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Horse Taste: Behavior and Climate Change!

A horse's mouth is an important part of their body and many times we only think about their teeth since it can interfere with their health, behavior and riding sessions if they are not checked by a dentist every few months. But the tongue is an important part of their mouth since whatever a horse tastes can actually affect their behavior too! Let's dive into understanding the horse tongue.

horse tongue

The average horse tongue is 16 inches long and weighs about 2.5 pounds! For both humans and horses, 80% of sense of taste comes from sense of smell. Before and when we eat, horses and humans take in the smell of food and those particles create interactions on the mucus membrane which create chemical stimuli on the receptors of the mucus membrane.

The taste buds on the tongue translate the molecules from the food into neural impulses that are carried to the brain. Currently from research, we know that sweet, salty, sour and bitter flavors are gathered and interpreted in the horse's brain. But it is still unknown if savory or umami flavors are tasted by horses.

A horse's tongue also contains receptors for texture and temperature of their food and maybe some of you have seen your horse react to food textures or hot food differently! I know one of my mare's hates the texture of banana's and will very quickly spit it out right through the barn door making you wonder where it went! A great way to actually see a horse figure out if they like a texture and/or flavor is to give them a treat or flavor they have not had before. Or watch a young foal try a treat for the first time! Their faces are sure to make you smile and laugh!

Now going back to flavors, sweet and salty flavors give pleasant transmitters or sensations through their brains since glucose, aka your sugar, helps to run the equine brain! While salty flavors and sodium in general helps with the function of the brain and motor cells.

Horses are more tolerant to bitter tastes than humans but only to a point! This why you see so many horses dislike the taste of de-wormers and medicines because those are usually more bitter than what they can handle!

And sadly horses are not good at avoiding toxic plants or understanding when a taste is bad for them so it is really up to us to get rid of anything dangerous in their pastures.

tongue out horse

Taste: Water

Horses can also be very picky with the taste of water! You may see when you take your horse to a show or to a new barn that they may not drink the water there. Try to bring some water from home or you can encourage them to drink by putting something sweet in their water like molasses, apples, etc. This trick is also great during the summer when you want to make sure they are drinking enough water. But of course some horses may not like the added sweetener so you will have to test it out!

Taste: Climate Change

When we think of climate change, you may be wondering how that is going to affect taste or if it will at all!

Well it does!

horse eating

First when we have those strong heat waves a horse's appetites may become diminished and they may not want to eat what they usually do since they may want something more salty since they are loosing a lot of electrolytes by sweating to keep cool!

Climate change is also affecting the texture and taste of crops since our crops are not always growing well with those drastic weather and temperature changes, torrential downpours and long droughts different areas around the country are experiencing.

The end result are crops that are not their usual look, taste, and texture and our horses may get turned off of forages (hays, alfalfas, legumes) that are not growing so well. And they may also get turned off from their grains since many of the crops used to make grains are also having issues growing well due to climate change.

Overall taste is an important sense for horses to function and it is important we do not forget about this sense because it is another way for our horses to express themselves to us. Just like how some people like to express themselves with food!



Jones, Janet L. Horse Brain, Human Brain : The Neuroscience of Horsemanship. North Pomfret, Vermont, Trafalgar Square Books, 2020.

Mcgreevy, Paul. Equine Behavior : A Guide for Veterinarians and Equine Scientists. Edinburgh, Elsevier, 2004.

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