Horse Behavior: Snaking Or Herding Behavior

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Question Category: Horse Behavior

Question: My Thoroughbred mare who is 14 years old, tends to do something “dumb” with her head [when she is in the pen with the other horses]. She kind of bobs it but all the way to the ground and back [as] she kind of goes in circles. It’s like a signal. My other horse who is a gelding tends to get mad at her when she does that and lets her know by [showing] a little teeth. Is she just being “dumb” with her head or is it serious?

Michelle

PS- nice performance at the Equine Affaire!

Answer: Michelle,

It sounds like you are describing a behavior known as “snaking.” It is an aggressive behavior used in the wild by stallions and dominant mares to herd or drive others. The behavior known as “snaking” is defined as: “The attitude of lowered neck, extended head, laid back ears, bite threats, and forward locomotion while the neck slowly oscillates from side to side.” [Horse Behavior, Waring 1983]

The dominant horse in the herd will use this gesture, where he or she drops her head down, snakes her nose out and sometimes bares the teeth. This is normal behavior, although it is an aggressive behavior. As long as the horses are only acting this way in the privacy of their own pen, there is not much you can do about it, except observe and learn from the dynamics of herd behavior. However, a properly trained horse should never act this way around people or once it is haltered and under your control.

By the way, horses don’t really do anything without a reason. All of their actions have meaning and purpose. That’s what is so fun about this sport, to learn, endlessly, about the meanings of horse behavior. They don’t really have any “dumb” behavior; the ignorance is usually on our end for not understanding the behavior.

Julie Goodnight

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