What does it mean when horses yawn?
by Elaine Polny
The University of Guelph conducted a study a few years back to determine if horses yawn for the same reason as people, turns out the answer is No! And in a majority of cases horses will yawn three consecutive times when they do it too.
When people yawn it is usually because we are bored or tired. But when horses yawn there is much more to the equation and the surrounding events need to be considered.
If a horse was basking in the sun, starting to take a nap, they may yawn less than 3 times in a row. However under training conditions when the horse is wide awake the reason is much different.
Under any situation that the horse feels stress, like when learning something new in a training session, he would yawn to release endorphins for the calming effect on the nervous system (once there is a break offered). And this is when you will always see 3 or more. I have witnessed up to 15 yawns in a row! What I once thought (and was told) was that the horse is processing and possibly understanding the lesson. This has now been proven false. The more the horse yawns tells us the more anxiety and stress the horse was under and feeling.
Licking and chewing have also been placed under this same false premise. Believing that this means a horse is digesting or understanding the information offered. But what it really means is the horse is processing information he found unsettling and needs a moment to relax in order to comprehend and would like to release the excess energy created.
So the next time you see a horse yawn, take notice how many times and under what conditions. You will learn a great deal about the horse, their language and how to grow a positive relationship with them.
Training Horses Naturally