The Yawning Horse

The yawning horse: Is a yawn a possible equine welfare indicator

Last Updated on February 23, 2022 by Allison Price

Why do horses yawn so often? Researchers say there are many biological reasons horses yawn. However, a horse who yawns often could be showing suboptimal welfare behavior.

Why do horses yawn so much? This is still a mystery. Or maybe there are many mysteries. It’s common to see horses yawn, but is it more frequent for some horses than others? Are there times when horses yawn more frequently?

Science continues to unravel the mysteries of yawning. This week, science has some new research to consider. A study comparing the yawning behavior in wild horses (Przewalski) with domestic horses that live in similar environments was published.

Sue McConnell, PhD, defined a horse’s yawn as “Deep long, inhaled breath with the mouth wide open, jaws open, and jaws either directed against or moved side to side.” Yawning can be a sign of gastrointestinal problems and has been suggested as a communication between horses and a response to stress. A horse may be suffering from a high level yawning.

This week’s new research was published under an Open Access license. It allows you to read and download the document without any charge. Fureix recorded stereotypic behavior in horses that were kept in stalls, including cribbing, weaving and yawning.

Horses that yawned repeatedly showed stereotypical behaviors, even though they may not all yawn. This raises questions about the impact of stress on yawning and the effect that horses living in stalls may have on stress levels. Could social isolation and confinement trigger yawning in domestic horses as well as stereotypies? Is confinement the x-factor?

Social isolation might be the y factor if confinement is x. Are horses happier when they are in pasture groups? Are horses who live in turnout more likely to yawn? What about wild horses, Przewalskis in particular, which are a subspecies of our domestic Equus Caballus friends, the Equus Caballus?

Aleksandra GoreckaBruzda, the lead author, moved the research forward by studying horses in natural settings instead of horses living in stalls.

To see how often horses yawned, we observed two groups. The Przewalski horses were in a preserve. The other group consisted of saddle horses living in a semi-natural turnout environment that was close to ideal. Theyre they surprised to find that stall-dwelling domestic horse yawned less than those who live outdoors? Is yawning more or less affected by the social aspect of turnout?

Social isolation might be the y factor if stress from confinement is x. Are horses happier when they are part of pasture groups? Horses who live in turnout do not yawn as often? What about wild horses, Przewalskis in particular, which are a distinct species from our Equus Caballus domestic friends?

The Yawning Horse

Aleksandra GoreckaBruzda (PhD, DSc), of the Institute of Genetics and Animal Breeding in Warsaw, Poland, led the research. She studied both subspecies of horses in natural settings, rather than horses living in stalls. Carole Fureix, PhD. MSc. BSc of the University of Bristol, United Kingdom was part of the research team. She is the author of an earlier study that examined yawning behavior in horses who live in stalls.

To see how often horses yawned, we observed two groups. The Przewalski horses were in a preserve. The other group consisted of saddle horses living in a semi-natural turnout environment that was close to ideal. Theyre they surprised to find that stall-dwelling domestic horse yawned less than those who live outdoors? Is yawning more or less affected by the social aspect of turnout?

Other factors such as testosterone levels in male horses and increased stress from social interaction may have contributed to horses’ yawns, especially stallions. The Przewalskis yawned less often when the horses were kept in natural conditions. While the Przewalskis were more likely to yawn when they displayed aggressive social behavior, they also participated in more social situations that domestic horses.

The researchers concluded that yawning among domestic horses was a social activity that releases tension.

They concluded that frequent yawning should be considered in a welfare assessment of a horse. Caretakers should be aware of the possibility of horses yawning more frequently in domestic settings. This could make it easier to alter their horse’s welfare.

Can stables again be blamed for horse yawn-response stress? Recent studies from many countries suggest that horses should live in more natural environments, or that stables be designed to increase their sightlines and allow them to engage in social behavior. The amount of time that a horse spends in the stall has an impact on how stressful it is. For some horses, turning out can be a stressful experience.

The purpose of research is to expand the knowledge base. Other researchers use the information to continue studying horses and building on that knowledge. Some research aims to inform owners and caretakers about findings in order to give information that is directly beneficial to horses. Another purpose of research is to compare horses with other species or to humans.

Horse owners need to be aware of the latest research. However, they should also know that not all studies are conducted with large numbers of horses. Also, horses can live in different environments, have different medical histories, age, breeds, and sizes. To stand the test of the time, the research must be repeated and produce similar or identical results when tested by others.

Although the authors of this study didn’t say it as often, they don’t believe that horses that don’t yawn are indicating that they have no stress.

Stress can cause horses to react to changes in their care. This could include who is next to them, whether they have a window or how often they are fed. Turned out horses may also react to other horses in their group, the time it takes to feed them, the proximity to their feeding times, and the fact that they are bothered by flies, mud, or blankets that don’t fit.

The best horse owners are those who spend time with their horses and learn from them what is normal. What is the average horse’s roll rate? What is the most common way a horse can be seen walking along the fence? Which horse is first to come in at the gate and which comes in last?

Now we can add: Which ones yawn and where do they do that?

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