Why Do Horses Yawn?

When your horse yawns, what does he really mean? Horses yawn for a variety of reasons.

Studies reveal there are several possible reasons:

  • State of drowsiness – perhaps relaxed/relaxation in your horse; but not the same as in humans (drops in blood oxygen levels)
  • Environmental stress or anticipation – herd dominance, social queues, anticipation
  • Gastrointestinal discomfort such as equine ulcers
  • Tempo-mandibular tension and/or pain (TMJ) – stretching or pain reaction
  • Liver distress – usually associated with other signs of liver disease (jaundice tissue, loss of condition, diarrhea, discolored urine, and abdominal pain)

Quite a bit of tension can be ‘carried’ in a horse’s jaw (TMJ) and yawning is a means for stretching or reacting to the pain or tension. When we are training our horses, we should pay attention to such behavior. There could be an issue with the teeth, or the bridle/bit may be ill-fitting.

Look in the horse’s mouth when the bridle is on to verify that the bit is not hitting teeth or is not too wide/too narrow, etc. This is a fairly common error with bridle fitting – take a look for yourself and establish exactly WHERE his teeth are. Some horses have really small mouths – this makes bit fitting a challenge.

Herd dominance issues may necessitate a living arrangement adjustment if the yawing is a queue to that type of stress.

Yawning in anticipation of meals or activity would be a reason to be the least concerned about the behavior. However, most other causes of yawning should be addressed as quickly as possible to decrease the stress that manifests into gastrointestinal discomfort – equine ULCERS. And, a horse may have no other signs, but still have ulcers. Working with your veterinarian to conduct a gastroscopy procedure to view in the horse’s stomach is the most effective means to determine if the horse has stomach ulcers or not. Hind gut ulcers are much more difficult to verify/detect.

Bentley YawningApparently, males yawn more often than females—very interesting! Are we boring you? So, yawning something that mares don’t get the ‘bad rap’ on!

Is your horse yawning because he is in pain, to relieve stress, or as a calming queue? (Calming queues such as licking & chewing, stretching down, etc.). If stress induced, what can you do to relieve his stressors? If Gastrointestinal, liver or pain is suspected, contact your veterinarian.

Bentley, in the picture attached, yawns in anticipation of meals… FEED ME!!!!

Next time your horse yawns, look around – what is going on in the environment when he yawns? Does your horse seem calm or stressed?

Share your observations with us – Gender? What is going on? Does it seem to be stress or calming or perhaps communication of some sort?