The Horse Physio - Delivering care with expertise since 1992

12.11.2022 Why Is She Yawning?

The answer is, we don’t really know. But answering a client who asked this recently, I talked about how the horse’s self mobilisation of the hyoid bone, and her self mobilisation of the jaw, could be leading to a release of tension.

I have looked up the science of why we yawn (as humans), and there appears to be no clear consensus at the current time. If we can’t figure it out in people, it’s unlikely we’re going to figure it out in horses. I used to believe that we yawn when we’re tired because we need more oxygen in our body to generate more energy. But that’s certainly not the case for a horse during treatment.

You’ll hear all sorts of reasons as to why horses yawn, one of the most common ones being because they’re stressed. Leonie asked whether Nina is yawning to escape treatment because when she yawns I let her stretch out. That’s definitely not the case because the horse I’m treating will yawn whether I continue asking their body for the movement I was asking for, or whether I let them stretch out.

Some will yawn just once or twice, some none at all, some just when the movement is in one direction, for example. Nina yawned pretty much from start to finish of this treatment session! And she’s a horse who is treated once a month, is ridden by a skilled rider, and is in good shape. Saying that, she does have past trauma that we are aware of, and so perhaps her body is gradually letting go of this now that she is working and mobilising her body (she’s a young girl, only been in proper work a few months).

I do a lot of work around the poll and the jaw, and I spend a lot of time focusing on the head and neck in my treatments. I see my physio every few weeks, and I get a great release when he works on my neck. I think we hold so much tension in these areas, and I think that horses do the same. In addition, for horses, it’s such a mobile area, and I think it’s prone to damage. This can be when the horse is young – being born is in itself a traumatic process! And we’ve all cringed when we’ve seen a video of a foal falling over and crunching his neck. It can also be through interactions with humans – for example being tied down in ‘training aids’, either during the backing process or later in their in hand or ridden work. Or perhaps through pulling back when they’re tied up, or being taught to lead by resisting when the foal pulls back and panics against the pressure, or by banging their head on a stable door or window.

So, why do they yawn while I treat them? I don’t know for sure, but I am 100% confident that it’s a good thing if the horse feels the need for it, and that in some way, it’s a release of tension. As I say in the video, we could all do with a bit more yawning!

Keep an eye out for my next book, ‘Recognising Pain in Ridden Horses: Performance, Partnership and Potential’, co-authored with Dr Sue Dyson, published by J A Allen, due 2023. Sign up at to be kept up to date with new information as it comes available. Watch a FREE 30-minute documentary on recognising pain in ridden horses here.

Here’s a FREE 30-minute presentation by Sue Palmer on how to recognise pain in your horse.

Other books by Sue Palmer M.Sc. MCSP:

‘Horse Massage for Horse Owners’

‘Understanding Horse Performance: Brain, Pain or Training?’

© Sue Palmer, The Horse Physio, 2022

November 12, 2022
Sue Palmer