Why Horses Show Their Teeth 

September 10, 2022
Horses Show Their Teeth 

Despite what some horse lovers may like to think, unlike some other animals, horses do not use their facial expressions to indicate emotion and there is a reason why horses show their teeth. While a horse displaying its teeth is not necessarily displaying emotion, it may signal that all is not well. 

There are six main reasons horses bear their teeth; the first is if the horse is experiencing pain or discomfort (possibly food stuck in its teeth. The second is analyzing a scent; the third one is that it is aggressive and is on its way to biting . We’ll discuss all six in this article.

Whether a horse is flehming (flehmening), responding to pain in its body or mouth, is falling asleep and its lips have relaxed to the point when its teeth are displayed, or is being aggressive, it is an instinctual behavior that can normally be traced to an issue with the animal. 

The Reasons Why Horses Show Their Teeth 

Many people assign human emotions to horses, and they may say that a horse will show its teeth when it is laughing or is angry. 

The first point to understand is that, irrespective of how many editions of “My Little Pony” you may have read as a child, horses do not have human emotions; therefore, their facial expressions can never be compared to humans. 

Some horse people are happy to place their heads in front of a horse that seems to be laughing or whinnying. It is incredibly dangerous behavior because those teeth you can see have the ability to cause very serious injuries. 

There are several possible reasons your horse is bearing his teeth, and sometimes you may need to check the reason out to ensure there isn’t a problem. 

Reason One – They Have Picked Up A Scent 

Horses are animals that are not predators but are instead preyed on, which is one of the reasons why they move around herds. 

  1. They are always aware of possible dangers, and one of the ways they stay alert is through the olfactory senses. 
  1. A recently given birth mare may show the Flehmen response when smelling the new baby. 
  1. Stallions are very aware of Mare’s urine smell. 

When a horse senses a scent (whether for danger or reproduction), it will sometimes extend its neck while raising the head and inhaling as it rolls its upper lip back, displaying the front teeth. 

It is called the flehmen response, and when used as a verb, the horse is said to be flehming or flehmening. 

This behavior is because the action facilitates the transfer of the scent molecules (pheromones or other substances), which are inhaled into the vomeronasal organ (VNO). 

It is a sensory structure that is found in many mammals. 

The flehmen response is entirely natural and is of no concern, other than if you are handling a stallion who has picked up the scent of a mare on heat! 

why horses show their teeth

Reason Two – Some Food Has Got Stuck In The Mouth 

If the horse gets food stuck in its mouth, possibly in a tooth, it will bear its teeth, or in the hard pallet at the top of its mouth, it may bear its teeth while trying to dislodge it. 

A Horse will sometimes exhibit this behavior if it does not like the food; more commonly, it will show its teeth when given medication or deworming products. 

It is not a serious situation. 

Reason Three– They Are Experiencing A Choke 

A third reason a horse shows its teeth while eating is that it is experiencing a choke. In this instance, the food gets stuck on the way to the stomach and is causing the horse distress. 

If this behavior happens while the horse is eating its meal, you need to watch it carefully and possibly remove the food to ensure that it has sufficient water. 

A horse prone to choke should always be fed very wet food (like gravy) to help it pass down to the stomach. 

If the horse has trouble swallowing, it will often bare its teeth. If it is choking, separate the horse, remove its food, and call the vet immediately. 

why horses show their teeth

Reason Four – The Horse Has Dental Issues 

Horses that are experiencing dental discomfort or pain will often show their teeth. It is not because they are trying to draw your attention to it, but it is an instinctual response to the pain. 

You need to be aware that there may be a problem and have a vet or equine dentist attend to the issue. If a horse has dental issues may end up with nutritional problems for the horse, which will have to be handled separately. 

As an aside, some horses will also display this behavior if they are experiencing some other pain, for example, an ill-fitting saddle or uncomfortable bit. 

why horses show their teeth

Reason Five – It’s Showing Aggression 

If a stallion is coming at you with its ears flattened to the back of its head and its teeth bared, it is a good time to get out of the way – VERY QUICKLY. 

It is a sign that the horse bares a lot of ill will towards you and is intention injuring you. 

In this situation, even (especially) an experienced rider will get out of the way. 


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Reason Six – The Horse Is Relaxed 

If the horse is standing still, seemingly half asleep, its lips may slacken and end up revealing its teeth. 

In human terms, this horse is lost in its own world, and it is a good idea to make a noise when you approach it so that it doesn’t get alarmed – remember, it is a prey animal. 

Conclusion 

If a horse is charging toward you, showing its “snake ears” and teeth bared in an attempt to get you, it is time to depart for safety. 

Resources 

There are several circumstances where a horse will show its teeth, and in most cases, it is not a cause for concern. Those cases where you need to keep your eye on the horse are when you suspect that the horse’s digestive system may be compromised. 

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I'm Bo, the owner of Smarter Horse. Helping horses be smarter by educating their people.  To find out more about me, click here



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