Horse Behavior: Your horse’s Squeal–What It Means Logo

Question Category: Horse Behavior

Question: Dear Julie,

I have a 9 year old quarter horse mare that for the most part is a very good horse. She is a pleasure horse that I go camping with or trail riding on. The only time she acts up is when she makes eye contact or gets too close with a strange horse she doesn’t seem to want to get to know. She makes a horrible squealing noise and then moves her rear end into the other horse and kicks. The last time I was on the ground and I was pinned between the two horses. Luckily, I wasn’t too badly hurt. Can you help?


Answer: Dear Cathy,

The squealing sound you hear is one of only four audible communications a horse makes. Audible expressions count for relatively little of the horse’s language—mostly horses use gestures and postures to communicate their needs and wants. And there’s no clearer a statement than a hoof flying at your face to suggest, “Get out of my space!”

Like all four audible communications, squealing has a very specific meaning and it means ‘aggression is about to ensue’. In other words, it means, “I’m about to kick your butt!” Sometimes it’s a just a threat and sometimes the horse will take action. Anytime I hear a horse squeal, I make a quick check of the environment to make sure all humans are safe; my next concern is for a horse getting kicked (but I cannot walk into the middle of that fray without risk of a casualty). As you’ve seen firsthand, horses becoming aggressive is a dangerous, potentially deadly event if people are in the middle of it.

That explains what and why your horse is acting that way, but does not excuse her poor training and very bad manners. As I’ve mentioned and written about on numerous occasions, horses must be trained, from the earliest possible age, that absolutely NO herd behaviors can be demonstrated when being ridden or handled. There should be zero tolerance and the harshest of punishment when a horse acts this way. Check the training library on my website for more info.

You must get this horse trained right away so that you can be safe and polite with others and so that no one gets hurt! Do not tolerate any social fraternization between any horses when you are riding. Give a harsh correction (yell, spank, back up hard, work hard, etc.) anytime the horse so much as notices another horse and let the punishment fit the crime—a slight glance at another horse gets a bump of the rein while the horse moving toward another horse with any part of his body or making an aggressive gestures gets hard punishment and time in solitary.

You have to find the amount of pressure that motivates the horse to change his behavior and sometimes that can be a lot of pressure. If you’ve used enough pressure, you’ll know by the horse’s reaction to your correction—it should be, “Wow! What happened and why? I didn’t like that at all and how do I avoid it happening in the future!” If your horse barely notices your correction or if he continues the bad behavior, you’re not using enough pressure to motivate him to start thinking about why he got in trouble.

By the way, there’s also more information in my Training Library on the audible expressions horses make and their specific meanings. Horses communicate constantly and it’s very handy to know what they are saying to you. Next time you hear your horse whinny or nicker, know what he is saying.

Good luck!


Copyright ©Julie Goodnight 2000. All Rights Reserved. No part of this website may be reproduced without owner’s express consent.

Horse Behavior: The meaning behind audible expressions Logo

Question Category: Horse Behavior

Question: Dear Julie Goodnight,

Several times this spring my mare has made a sound that sounds like a Donkey; she did it on the 28th of May when I put her back in her corral after grazing her for an hour when she met her next-door neighbor, who is a gelding. Then she did it again on the 12th of this month for no apparent reason.

My sister suggested that maybe my horse’s body wasn’t working normally when she could bully the other horse that was with her out of his food, i.e. goats, when a doe is fat her body doesn’t work quite right so she does not come into season when she should. My sister thought that maybe the same thing has happened to my horse, and now that my horse can’t bully the other horse out of his food, her body is working correctly again. I would appreciate your advice on the matter. Thank-you for your time,

Mary Cruz

Answer: Mary,

Horses are limited to just a few audible expressions that they use to communicate, the whinny, nicker, snort and squeal. I am guessing that you are describing a weird sounding squeal. Each audible expression has a specific meaning. The squeal is a high-pitched outcry with meaning as a defensive warning or threat that the annoyed individual will become more reactive if further provoked. Squeals are typical during aggressive interactions between horses, during sexual encounters when the mare protests the stallion’s advances and when a pre- or early-lactating mare objects to being touched anywhere near her sore teats.

Nickers are the guttural, low-pitched pulsating expressions and occur most often just prior to being fed and announce the horse’s presence and anticipation. Stallions will also nicker at mares during a sexual encounter and it seems to signal the stallion’s sexual interest. Mares typically give a third type of nicker to their young foals when the mare is concerned about the foal. Basically all three types of nickers mean, “come closer to me.”

Whinnies or neighs are high-pitched calls that begin like a squeal and end like a nicker and it is the longest and loudest of horse sounds. The whinny seems to be a form of individual recognition and most often occurs when a foal and mare or peer companions are separated or when a horse is inquisitive after seeing a horse in the distance. The whinny seems to be a searching call that facilitates social contact from a distance.

Snorts and blows are both produced by forceful expulsion of air through the nostrils. The snort has a rattling sound but the blow does not. The snort and blow communicates alarm and apparently serves to alert other horses. The snort may also be given when a horse is restless but constrained and in this case it should be taken seriously as a sign that the horse is feeling trapped and alarmed and may become reactive.

Copyright ©Julie Goodnight 2000. All Rights Reserved. No part of this website may be reproduced without owner’s express consent.