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Why do horses yawn?

ArticleHow To - HealthWednesday 07 April 2010
This article considers the causes of a horse yawn. If you’ve got a yawning horse and want to know the reason behind the behaviour, read this guide.
A yawning horse shouldn’t be an immediate cause for concern – we humans yawn and it never leads to any harm. Most of the time it’s a sign of tiredness and a means of getting more oxygen around the body. However, if your horse begins to yawn regularly, it’s natural to harbour doubts about the health of your horse. Read more on why horses yawn below.
Horse yawn trends - What does it mean?
  • As mentioned above, it’s best not to panic about yawning in the first instance. Take a step back and consider the horse’s daily routine in the days and weeks leading up to this behaviour. Often there’s a simple reason that can explain continual yawning.
  • First of all, ponder the most likely reason – tiredness. A change in the horse’s exercise and training schedule may be the cause. For instance, if training has become more intensive in the days leading up to the yawning behaviour, this can be a classic sign of the horse suffering from a little exhaustion. If you believe this to be the case, it’s best to cut down the amount of work the horse is carrying out.
  • Secondly, a yawning horse may be run down or suffering from the early phase of a fever. Yawning can often be a sign of abdominal pain or colic. To learn more about this unpleasant equine disease, read our guide to horse colic. In extreme cases, it can also be a symptom of liver disease, although the chances of this being the reason are thankfully relatively slim.
  • Yawning can often be a reaction to an event – for instance if the horse is spooked or distracted by a loud noise, yawning can often be a comforting means of coping with the trauma (think of a person breathing deeply after a panic attack). Perhaps more unusually, it can also occur when a horse is in a state of arousal - so if the horse is in the process of breeding, the horse’s state of mind may well explain the behaviour.
  • Horses often yawn once tack is removed from around the mouth, as a means of allowing the jaw to relax and air to circulate. Therefore, if yawning is a problem after training, this may be the cause.
  • Yawning can be a release of stress.
  • Finally, a horse yawn may be a means of removing paddock dust from the airways, allowing the horse to breathe easier.
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