do horses neigh

Why Do Horses Neigh?

Horses are intelligent animals, and each has their unique personality and quirks.

These highly evolved beings can be serious and determined but also playful and giddy, using a range of vocalisations to tell us whether they are happy and content, sad, frustrated, or even sick.

Neighing is probably one of the most well-known horse vocalisations. Horses use these high-pitched characteristic whinnying sounds to communicate and reflect their emotions.

If you – like me – have always wondered why horses neigh, continue reading. In this article, we’ll learn more about neighing, why horses do it, and what they are trying to communicate to those around them.

Understanding Why Horses Neigh

Horses exhibit a wide range of unique and interesting behaviours that are essential for their survival and communication.

One of their most vocal behaviours is neighing, which they use to communicate with other horses, animals, and humans.

Understanding why your horse neighs can help you better interpret their behaviour and respond to their needs.


Horses enjoy interacting and communicating with other horses and humans. Therefore, they use neighing to communicate and convey their emotions, including excitement, joy, fear, and anxiety.

Neighing is also a way for horses to greet other horses, gather information, and signal their emotional state.

Attract attention

Horses also commonly use neighing to attract the attention of other equine counterparts or people.

For example, you’ll often hear a horse neigh when separated from its herd to show frustration and displeasure.

To locate other horses

Neighing is a crucial tool for wild horses – these animals use neighing to communicate with or locate their herd when separated or due to separation anxiety. Mares also use neighing to communicate with their foals and to reassure their offspring of their presence.

When horses neigh, you’ll often hear other horses in their vicinity respond with a neigh to alert the other horse of their location.

The Different Types of Horse Neighs

If you are around horses, you might have noticed that they can neigh in various ways, depending on their immediate circumstances and emotional state.

Generally, the different types of neighs include:


The whinny is the most common type of neighing. A whinny is usually short and high-pitched and is considered a friendly sound.

Horses whinny as a form of greeting and when they are excited about something or being playful. Typically, a horse whinnies to attract the attention of humans or other animals.


A horse will scream when it’s scared or anxious. A horse scream is characterised by a loud, high-pitched sound that lasts several seconds.

When a horse screams, it often indicates that the animal is distressed and needs help.


A horse snort is a low-pitched sound. Many horses snort to indicate that they feel tense or are on high alert. A snort usually lasts a few seconds, followed by a pause and another round of snorting.


A whicker is often softer and quieter than a whinny.

Horses whicker to communicate with other horses. Considered a sound of happiness and contentment, a horse also whickers when it responds to positive stimulation from its owner.


A horse will squeal when it’s frustrated or upset. A squeal can be sort and high-pitched or loud and drawn out. Often seen as an aggressive vocalisation, horses paw at the ground or stamp their feet while uttering a high-pitched squeal to show their displeasure.


Often heard among males competing for dominance, a roar is a long and deep sound made to scare off rivals or predators.

How Do Horses Neigh?

Horses neigh using an interesting mechanism:

  1. They inhale to fill their lungs with air.
  2. The inhaled air is expelled through the larynx to make varying neighing sounds. The larynx contains the horse’s vocal cords which help “shape” the neigh.

Interpreting your horse’s neighs

Spending time with and observing your horse’s behaviour and neighing pattern can help you better interpret the animal’s emotions.

Pay attention to the context in which the neighing occurs – and any other behaviours – to determine if the animal is happy or in a state of distress:

  • Emotions: Horses are highly communicative animals and use vocalisation to reflect their emotional state. Knowing the animal well can help you pinpoint whether it is stressed, anxious, playful, or confident.
  • Communication: Horses use neighing to communicate with one another. They can also neigh to call for companionship or when responding to another horse’s neighing.
  • Unique neigh: Horses also have unique neighs one can use to identify them. Horses from the same herd often use similar neighs, but each horse’s voice is still unique.
  • Situation: Consider the context in which your horse is using its vocalisation. A horse separated from its herd may neigh out of distress, while another may neigh when it wants to grab your attention.
  • Body language: Observe your horse’s body language when it neighs. The animal’s posture and movement can help you analyse its emotions and intentions. A horse with a lowered tail and ears flicking back may be anxious, while a horse with its ears pricked forward and a raised tail may express confidence.

Other Interesting Horse Behaviours

Now that you understand how and why horses neigh, let’s look at some other interesting verbal and non-verbal behaviours horses exhibit:


Often seen in thoroughbreds, cribbing – also known as windsucking or crib biting – involves a horse biting on a horizontal surface such as a fence or bucket. The horse grasps the object with its incisors and sucks air into its pharynx, causing a strange guttural sound.

Equine experts believe horses do this to increase saliva flow and normalise the pH of their stomachs after eating excessive amounts of concentrates.


Weaving is seen in horses that are stall-bound or prohibited from walking. The animal will move in a weaving motion, lifting its legs, shifting its weight and moving its head from side to side.

To fix this negative, non-vocal behaviour, it’s suggested the animal is moved to a bigger stall or turned out onto pasture.


Horses that are frustrated or suffer from displacement often display pawing. This is often deemed normal behaviour in horses in cold climates that dig for feed.

However, when done as a form of frustration or anticipation of a feed, pawing can damage the stall’s flooring and injure the animal’s hooves. Veterinarians suggest you don’t reward this behaviour and only feed the animal when it stops pawing.


Do all horses neigh for the same reasons?

Though all horses neigh, they use this vocalisation for various reasons, purposes, and at different times. The specific context and the horse’s personality and temperament can influence its reason for neighing.

Can excessive neighing indicate a problem?

Yes. Excessive neighing can be your horse’s way of telling you it is in distress, pain, or experiencing discomfort. Monitor your horse’s neighing behaviour and look for any changes that indicate an underlying issue.

Final Thoughts

Horses use neighing to reflect their emotions or to communicate.

Understanding the different types of neighs can help horse owners understand why a horse is neighing and whether their animal is in distress.

Also, consider your horse’s emotions, the type of neigh, the situation the animal finds itself in, and its body language to interpret the message your animal is trying to convey.

Knowing why your horse is neighing can help you better respond to the animal’s needs, helping keep them content, healthy, and happy.

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