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The language of the horse

Understand how the horse communicates

Visual communication

Visual communication is the preferred means for the horse to transmit information to its congeners. It has for this many postures in which each part of the body has a role to play. His body language also includes a wide range of facial expressions which would be richer than that of the dog and even the chimpanzee!

The transition from one posture to another is gradual to give the target horse time to react and thus avoid coming into physical contact.

Olfactory communication

Olfactory communication is used in the context of individual recognition and, especially by stallions, to analyze the urine and droppings of hot mares. Smell also intervenes in the marking behavior during which the stallions show their presence by covering the droppings which do not belong to it.

During the greetings, the horses breathe each other's air into the nostrils in order to analyze the body odor of the fellow.

Sound communication

The sound communication includes two categories of sounds: the vocalizations emitted by the vocal cords (neighing, contact call, squeaking, groaning) and those only produced by the inspiration or the expiration of air (snoring, snorting, breath). Each of them is issued in a very specific context, so they have very different meanings.

Emitted with the mouth open, the neighing can be heard up to 1 km. It is used to restore contact during a separation.

Tactile communication

Tactile communication is mainly reserved for relationships of affinity between privileged partners: mutual grooming, head resting on the congener, head to tail to chase flies, etc. However, physical contact can occur in less positive contexts: bites, kicks, fighting ...

Tactile contacts between preferred partners strengthen social ties.


Texts by Déborah Bardou and Hélène Roche, ethologists - Photos Hélène Roche