may be one of the most common noises horses make, but there is still debate over all the reasons they do it.

Why Do Horses Snort: Coping Mechanism

One reason scientists believe horses snort is that it is used as a coping mechanism to ease tension in social situations. When new horses are meeting for the first time, it is common to hear them snort. It is a way for them to reduce any social tension when they are facing an unexpected event.

Snorting as an Emotion

One of the newest theories of why horses snort is that it is a way for them to show happiness. Scientist believe that happier horses do this more. Horses have been observed to snort the most when they are in calm and relaxing situations.

Horses also tend to do this when they are getting fed. Horses often get excited when they are fed and it is one of the top things that make them happy. Horses also tend to snort more often when they are outdoors in comparison to when they are a stall.

Why Do Horses Snort: Coping Mechanism

Scientists have also made a link between horses snorting while their ears are forward. Horses often put their ears forward when they are in a good mood. It is thought that if a horse snorts while it is being ridden or driven that it is relaxed and enjoying itself.

Though scientists have done a lot of research recently about the correlation of snorting and happiness in horses, there is still speculation about the connection between them. Some scientists don’t think there is enough evidence to support that horses express happiness by snorting.

Horses also snort when they are fearful of something. If they are put in a situation where they are facing fear or aggression, their flight and fight instincts are stimulated.

Scientists have also found that the reaction of adrenaline can lead to snorting. Once their adrenaline gets flowing, it leads to a dry nose and mouth. Once the adrenaline fades, secretions of mucus and saliva form again, leading to the horse having to snort.

Horse Snorting for Communication

Some people believe based on research that horses can snort to communicate with people and other horses. Snorting is thought to be a way for horses to warn their herd of oncoming danger. Some people theorize that horses also snort as a way of greeting familiar people and horses, though research still needs to be done to prove this theory.

Snorting for Relief

Horses also snort as a way to clear their nasal passages. If a horse has dust, bugs or a foreign object that enters into its nostrils, it will snort as a way to clear its nose, just like humans. Horses also snort when they have a buildup of mucus or snot that they need to clear out.

Why Do Horses Snort: Current and Further Research

Researchers in France conducted the study that leads to the idea that horses snort while they are happy. Mathilde Stomp, a doctoral student from the University of Rennes, lead the study with a team of researchers. They studied 48 horses and recorded 560 snorts.

The horses they studied were a combination of privately-owned horses and horses used at a riding school. All the horses they studied snorted at least once during their experiment. They observed horses in stalls and outdoors.

They discovered that the horses snorted most when they were partaking in relaxing and calming activities. They recorded the most snorts when horses were outside. The most snorts they recorded from a horse was 13 times in one hour.

They concluded that horses often snort in positive situations. Horses in pasture or during feeding time snorted the most. Horses standing in their stalls snorted the least.

Many scientists agree that further research is needed to determine the connection between happiness and snorting in horses. Stomp plans to study how dust levels may impact a horse’s snorting when they are in a stall.

Why Do Horses Snort: Current and Further Research

Lauren Burbank, from Oregon State University, hopes to continue the study of snorting in horses by observing their behavior while riding, driving and doing therapy work. Many trainers think that there is a positive correlation between horses snorting while being ridden.

Researchers also want to monitor show horses and racing horses to see what their snorting patterns are. They want to see if horses that snort while being ridden are relaxed and releasing adrenaline.

A Common Form of Vocalization

Horses use vocalization to express different emotions and behaviors. Snorting is one of the noises scientists know the least about why horses make it. Though many will agree that more research is needed, it is believed that snorting can be tied to a horse’s emotions.

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As of now, scientists believe that horses snort because:

  • They are happy, relaxed and calm.
  • They are fearful and nervous.
  • They are warning other horses of danger.
  • They are trying to ease the tension in social situations, such as meeting new horses.
  • They are trying to clear their nasal passages of any bugs, dirt or debris that may be trapped in their nose.


Do horses snort when they are happy?

There is no definitive answer to this question, as horse snorting can be indicative of a variety of emotions. However, many horse owners believe that horses snort when they are happy, as it is seen as a way of communicating joy.
When a horse snorts, it typically exhales quickly and makes a sound that is similar to a human sneeze. This behavior can be exhibited when the horse is happy, excited, or playful.
If you are new to horse ownership, or just curious about horse behavior, it can be interesting to watch for horse snorting. Pay attention to your horse's facial expressions and body language, as well as any other cues that may give you a hint as to how he is feeling. This can be a valuable tool for understanding your horse better.

Do horses snort when in distress?

Yes, horse snorting can indicate distress.
Snorting is a way for horses to communicate with each other, and so if your horse is snorting, it may be trying to tell you something.
Some horse owners notice that when their horse snorts it tends to be in specific circumstances, like when the horse is playing with another horse or while locked in a horse trailer. This could be because horses tend to snort more when they are in an unfamiliar environment, or around other horses who they may not yet know.
Horses also tend to snort more when they are in pain or afraid, so it's important to pay attention to your horse's snorting and learn what their different sounds mean.

What is the difference between snorting and squealing?

A horse snort is made by a horse inhaling quickly and then exhaling with a distinctive "snorting" sound. The horse snort can be made to clear airways or expel insects, irritants, or parasites. Snorting while the horse grazes may also serve as an intimidation tactic while competing for food with other horses. Horses also snort when they are startled by something, such as a loud noise or an unfamiliar object, or to express their emotions.
A horse squeal is made when the horse exhales with a high-pitched, sharp sound. Horses may squeal when they are in pain, experiencing fear or panic, or when playing. Young horses often squeal while playing and that's perfectly normal and not concerning. When horses are in pain or distress, horse owners can tell that their horse is squealing instead of snorting by the horse's body language, for example, a squeal is likely to be accompanied by other signs of distress, such as pawing at the ground and/or sweating.

Do horses snort to communicate with each other?

Horses communicate with each other through a variety of sounds, including neighing, whinnying, and snorting. Horses are social animals and one way of establishing social bonds is through their communication with different sounds.
Snorting is a way for horses to get the attention of other horses. It often occurs when a horse is alerting another horse of danger or trying to establish dominance. Horses tend to snort more around other horses, or in an environment where there are a lot of distractions.
Horses also snort when they are playing with each other, which is a way of showing affection. Snorting can also help them identify each other and to figure out who is the leader of a group.