Have you ever wondered why your horse pulls back his lips? Or maybe you’ve seen him bare his pearly whites at another equine and you’ve wondered what he was trying to say? Terri Jay has been around horses all her life and has even operated a therapeutic riding program for over 35 years. She is a professional “horse whisperer” and uses veterinary intuition to help vets diagnose horses because she is an expert in equine behavior. We asked her why horses show their teeth, and here’s what she said!
As a ᴛʜʀᴇᴀᴛ
Horses often bare their teeth at another horse as a ᴛʜʀᴇᴀᴛ, as if to say, “Move or I’ll bite,” Jay explains. Most owners see this display around the hay pile: one horse will come over, ears back and teeth bared, and the horse that was there will either move away or challenge him back. It’s usually followed by kicking or biting.
Some horses chew their tongue, which exposes their teeth, Jay says. This can be one reason why horses show their teeth. Tongue chewing can be an indication of ᴘᴀɪɴ or ᴅɪsᴄᴏᴍꜰᴏʀᴛ (ᴅᴇɴᴛᴀʟ ᴘʀᴏʙʟᴇᴍs, ʙɪᴛ ᴀɴᴅ sᴀᴅᴅʟᴇ ꜰɪᴛ, ᴀɴᴅ sᴏʀᴇ muscles can all be ᴄᴜʟᴘʀɪᴛs), so it’s worth having a vet check out your horse if you see him doing this.
The Flehmen response is a biological response to smell. The curling back of the upper lip (and often pulling their head back at the same time) helps activate an organ that allows horses to sense chemicals in the air, particularly pheromones. Horses are not the only animal that does this. Many hoofed animals, like zebras, goats, and llamas, exhibit this behavior. Additionally, felines do it too, from house cats to big cats. Jay says they may also make this face when in ᴘᴀɪɴ.
Finally, Jays says a horse may bare its teeth at you to tell you he’s in ᴘᴀɪɴ. For example, did you just touch a ᴛᴇɴᴅᴇʀ sᴘᴏᴛ while grooming? Your horse may react by whipping his head around, teeth bared and ears back, ᴡᴀʀɴing you that he’ll bite if you keep touching that area. Don’t get mad, it’s the only way your horse can let you know he’s in ᴘᴀɪɴ. If he does this, get him checked out by a vet.