Why Do Horses Tongues Hang Out?

Have you ever wondered why horses’ tongues sometimes hang out? This unique behavior is actually quite natural and serves several important purposes for these majestic creatures.

Firstly, the hanging tongue allows horses to better regulate their body temperature. As they pant or sweat, the extended tongue acts as a cooling mechanism, helping to dissipate heat and maintain their internal equilibrium.

Secondly, the exposed tongue enables horses to better navigate and explore their environment. By licking and tasting various objects, they can gather important information about their surroundings, identifying potential food sources or even detecting dangers.

Lastly, horses may also stick their tongues out as a sign of relaxation or contentment. Just like humans, they have different ways of expressing their emotions, and a relaxed, hanging tongue can indicate a sense of ease and comfort.

Overall, while it may seem peculiar at first, horses’ tongues hanging out serve multiple important functions and provide fascinating insights into their behavior and well-being.

why do horses tongues hang out

The Role of a Horse’s Tongue in Eating and Drinking

Horses have a unique and specialized anatomy that allows them to graze and consume food efficiently. One crucial component of a horse’s digestive system is its tongue. The horse’s tongue plays a vital role in eating and drinking, aiding in the ingestion and manipulation of food and liquids.

Tongue Structure

The tongue of a horse is a muscular organ located in the oral cavity. It is composed of several muscles that work together to facilitate various functions. The tongue is covered with a layer of mucosa, which helps in lubrication and protection.

Gathering and Manipulating Food

When a horse grazes on grass, the tongue plays a crucial role in gathering and manipulating the food. The tongue works in conjunction with the lips and teeth to rip and tear the grass. The horse’s tongue moves in a coordinated manner to position the grass between the incisors for cutting.

Horses also use their tongue to remove loose food particles from their teeth. They can roll their tongue around the teeth to dislodge any remnants of food, ensuring oral hygiene and preventing possible dental issues.

Swallowing and Salivation

During the chewing process, the horse’s tongue helps in forming a cohesive bolus of food. The tongue moves the food towards the back of the mouth, where it is ready for swallowing. The tongue pushes the bolus towards the pharynx, initiating the swallowing reflex.

Additionally, the horse’s tongue plays a role in salivation. Saliva is essential for the lubrication of food, making it easier to swallow. The tongue stimulates the salivary glands, triggering the release of saliva, which further aids in the digestion process.


When drinking water, the horse’s tongue once again plays a significant role. The tongue acts as a scoop, allowing the horse to lap water into its mouth. The tongue forms a cup-like shape, capturing the water and guiding it into the oral cavity.

Horses also use their tongue to create a seal around the water source, preventing excessive spilling and ensuring efficient water intake. The flexibility and dexterity of the horse’s tongue enable it to adapt to different water sources, such as troughs, buckets, or natural water bodies.


The role of a horse’s tongue in eating and drinking is vital for their overall health and well-being. From gathering and manipulating food to facilitating swallowing and aiding in the digestion process, the tongue is an essential component of a horse’s anatomy. Understanding the importance of the horse’s tongue can help horse owners and caretakers provide appropriate feeding and watering practices to ensure optimal health and nutrition.

Breathing and Communication: How Horses Use Their Tongues

Horses are fascinating creatures with unique ways of communicating. One interesting aspect of horse communication is the use of their tongues. Not only do horses use their tongues for eating and drinking, but they also play a crucial role in their breathing and communication.

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Tongue Anatomy

To understand how horses use their tongues, it’s important to first understand their anatomy. A horse’s tongue is a muscular organ located in the oral cavity. It is attached to the floor of the mouth and extends into the pharynx. The tongue is covered in papillae, which are small, hair-like projections that help with sensory perception.

The tongue is also responsible for various movements, including swallowing, chewing, and vocalization. It is a versatile tool that allows horses to perform a range of functions.


One of the primary functions of the horse’s tongue in relation to breathing is controlling the airflow during respiration. Horses are obligate nasal breathers, which means they primarily breathe through their nostrils rather than their mouths. The tongue helps create a seal at the back of the throat, preventing air from escaping through the mouth and ensuring that the horse breathes through its nose.

This mechanism is essential for a horse’s overall respiratory health. Breathing through the nose helps filter the air, warming and humidifying it before it reaches the lungs. Additionally, it prevents debris and irritants from entering the airways, reducing the risk of respiratory issues.


In addition to its role in breathing, the horse’s tongue is also crucial for communication. Horses use a variety of vocalizations to express themselves, and the tongue plays a significant role in producing these sounds.

When a horse vocalizes, the movement of the tongue creates different sounds and tones. For example, when a horse neighs, the tongue moves rapidly against the roof of the mouth, producing a distinct whinnying sound. The tongue’s flexibility and dexterity allow horses to produce a wide range of vocalizations, from soft nickerings to loud snorts.

Furthermore, the tongue also helps horses communicate non-verbally. Horses use their tongues to express emotions and establish social hierarchy. They may curl their tongues or stick them out as a sign of submission or aggression. The position and movement of the tongue can convey a wealth of information to other horses, helping maintain order within a herd.

In summary, the horse’s tongue serves multiple purposes, including breathing and communication. Its role in regulating airflow during respiration ensures optimal respiratory function, while its flexibility enables horses to produce a range of vocalizations. Additionally, the tongue plays a vital role in non-verbal communication, allowing horses to express emotions and maintain social order within their herds. Understanding how horses use their tongues enhances our appreciation for these magnificent creatures and their intricate communication systems.

Common Issues and Solutions Related to Tongue Hanging in Horses

When it comes to the health and well-being of horses, there are various issues that can arise. One such problem that horse owners may encounter is tongue hanging. This condition occurs when a horse’s tongue hangs out of its mouth, either partially or completely. While it may seem like a minor issue, tongue hanging can have significant implications for a horse’s overall health and performance. In this section, we will explore the common issues associated with tongue hanging in horses and discuss possible solutions.

1. Dental Problems

Tongue hanging in horses can often be attributed to dental issues. Misaligned or broken teeth can cause discomfort and pain, leading to the horse sticking its tongue out to relieve the pressure. Additionally, sharp edges on the teeth can irritate the tongue and make it difficult for the horse to keep its tongue in its mouth.

Solution: Regular dental check-ups and maintenance are essential for preventing and addressing dental problems in horses. Equine dentists can examine the horse’s mouth, file down sharp edges, and address any misalignment or broken teeth, which can help alleviate tongue hanging issues.

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2. Bitting Problems

The use of bits in horse riding can sometimes contribute to tongue hanging. Ill-fitting or improperly adjusted bits can cause discomfort and pain, leading to tongue evasions. A horse may respond to the discomfort by sticking its tongue out or trying to escape the pressure exerted by the bit.

Solution: Ensuring proper bit selection and fit is crucial to prevent tongue hanging caused by bitting problems. It is advisable to work with an experienced trainer or equine professional who can help determine the best bitting option for the horse’s individual needs and make necessary adjustments for optimal comfort.

3. Dental Malformation

In some cases, tongue hanging in horses may be a result of dental malformation. Conditions such as an elongated soft palate or a shortened jaw can affect the positioning and movement of the tongue. These structural abnormalities can make it challenging for the horse to keep its tongue inside its mouth.

Solution: If a horse’s tongue hanging is caused by dental malformation, it is essential to consult with a veterinarian who specializes in equine dentistry. They can assess the condition and recommend appropriate treatments or management strategies to improve the horse’s comfort and functionality.

4. Behavioral Factors

Alongside dental and physical issues, behavioral factors can also contribute to tongue hanging in horses. Some horses may develop a habit of sticking their tongues out due to anxiety, stress, or boredom. This behavior can become ingrained over time, making it challenging to break the habit.

Solution: Addressing behavioral factors requires a multi-faceted approach. Providing appropriate mental and physical stimulation, ensuring a balanced diet, and creating a positive and stress-free environment can help reduce anxiety and boredom in horses. Working with a professional horse trainer or behaviorist can also be beneficial in addressing and modifying unwanted behaviors, including tongue hanging.


When dealing with tongue hanging in horses, it is crucial to identify and address the underlying cause to improve the horse’s comfort and well-being. Dental problems, bitting issues, dental malformation, and behavioral factors can all contribute to this condition. Regular dental check-ups, proper bit selection and fit, veterinary consultation for dental malformation, and addressing behavioral factors are essential steps in managing and resolving tongue hanging issues in horses.

Caring for a Horse with a Tongue Hanging Out: Tips and Best Practices

If you are a horse owner, you may encounter various health issues with your equine companion. One such issue is a tongue hanging out, which can be both concerning and challenging to manage. In this section, we will discuss some tips and best practices for caring for a horse with a tongue hanging out.

Understanding the Causes

Before diving into proper care, it’s important to understand the potential causes of a horse’s tongue hanging out. In most cases, this condition is caused by an injury or trauma to the tongue or surrounding areas. It can also be a result of dental problems, such as broken or sharp teeth, which may lead to discomfort and tongue displacement.

Consult a Veterinarian

If you notice your horse’s tongue hanging out, it’s crucial to consult a veterinarian as soon as possible. A professional examination will help determine the underlying cause and guide appropriate treatment. The vet may perform a thorough oral examination, including evaluating the horse’s teeth, tongue, and overall oral health.

Managing Discomfort

In some cases, the tongue hanging out may be temporary and resolve on its own. However, if the condition persists or causes discomfort to your horse, there are several ways to manage the discomfort:

  • Protective Bandaging: Your veterinarian may recommend using a soft, padded bandage to protect the tongue from further injury and reduce irritation.
  • Regular Dental Care: Maintaining good dental hygiene is essential for horses, as dental issues can contribute to tongue problems. Schedule regular dental check-ups and teeth floating to address any underlying dental conditions.
  • Soft Diet: Provide your horse with a diet consisting of soft foods, such as soaked hay or specialized feeds that are easy to chew and swallow.
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Assist with Eating and Drinking

A horse with a hanging tongue may find it challenging to eat and drink normally. As a responsible owner, you can assist your horse during feeding and watering to ensure they receive adequate nutrition and hydration:

  • Hand-Feeding: Offer small, manageable portions of food directly to your horse’s mouth, allowing them to chew and swallow comfortably.
  • Water Accessibility: Ensure that fresh water is easily accessible to your horse. You may need to provide a shallow bucket or lower the water source to accommodate their tongue position.

Regular Monitoring and Follow-Up

After implementing the necessary care measures, it’s crucial to regularly monitor your horse’s condition and follow up with the veterinarian as advised. Keeping a close eye on any changes or improvements will help you assess the effectiveness of the treatment plan and make any necessary adjustments.

In summary, caring for a horse with a tongue hanging out requires proper understanding of the causes, consulting a veterinarian for accurate diagnosis, and implementing appropriate management strategies. By prioritizing your horse’s comfort and well-being, you can ensure they receive the necessary care and support to overcome this condition.


Why do horses’ tongues hang out?

Horses’ tongues can hang out due to various reasons. Sometimes it’s because their mouths are tired or they are relaxed. In other cases, it could be a dental or medical issue causing discomfort. It’s best to consult a veterinarian if you notice this behavior persistently.

How often should I deworm my horse?

The frequency of deworming your horse depends on various factors, including their age, environment, and deworming history. It is recommended to follow a deworming schedule recommended by your veterinarian, which typically ranges from every 2 to 3 months.

How can I prevent colic in horses?

To prevent colic in horses, ensure a proper diet with adequate fiber intake, provide clean and fresh water, and establish a consistent feeding routine. Regular exercise, turnout time, and minimizing stress also contribute to preventing colic. If you notice any signs of colic, contact your veterinarian immediately.


In conclusion, the phenomenon of horses sticking their tongues out is a natural and common behavior observed in these majestic animals. While it may appear peculiar to some, it serves a purpose for horses. Their tongues hanging out allows for better airflow and aids in regulating their body temperature. In addition, it helps horses relax their jaw muscles and may indicate contentment or a sign of submission. Although it may seem odd to us, it is essential to understand that horses have unique anatomical and behavioral traits. Therefore, seeing a horse with its tongue out is nothing to be alarmed about, but rather a fascinating aspect of their nature.

Furthermore, it is important to note that the hanging tongue is not a sign of health issues or discomfort in horses. Horse owners and caretakers should assess other signs and symptoms to ensure the well-being of their equine companions. So the next time you see a horse with its tongue hanging out, appreciate the beauty and complexity of these magnificent creatures, as it is just one of the many intriguing quirks they possess.