The warm, moist, soft breeze which flows gently from a horse’s nose is one of life’s greatest soothers. So much understanding can be communicated through the sweet breeze, the snorts and shoves from a horse’s nose.
The Features of a Horse’s Nose
The Sweet Scent, Sound and Softness
The sound alone is soothing, each gentle exhale underlines the notion that there is life. The sweet, delightful smell coming from the horse’s nose is wonderful Aromatherapy. The warm, moist feel of the gentle resting breath is truly relaxing. The velvet soft touch of the muzzle between the nostrils is a place of serenity, and indeed a place that many of us go for solace and comfort.
The Investigating Shove or Nudge
Despite the soft and comforting exterior of the horse’s nose, we must remember that it is also an investigation tool. The gentle, yet determined nudge, or shove, of a horse’s nose can mean a greeting, denote a desire, or convey an intent. We can attribute human phrases like “Hey, who are you”, “Do you have something for me”, “What’s this?” or even the more cheeky “Move along” to the nudging of a horse’s nose.
A young foal learns to nudge his way to his mother’s udder as he gains his vital nourishment several times a day. This investigative nudging continues throughout a horse’s life, as he investigates getting into (or out of) things, meets new horses or people, or discovers fresh, green grass pushing out from the ground in a pasture (or on the trail).
A Variety of Sounds for Communication
Much is communicated through the nostrils. At rest the nostril regularly opens and closes with each inhale and exhale. When alerted the head raises, the eyes focus and the nostrils flare taking in information which the horse processes to determine, “Should I fight or flee?”.
Communication between horses and humans often takes place through the gentle nicker which is softly projected through the horse’s nose. “I’m glad you are here,” the low roll of sound from the soft horse’s nose says to his fellow horse and human friends. There is no more-welcoming sound at the barn then the soft “hello” nicker from your equine friend.
A blow into the nose of another horse is a common greeting between horses when they are introduced to each other for the first time. This is often followed by a squeal and a stamp of the front hoof as the pecking order is established for the newcomer. This can be the same for horses and humans…a blow of air into a horse’s nose can be comforting and establishing – proceed with caution though as some horses may also exhibit this squeal and hoof stamp when a human blows into his nose as well.
Snorts of An Exhilarating Work Out
A horse who has exerted himself will bring in more oxygen to his system through his nostrils as they enlarge and flare in a quick rhythmical inhale and exhale pattern slowing gradually as the body recuperates from the exertion. A rider can learn to monitor the horse’s breathing frequency and recovery rate to determine how conditioned the horse is. A quick check of the nostrils when “cooling out” your horse is a good way to determine if he is “cool enough” to end a session.
Repeated “snorting” also takes place as the horse cools down after a run or several canters around the arena. This is a happy sign as releasing, relaxing, and letting go of tension brings the horse to his happy place.
The Unusual Nose Display
Then there is the display of his teeth as he curls his upper lip towards his nostrils – the Flehmen. Horses generally display the Flehmen in response to smells – manure, urine, perfume – or perhaps, joy(?). This action presses scent particles through a structure in his nose called the vomeronasal organ, granting the horse more information about the smell and trapping it there for a longer period of time. One of my horses displayed this when he ate a portion of Alfalfa/Molasses, other’s do this when they smell a mare in heat, or even a new human visitor at the barn.
All of these features of a horse’s nose make it one of the more special parts of his anatomy. Humans can benefit from, and enjoy, the sweet breeze, the warm touch, the welcome soft roll of a nicker and know the language of a horse’s nose. Now go snuggle a horse’s muzzle…just be careful that he’s ready to be snuggled!
All photos are courtesy of Central Coast resident Elisabeth Haug from her trips to Iceland capturing the rugged beauty of the Icelandic Horse. You can enjoy more of her work by viewing her Icelandic Horse Portfolio.