Last Updated on February 21, 2022 by Allison Price
Ever wonder why your horse pulls his lips back? Perhaps you have seen your horse show off his pearly whites to another horse and wondered what he was saying. Terri Jay is a horsewoman who has been riding horses her whole life. She has also managed a therapeutic riding program for more than 35 years. Because she is an expert on horse behavior, she is a “horse whisperer”. Here’s her answer to our question about horses showing their teeth.
#1 – Flehmen Response
Flehmen is a biological reaction to smell. By curling their upper lip back and often pulling their heads back simultaneously, horses activate an organ that senses chemicals in the air, especially pheromones. This behavior is not unique to horses. This behavior is seen in many hoofed animals such as zebras and goats. Additionally, felines do it too, from house cats to big cats (lifeandscience.org). Jay suggests that they might also do this when they are in pain.
#2- Tongue Chewing
Jay says that some horses chew their tongues, which exposes their teeth. Horses may show their teeth because of this. Tongue chewing could be a sign of discomfort or pain (dental problems, saddle fit and bit issues can all be causes), so it is worth taking your horse to a veterinarian to have him examined. (ListeningtoWhispers.com)
#3 – As a Threat
Jay explains that horses often show their teeth to a horse in fear. This is what most owners notice around the hay pile. One horse will approach the pile with his ears back and teeth exposed, and the other horse will challenge him or move away. It is usually followed by biting or kicking.
#4 – In Pain
Jays states that horses may show pain by exposing their teeth to you. Did you touch a tender area while grooming your horse? You might see your horse reacting by wriggling his head, showing teeth and ears back. He may warn you that he will bite you if you continue to touch that area. It’s not a sign that your horse is in pain, but it should not be mad. Get him examined by a veterinarian if he does this.