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Yawning
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Patricia Barlow Irick
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 Posted: Mon Dec 17th, 2007 05:57 pm
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I googled on "yawning horses" and put some of the information found into a notebook, which you can examine if you are interested in the question.

http://www.google.com/notebook/public/06222741771744649511/BDQ6ESwoQsaPiyO4i

Look at how it ranges from a very bad sign to a golden nugget.

Yrs,
Patricia

Ben Tyndall
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 Posted: Mon Dec 17th, 2007 06:45 pm
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Until today, I had not heard of horses yawning, and now that I see what you are referring to, I will try to avoid adopting that term to describe it. For some reason that term doesn't seem right to me. Yawning is what you do when you are sleepy.

If I see a horse baring its teeth, and if I haven't caused it (e.g. by giving them medication orally) I assume there is something wrong and if the behavior persists I will check their water bowl/trough/bucket to make sure its not empty, check for signs of colic, look for wierd objects in their mouth, etc. Usually its nothing.

A few of the articles in your 'notebook' suggest that the horse is trying to breath in extra oxygen this way, others note that horses can't breath through their mouths, which has been my understanding. The one article notes horses may do this when they finally relax after a highly stressful experience (e.g. starting gate training), but I can't recall seeing anything like that during training (but then, I don't train at the track, so what do I know?).
...Ben

DrDeb
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 Posted: Mon Dec 17th, 2007 07:36 pm
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As could have been predicted, Patricia the Academic Behaviorist is completely stumped as to the meaning of 'yawning'.

Ben, when a horse yawns in the manner we are speaking of here -- when it obviously has nothing to do with him being sleepy -- then it obviously cannot relate to sleepiness.

Behaviorists in the past have GUESSED -- and don't you ever be fooled into thinking on the basis of some mere statistics that it is anything more than a GUESS -- that this relates to sublimated aggression, i.e. the baring of teeth. This is not what it is usually about -- unless you are seeing a bite-threat from an animal that you know bites, or one that you don't know but who accompanies the bite-threat with other unmistakable signs, such as swishing tail, swaying neck, and flattened ears, the total package then meaning, "back out of my space or I'll have to bite you."

Bared teeth can also be a sign of exerting dominance, but when a stallion wants to display teeth for this purpose, it is not the incisors he displays but a side-on view that exposes the canines, or canines + incisors (see Schaffer's wonderful photos in "The Language of Horses"). 

Finally, horses will sometimes display their teeth when they are feeling frightened. They "grin" in a characteristic and peculiar manner which exposes all or part of the front teeth, and then they rapidly rattle or clack their lower teeth against their upper teeth. Foals at foot, weanlings, and other young or subdominant horses do this whenever they need to pass in front of an older or more dominant horse; the translation of this is, "pardon me, pardon me sir! please don't hurt me".

But none of these things are what the "yawning" you're looking at is about. What that is about -- and Ben, it is extremely important that you get this -- is the horse is letting out butterflies. This was the term our teacher very aptly used to describe it. The exposure of the teeth and the wide opening of the mouth in this case is the same as what a person does who has just walked away from a rollover car crash. That adrenaline and the heart rate is way up, and the person is taking those big, deep, gasping kind of breaths that are almost like "vomiting", only it is of air. It's when the person says, "oh God, oh God, I don't believe I'm still alive."

Now what is MOST important about this is for you to realize that this is exactly also what the horse is saying -- it is exactly how he is FEELING. Whatever a horse feels on the inside is quickly manifested by means of his body, because, unlike many humans, horses absolutely cannot tolerate or stand holding or retaining any uncomfortable feeling.

Remember that the quick transfer of inner feelings to bodily gesture is the chief premise that allows us to "read" horses. You read their bodies and you know what they are FEELING. So anyone whose horse is yawning needs to ask themselves why that horse is yawning.

Generally speaking, the yawning of the "butterflies" type will occur AFTER the situation that provoked the buildup of those anxious, uncomfortable feelings. Sometime it occurs immediately after, other times there is a gap of a few minutes.

Nobody should feel guilty about this, unless they did something overtly intended to frighten or cow their horse -- but, when it occurs, you DO need to use it as a sign to ask yourself where you could cut what you had been doing in half, and in half again. And drop your agendas. Too much force, and a kind of deafness and blindness brought on by having your mind fixed on an agenda rather than on your friend your horse, are the primary factors that cause "yawning".

Best wishes -- Dr. Deb

 

Leah
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 Posted: Mon Dec 17th, 2007 11:37 pm
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How interesting Dr Deb!

I am going to have to pay attention to this one. My 7yo, Milo, is quite a 'yawner.'

When he yawns (almost like clockwork) is when I approach his stall to halter him to go out.

As you may expect, when it happens is (now that I think about it) when I am in 'get-er done' mode, often on a schedule and have to get the boys moved so stalls can be cleaned and the clock is ticking.

You have given me yet another interesting concept to think about and observe!

Every time I open a thread I find myself thinking HOW INTERESTING! :-)

Patricia Barlow Irick
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 Posted: Tue Dec 18th, 2007 12:17 am
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I posted these to the clicker training thread before I started this thread.

Do we have an explanation of yawning that accounts for the behavior observed in these clips? The butterfly theory doesn't seem to apply.    

By some synchronicity last night as I was pushing the send button on my message that included mirroring and yawning, a message came in with some video links. Brenda was curious about her horses interaction and all the yawning going on.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BY_UmXdgylY http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UHFngt1AONs http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rotHrtyK6Kc


Or is it something like Freud said and sometimes a yawn is just a yawn?

Pam
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 Posted: Wed Dec 19th, 2007 01:36 am
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It's clear to me the white horse does not like the advances of the Paint horse.  So why wouldn't the letting out of butterflies apply here? 

formyhorses
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 Posted: Tue Jan 1st, 2008 02:13 am
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I find my horses occasionally yawn. I observe this as I approach the paddock after they have been in the corral overnight. It is not aggression and they don't seem agitated, so what is it?

for my horses

Cyrus44
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 Posted: Wed Jan 9th, 2008 09:15 am
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Well, in this case my appy must be really pleased to get me off his back, and  or he doesn;t like his bridle-

I will have to watch a lot more closely now, as I am sure he yawns quite a bit.

From memory, it is often after a ride and I dismount, and possibly as I take the bridle off as well.

I have not really taken a great deal of notice, but I will do from now on in.

I know he also yawns after I massage the sore part of his back- but with this  and before he yawns  he pokes his head  and up out like a giraffe, and his head twists from side to side, and he would stay there forever, if my rubbing and fingers lasted( which they do not- I get tired)

Then he yawns.

He also yawns after  he insists I do the same routine about his girth area, all his life he has insisted I scratch and rub him there too, this can create a funniest home video look, as again the lip quivers and stretches out( top one)  and when I stop he yawns, and then sometimes he even sort of pokes his tongue out and rolls it, and I have even seen his eyes roll and flip in his head- if that makes sense.

He seems to enjoy it- and always wants more, so I dont see how a his yawn fits to that part-

Then I know he always backed up to me as a young horse, which initially scared me, and most people, but what he also always wanted was his back leg and hind end scratched. This again resulted in yawns when I stop.  He also always had a very rubbed out tail end- and would scratch on anything ( this improves)

I tried worming did worm counts- and it all seemed ok

I wonder if they are all clues to saddle fit and riding too.

All I know, is I learned to stop and reassess - and avoid gettting bucked off..

Dr Deb-  of course you saw that I was keen not to progress to that issue..

But it has to be me-  

Last edited on Wed Jan 9th, 2008 09:17 am by

cdodgen
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 Posted: Wed Jan 9th, 2008 03:15 pm
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I have a very large jar that contains more pennies than I’m willing to sit down and count, so I guess I’ll grab two of them out and give them to you guys. ;0)

 

Having gotten a little over half way through Dr. Deb and Dave’s Bitting DVDs I believe I now have a better grasp on the anatomy of the equine head.

 

The mouth has very little to do with breathing for a horse (the tongue is another matter but not really relative to my point here) so when a horse yawns there should be no air passage as with humans (we often take a deep breath when yawning) so therefore the conclusion I’ve come to about horses yawning is that it is a form of stretching of the muscles of the jaw.  Why would a horse need to stretch his jaw?  Because it is/was too tight for comfort.  Why is/was it too tight? Because it is/was clinched.  Why is/was it clinched?  Because the horse is/was experiencing pain/discomfort from a physical or mental source.

 

So why do horses yawn while just standing around without any apparent cause for discomfort?  Maybe just like us humans that veg out on the couch too long; when we first stand up a stretch feels good; no we’re not in pain; we just need to get the juices flowing again.  Since one of the most used muscles on a horse is his jaw, maybe he just needs to get the juices flowing in it once it’s sat idle for a while.

 

But then again, as we all know, horses are VERY attuned to their environment. Things that we humans do not notice can be very big stressors for horses; i.e. blocked escape routes, windy weather, invasion of personal space that cannot be moved away from, etc.  I know personally that stress that I’m not even aware of on a consciousness level will often manifest itself in my clinched jaws, just maybe it’s the same with horses; therefore they yawn to relieve the tension of the jaws.

 

A yawn may just be a yawn but in my mind if I want to take my horsemanship up a notch I need to look closely to find just what CAUSED the yawn.

 
Cheryl

Cyrus44
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 Posted: Wed Jan 9th, 2008 07:49 pm
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This is an odd thought, but to me it always seems my appy is not comfortable about his girth area, and of course the saddle etc- is often a lot tighter than it should be because of his roundish back. I know somethings just not right, see grabbing the shoulders thread I have about my saddle( which is another new one)

I will look more closely to my yawning-

What puzzles me is his insistence that I need to scratch him/ or massage, whatever one prefers to call it.  I had horses a long time, but never met one that seemed to be so expressive with this, he points his nose to where he wants the scratching, and has done this to me all his life. But he seems to really enjoy this, and if I stop I get nudged and , he points back. If I continue, his head pokes out, the top lip stretches out...  Sometimes if I stop, he reaches around and bites at scratches himself.

Some where I have a photo of what this looks like, he has always fascinated us with his looks. I have always felt he enjoys this, and when I stop, he really does everything to make me continue, and I am pretty sure, it always results in head lowering, a big yawn, sometimes his eyes rolling, and then he doesnt bother me anymore by pointing to the spots ( yes he has a few SPOTs) on his body he wants me to scratch.

This happens just when I rub and groom him, I often just use my hands.. as I prefer my hands to brushes, maybe he does not prefer this.

 

Last edited on Wed Jan 9th, 2008 08:05 pm by

Cyrus44
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 Posted: Fri Jan 11th, 2008 05:36 am
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well-

I went for a leisurely stroll today, and he seems happy enough, but he is still sore.

I hopped off, and guess what, he yawns immediately.

Then, as I have been working with person who uses massage, they came later.

I have been doing a thing called  Photonic therapy on him, not sure  if thats anything like an osteopath.

This person seemed to think he has Pinned elbows- and his shoulder is  creating problems- well he sure complains about them- 

He yawns after all that too..... huge ones, Then he fell asleep and just vegged out..

He seems to enjoy it all, and certainly is not complaining.

So- I will keep watching his yawns- obviously he hates going riding.. if yawns are bad.

I think his browband is too small- so I also found a bigger one. maybe that will help.

 

 

 

Sam
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 Posted: Tue Feb 5th, 2008 06:55 am
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Hi Folks,

My Giant Shetland and I attended a clinic this previous weekend, and I noticed there was a lot of letting out butterflies from most of the horses, including my little chap.  I was interested as I wondered if it was possible to take a horse to a clinic and not have an agenda?  I haven't been looking upon the yawning of the horses as 'the end of the world' but if they didn't let out butterflies I wonder how that tension they are releasing would come out? 

The other question I had regarding horse body language is the hanging head.  My previous mare who got so tortured by an orange stick waving loony (now sooooo reformed and mortified)  used to hang her head at clinics.....the nose is just about on the ground and they look incredibly lost, I used to call it  her 'you may as well just kill me now look', and I would feel just awful to put her is such a position.  Any way  Giant Shet did it too (lots) on the weekend, and I just can't help feeling something that was not right, was I doing too much, was he completely over whelmed by all the goings on?  Or have I completely misread this look from the horse.

I do remember DrDeb commenting on a horse hanging his head at a clinic but I can't remember what she said about it.  The horse could be tired or  ????

Insight appreciated, anyone else's horse hang thier heads?

Regards Sam

rahfie
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 Posted: Tue Feb 5th, 2008 10:55 pm
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I think that you might not find the number of yawning horses and people with agendas if you go to one of Harry's clinics.  That's what I noticed right off--my mare's yawning decreased and mine increased (in a good way, of course!).

Sam
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 Posted: Wed Feb 6th, 2008 05:16 am
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Hi Rahfie,

Thanks for the reply, can I please ask that infernal question.....Why?  Why do you think your horses yawning decreased at Harry's clinic?

Kind Regards

Sam

rahfie
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 Posted: Wed Feb 6th, 2008 04:16 pm
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Well, it's like I mentioned. When I said I started yawning more, what I meant was that I let go of any agendas or plans or aims to get things done that I initially came to the clinic with. Because of this, my horse let go too. She was able to handle the more challenging and difficult things we did without needing to brace up or get nervous or scared. She tends to be a horse that holds braces in her body, and my having an agenda doesn't help that. When I went to other clinics with the notion "Okay. This horse is going to relax, dammit!" all that succeeded in was a horse who held in her stress even more, and let little bits (but not all of it) go later in big, big yawns, which in the crowd I was in at the time meant "she's relaxing!".

Don't get me wrong. Horses yawn and move those jaws around, and I don't think we should set a goal of eradicating their existence. However, I do think we can take into consideration our role in easing their worry moment by moment.


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