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!
#1 – Flehmen Response
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 (lifeandscience.org). Jay says they may also make this face when in pain.
#2 – Tongue Chewing
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 pain or discomfort (dental problems, bit and saddle fit, and sore muscles can all be culprits), so it’s worth having a vet check out your horse if you see him doing this. (ListeningtoWhispers.com)
#3 – As a Threat
Horses often bare their teeth at another horse as a threat, 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.
#4 - In Pain
Finally, Jays says a horse may bare its teeth at you to tell you he’s in pain. For example, did you just touch a tender spot while grooming? Your horse may react by whipping his head around, teeth bared and ears back, warning 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 pain. If he does this, get him checked out by a vet.