Do you Know Why Horses Lick, Chew & Yawn?

Wow, what a blowout!

As you probably know, it was Thanksgiving yesterday here in the US so if you celebrated too I hope you had as beautiful and positive a day as we did. This year our entire family got together at my mother-in-law’s house, 23 of us in total.

She’s an amazing cook and had been cooking and preparing for days but was still worried everyone wouldn’t get enough or would have what they liked. That was unlikely given there must have been about 25 dishes on the menu and so much food on the table that there was barely enough room for our plates!

Anyway, after we’d all ate ourselves stupid, we retired to the living room, collapsed into the easy chairs and reminisced about the past year and everything we had to be thankful for while remembering those who are no longer with us. Good times.

Next up… Christmas!

Till then though, let’s do some learning…

A couple of weeks ago I was talking to a friend and asking for his advice about a particular situation I was facing. I just wanted a second opinion to make sure that I was on the right path.

When I finished telling him the background, he just looked at me, smiled and said, “I can tell this must be really worrying you, you’re stressed.”

This surprised me as I didn’t think I was. I thought I was just fine and so asked him why he thought that.

He said, “Well, you’re twirling your hair which is a sign of stress”.

Say what?! I didn’t even know I was doing it.

So I then started taking note of when I did it and discovered it was usually during or after a stressful situation but once calmed down I stop.

I haven’t looked into it but figure it must have originated at some point in my childhood.

Anyway, here’s why I’m telling you about this…

The other day I was reading a research paper by a team of equine scientists from the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, who had been observing the social behaviour of feral horses under natural conditions.

The team wanted to investigate whether chewing (not related to eating) was performed to signal submission to another horse.

The results were fascinating. They discovered that chewing was done by both the aggressor and the recipient and in fact was actually performed more often by the approaching horse than the other way round.

They also carried out a second set of observations as to whether chewing was performed in between stressful and calm situations

This time they found that chewing occurred most frequently when horses transitioned from a tense to a relaxed state. When they switched from a state of having a dry mouth caused by stress (sympathetic arousal) to salivation which is associated with relaxation (parasympathetic activity).

The overall conclusions from the studies therefore was that chewing in horses is not a submissive signal as we are so often told but occurs after they have experienced a stressful situation.

Which reminded of the period just after my horses and I moved to Maryland when I’d noticed that they were licking and chewing a lot more than usual.

I didn’t know why at the time but what with the move, the new barn, new pasture buddies, new weather etc, they’d obviously been feeling stressed.

The chewing only lasted about two weeks and after that they were indeed a lot more settled.

The researchers did say that they were not sure chewing comes as a response to relaxing or if it helps a horse to relax.

My very unscientific guess would be that licking and chewing helps horses to calm down.

The reason I say this is that when my horses were involved with my equine therapy clinics, they would always go to the person who was most stressed or anxious and start licking and chewing. It was almost as if they were trying to help that person calm down and pull the stress right out of them.

And more often than not, the person would tell me afterwards that they felt the horses had made them feel calmer.

What’s your experience with your horse licking and chewing, when have you noticed it?

Do write and let me know me as I’d like to see whether your experience has been the same as mine.

Until next week, happy, stress-free horses to you!

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P.S. Talking of blowouts, it wouldn’t be Black Friday if I didn’t offer you a deal, so if you missed it before you can get my cheapest program at it’s lowest ever price here:

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In my experience many horses suffer from Equine Stress, the consequences of which can be very detrimental to their well-being. The sad thing is many loving owners are often completely unaware of this.
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