Horse Yawning,Licking and Nudging

by Amanda
(Clayton GA)

Zero licking me

Zero licking me

Zero licking me
zero yawning over me
another yawn from king Zero
He is always doing this... What does this mean.  Is it some kind of dominance?

What does it mean when my horse yawns, licks and pushes me over?

My Boyfriend and I just moved into my grandmothers farmhouse, no one has lived there for years. She has a 10yr old quarter horse (Zero) that has been maintained by caregivers. Zero has been taken very good care of and has plenty and living space. I'm not a horse person, or so I thought... I have fallen in love with Zero and I have overtaken his care giving. I feed him daily and spend about an hour a day with him. I'm not in charge of is hoof cleaning/trimming etc. Since I know nothing about horses I'm very interested in learning how to interact and understand him better. I have been spending time with him everyday for about 2 months now. Zero sometimes yawns a lot. From what I have read that can mean he is stressed out. He is never tied up or made to be next to me. He is very loving and loves attention but he will just come up to me and yawn like 10 times in a row..? What can this mean. I have tried sitting on the ground so as not to make him feel intimidated or scared and he still comes to me and yawns. He will also push me with his head. He is not very forceful but he still pushes me with his head. He will walk behind me and push is head into my back or if I'm facing him he will push up on my chest. If I squat down on the ground he will gently nudge me over. He will also lick my face the back of my neck and my hair. He sometimes puts his lips to mine almost like he's trying to kiss me. I'm very interested to know if you think I am bothering him and should give him space or if you think maybe he is happy to have a loving friendship with a person. Everyday he runs across the creek and up the hill to me... Maybe he just wants his oats or maybe he loves me too :)?? Any advice you can give me would be great!!


Hi Amanda,

Zero is so lucky to have you in his life!

Horses are herd animals therefore they should never live out their lives without a friend (preferably of their own species) but when that is not possible a friendship from you is the next best thing!

I really can’t stress this part enough about what a herd animal needs for the feeling of safety and emotional security. In the wild an individual herd or prey animal would know that being separated from the group means they have become volatile to a predator and will likely become someone’s dinner, so they would need to be constantly on high alert for danger. We can’t take this instinctual nature out of them, in other words WE know we have domesticated them, but they don’t know that!

Zero has learned quite well to cope with being alone and he is thrilled you can provide some emotional friendship. His yawning under these circumstances would be the release of endorphins that provides a calming effect on the body’s system. Sort of like a relaxing relief that he feels to his system when he sees you coming to offer company. (He is relieved to have your company) Is he stressed? Maybe just a wee bit from being alone for long lengths of time. But not to worry now that you can offer him the emotional balance that only friendship can bring.

His licking and nudging is all part of wanting to interact with you as he would with another horse. He wants to play and groom with you! He’s a bit bored and we must remember horses are very social animals, another reason why they should not be alone. So dear, you are not annoying him one bit, you are the enjoyment!

Now it’s okay for you to show him that too much licking or nudging (if you feel unsafe) has acceptable limits. We don’t want this turning into a biting or you falling over game if he doesn’t know his own strength. Just tell him “No” if you feel it’s too much.

I would highly recommend you ask your farrier or the other caregivers to show you how to pick up and clean his feet so you could continue your bonding friendship. Plus you and Zero would have tons of fun playing some clicker games. See our Clicker Training Guide to get you started.

Thanks for being a horses friend!
Elaine Polny

Comments for Horse Yawning,Licking and Nudging

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Nov 06, 2010
great story and pics
by: Sheri

That is truly one of the best stories ive heard lately. I agree 100% that he is very, very lucky to have you as his friend!
Best of luck with him! Your off to a great start!

Nov 09, 2010
Thank you for your time!
by: Amanda

Thanks for responding so quickly! I appreciate the advice. As I have started to ask my MeeMaw and Mom more about zero’s history, I have learned that he did have a mate. Zero was bought to be a companion for Brandy. Brandy died about two years ago. She was sick and every measure was taken to keep her alive but finally she had to be put down . I never met Brandy but did learn that she was quite a bit more aggressive than Zero. Even before I wrote to you, we had decided to get a companion for Zero. We have decided to wait till the spring or possibly till next summer. I have a few questions and would greatly like to hear your opinions. I was considering instead of a horse maybe a donkey or mule. I really have no interest in having a horse to ride and have always thought donkeys were kind of a cool animal. I have heard they are great with horses and I have also heard they can annoy horses. My mom wants me to get another horse, she thinks it would just be a better idea. Zero’s well being and happiness matters to me, so I was just wondering what you thought. I don’t want to rush into anything or make a hasty decision that will add a negative to Zero’s life. In fact, I have kinda been looking around for a needy horse, one that can no longer be taken care of by the owner. I find myself staring into pastures sizing up horses looking for one that needs saved, lol. I would love to make a better life for a horse rather than a have expensive breed or a “beautiful” one. Should I be looking for a Girlfriend for Zero or a buddy? By the way Zero is a gelding so any relationship with a female would be a platonic one. Would it be okay for this new horse( or donkey) to be aggressive or dominate since Zero is so easy going? I just can’t imagine that I would ever find another horse with the same demeanor as Zero. While I intend on giving this new companion a fair chance at a new life, how Zero reacts to it decides if it stays or not. Simply put, what exactly should I be looking for here?

Thanks Amanda

Nov 09, 2010
your thoughts on this
by: Amanda

Another concern we have is pasture space. We have a very large field but Zero only has a portion of this field. The main reason is because he has food issues. Zero will eat eat eat till he gets sick. He is very food crazy, he recently broke into the sweet feed and got sick. How much space is enough or not enough for two horses. I’m sure there is a rule of thumb to use… Would around one acre be enough for two horses. The other reason for the pasture being cut off is we use it for hay. Selling the hay adds income during this economic hard time. We supplement his food with hay and sweet feed/oats and even more so during winter. We are also thinking of reseeding the pasture Zero has because the grass is looking a little thin even in the warm months. What’s the best grass for him. I’m sure climate plays a role in the type of grass to use. I live in the north Georgia mountains, where it’s not Canada cold, it still gets in the 20’s and teen’s during the winter. Perhaps with the hay and sweet feed the space he has would be enough for a companion…? Either way I think we are going to gradually add pasture space for Zero this winter. I have read that too much grass just like oats can make him sick. My thinking was this winter add a few feet at a time so he won’t be able to go crazy and get sick… I’m sure with a companion his metabolism would be higher and more space would be okay… ( Is that right?)

You have no idea how much I appreciate you taking the time to respond to me! Thank you so much for helping me understand Zero and what he needs. I took your advice, last weekend along with deworming 101, I got a lesson in cleaning Zero’s feet J He seemed to like it. I also have been doing a little ear cleaning… He had what appeared to be dried blood caked up. So we picked up some fly repellant and wound suave and they are as good as new! ( This was my moms idea and he really really loves it!) One last question. I worry about him getting cold. He doesn’t seem to like being in his stall at night and I worry the wind could be too cold. Would a horse blanket be a bad idea or an okay one. The caregiver, when I asked him, told me that he was a strong animal and he would be fine. He also said wet spots or something of that nature could happen. I still worry, what are your thoughts?

Thank you!!!


Nov 10, 2010
Horse Yawning,Licking and Nudging Part 2
by: Elaine Polny

Hi Amanda,
I needed to create a whole page to answer you further because of the 3000 character limit.

Please see Part 2 for more.

Thanks, Elaine

Apr 04, 2011
Horses Yawning
by: Stephanie

I have two horses of my own both QH one is a gelding the other a stallion and the minute I show up they start yawning. I thought maybe they thought I was boring but actually its a good sign from what Ive read.I knew they were not in pain they are in good shape and condition,fed well,have the best care possible, kept up during the day with all their buddies etc. From the info. I have found they consider me a source of relaxation or comfort which makes me feel good :)

May 19, 2011
Amazing Amanda!
by: Gale

Hello: This is an amazing story. I found this web site and article by fiat and was impressed with the *natural* acumen Amanda has for her horse, Zero, even though she purports to have had no previous experience with these animals. I am impressed with this young lady's compassion. Her intellectual curiosity for Zero is very intuitive, and I bet she would have made a great vet! What a wonderful world it would be for all creatures if more people were like Amanda!

Gale in Monana

Jul 22, 2011
I'm a horse lover too!<3
by: Jennifer

Hi Amanda, Elaine is right, yawning is a sign of relief from some type of pressure. It could be that he experienced pressure of loneliness or the lacking of you just not being there with him. In my times of experience with horses, there are some horses I have gentled from being skittish and untouchable to being completely comfortable and enjoying being near me. Whenever I worked with them, when at any point they felt pressured by me(because they were not comfortable with me yet) they would pin ears, and snap with their teeth. In response to that I would turn my back to them and take two steps away from them. This relieves the pressure of the discomfort I caused in the first place and they yawn in response. A few minutes later they become relaxed. Over time as they got to know me, they trust me and now I'm a part of their herd. The way horses love is selflessly, they're like a family, that form powerful emotional attachments. God has always planted it there in the horse. And we have been given the privilege to know these things too because He loves us. Nobody can love us like He does.

May 20, 2012
Lucky Zero
by: janiene

On a healing perspective when given treatments horses yawn as an acceptance of that healing. So he has accepted you,and is asking you to join him in grooming, by his licking and nudging as Elaine has already stated he finds you to be calming and relaxing to be around. He's a nice looking horse.

Jan 29, 2014
Yawning = happiness
by: Sue

Hi Amanda
I loved reading about your lovely relationship with Zero. It definitely seems he has been lonely (and therefore unhappy), and with you coming along and spending some quality time with him, he is obviously much happier, hence the yawning!
I know some people think that yawning has something to do with a release of tension, but from closely observing and interacting with my five horses, I believe it is purely a sign of great contentment.
Have you found a companion your Zero yet?

Feb 07, 2014
by: Anonymous

what I think is when a horse yawns is means that it is stressed about something and the best thing to do is love on a it and give it the love it needs

Sep 15, 2014
Horse pushes
by: Anonymous

Hi! I absolutely love horses. I ride my bike to groom and hang out with these two amazing paint horses near my home. Cheyenne usually gives me nickers when She sees me. I'm a little worried though because recently she has been pushing me away when I pet her or groom her. Also, her ears have been dropping to the sides a bit. What should I do? Is Cheyenne mad at me or not feeling well??
-Horse lover

Sep 15, 2014
Not feeling well
by: Elaine Polny

Given the drastic change in behavior I would think she is not feeling well. Have you noticed where your hands are when touching her that correlates with the behavoir/reaction from her? In other words does is seem to be a particular place on her body or does it seem like she is sensitive all over her body. It could also be emotional upset, has anything changed in her environment lately? Who else has access to her? Is she with another herd mate?

Feb 02, 2015
Amanda & zero
by: Anonymous

Hi has anyone got an update on Amanda and zero?

Mar 12, 2015
Horse licking
by: Indigo1Silver

Your horse licking you is something that I wish my horse has! Mine does not seem to do that. When ever he does this it goes into a nip if only if my horse knows to use his tongue not his teeth

May 21, 2015
Yawning is good
by: Amit

WE yawn when the brain needs oxygen. Yawning and sneezing are essential to clear energy blockages. I learn this when my accupressure doctor told me that I need to yawn as she notices less oxygen supply to the brain because of stress. So I think it is great that Zero yawns in your presence. So I think. Great bonding !!

Jul 04, 2016
Very Cute
by: Anonymous

This is a very nice and interesting information you have got here?

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