Why Do Horses Roll on the Ground?

Let the good times roll!

Horse owners can spot the signs of a horse that plans to roll on the ground.

First, the equine may walk in a circle (somewhat as a dog might circle before lying down). Next, the horse will probably paw the dirt with his front hooves. He may even sniff the ground, as if he is seeking the optimum spot for rolling. Finally, he will bend his front knees, lean left or right and flop down into the dirt, dust, mud, sand or stall bedding.

Many horses will roll to one side, stand up and then roll to the other side. Young or particularly athletic horses may roll from one side to the other before rising again. After rolling, horses will usually shake themselves off and then run around a bit – with perhaps a few happy bucks.

Of course, rolling is a natural equine behavior. A rolling horse is perfectly safe, as long as he is carrying no rider or tack and has plenty of room to roll.

Why do horses roll? What precipitates this equine behavior?

Horses may roll for countless reasons. Here are ten common causes of equine rolling, including some that may be deliberate and some that may be utterly unconscious for horses.

1. Horses often roll when their abdomens hurt.

In certain instances, horses may roll on the ground while suffering from abdominal pain, as from colic. These horses usually show other signs of discomfort, bending backwards to look towards their guts, swishing their tails frantically and moaning. Colicking horses may lie down and rise repeatedly.

A horse with colic should be prevented from rolling, as this may encourage intestinal twisting or life-threatening impactions.

If a horse appears distressed, professional veterinary medical assistance may be needed.

2. Horses may roll if their fur is wet.

For horses, rolling on the ground is a natural form of self-grooming and a means of drying rain-soaked, sweat-soaked or shower-soaked coats.

In fact, freshly bathed horses may roll in dirt or mud immediately after cleansing, if they have the opportunity to do so. Although horse groomers may be somewhat chagrined to behold this equine behavior, horses may prefer to be gritty or mud-caked.

To prevent spit-shined horses from rolling, equine grooms may cover horses with terrycloth or fleece coolers and tie them in their stalls or the barn aisle for clean drying.

3. Horses roll for natural sunscreen.

Horses may sunburn, especially on their muzzles and other thinly covered areas. In particular, white or light-colored horses may be most affected by the sun’s rays. A roll in the mud can actually provide a layer of sunscreen (and even wind protection) for a horse, although the horse will likely have no idea that this benefit is occurring.

4. Horses roll to rid themselves of bothersome bugs.

In a similar vein, a coat of dust or mud on a horse’s coat may offer a certain amount of insect protection. Horses that roll may bear extra bug shield, even if they are unaware of this asset.

5. Horses tend to roll to imitate and signal one another.

Horses are social creatures. Each equine herd has its own hierarchy. Rolling is a social behavior, demonstrating both trust and social position.

Often, horse herd observes note how one horse’s rolling may lead to others’ following suit. Generally, only one horse in a herd will roll at a time, with equines taking turns. This is seen, by human observers, as a defense against possible predators.

Usually the most dominant horse in the herd is the last to hit the ground.

6. Horses might roll to resist uncomfortable tack.

Rolling may be quite dangerous, if a horse is wearing a saddle or training tack. A pinching surcingle or ill-fitting saddle or girth may give a horse cause to roll, if he is not prevented from doing so. A horse that rolls while wearing tack may easily become injured, and expensive tack may be damaged.

Of course, a horse that attempts to roll with a rider aboard may be perilous indeed, both to himself and to his equestrian partner.

7. Horses frequently roll to scratch their own backs.

Even horses love a good back scratching. Although social grooming may offer some such comfort for equines, an animated roll on the ground may be the best horse massage nature has to offer them. In fact, many equine chiropractors claim that rolling is often excellent for realigning horses’ vertebrae naturally.

8. Horses roll to shed their winter coats.

Each spring, horses residing in cold-weather climates may begin shedding their winter coats. Rolling vigorously in gritty dirt is one way to hasten this process.

Horses roll around to stretch their muscles.

Rolling on the ground is excellent exercise for a horse, stretching his back, barrel, buttocks, flanks, legs, neck, spine, and more. Because equestrian disciplines generally aim for optimum equine flexibility and overall fitness, horse owners almost universally express pleasure at seeing their horses rolling on the ground.

Horses sometimes roll just for fun.

To a horse, rolling around on the ground may be just plain fun. After all, a bit of exuberant thrashing can be an enjoyable means of expending extra equine energy, enthusiasm, and spirit. Once he’s done rolling, he’ll likely stand and shake off the dust and be ready to settle into some serious grazing or even work.

Roll on!

Horse Rising After Rolling – Pixabay public domain photo

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