General Question

elbanditoroso's avatar

Why do horses whinny?

Asked by elbanditoroso (28840points) May 12th, 2014

The horse in the spread behind me is usually pretty quiet, but today has been whinnying more loudly and more frequently than usual.

Why do horses whinny? Are they ‘communicating’ to the other horses in the field?

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10 Answers

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

Horses use verbal communication like we use speech. It’s to alert others of some situation.

Check that the horse does not have a leg or hoof caught in something. Check that the horse’s handlers are okay.

If a horse is reacting to a problematic situation, it will try to get attention. Since it lacks speech, it whinnies.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

Because they don’t know the words? The whinny could be they’re in heat, injured, or stressed by something. Do they have food and water?

elbanditoroso's avatar

@Adirondackwannabe and @Hawaii_Jake – I don ‘t know. The field is several dozen acres up the hill from back yard. I rarely see the horses, I only hear them. I would never go into the neighbor’s field.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

They could be just trying to communicate with the other horses. Horses are usually safe for you to go into their enclosure, unless your neighbor doesn’t want you watching out for them.

flip86's avatar

They vocalize as any animal does. Not sure why you pinpointed horses. The real question should be: Why do animals vocalize?

wildpotato's avatar

They are excited and the excitement comes out their mouths. I think of it like Wittgenstein said (paraphrasing here): when I write, the thought is in my hand; when I speak, the thought is in my throat. Animals do not think – at least, not in the way we mean the word, and as far as we are able to perceive – so all we can really say is that their noises must be instigated by some sort of excitation, either internal or external. Could be external – which we can check by investigating the state of their food, water, shade, etc. as mentioned above – or could be internal – which we cannot know about. When the horses I live next to whinny I tend to think of it as a happiness-indicating noise, but that’s really just anthropomorphism.

flip86's avatar

@wildpotato Humans are animals. Last I checked, I can think. Other animals can too. It is ignorant to say otherwise. Elephants and other primates are self aware. Dolphins as well.

longgone's avatar

Of course they could be ‘communicating’. Why even put that in quotes? Horses are highly social animals. If they were unable to communicate, they’d be damned.

wildpotato's avatar

@longgone Of course they could be ‘communicating’. Why even put that in quotes? Well, communication tends to imply intentionality. Like: I have a thought, want to share it with you, choose to do so, and speak. Now let’s try to apply this sequence to animals.

Thinking: well, maybe. My joke-response above to flip was a bit hasty and reactionary to being called ignorant and to my exasperation over his unconstructive observation that I neglected to write “non-human animals”, but he does in fact make a good point. It does seem that some animals may have mental events similar to human thoughts. It also seems apparent that others probably do not. Self awareness though, that’s a doozie – very hard to observe or quantify. Yes, some birds and apes have been observed to recognize themselves in a mirror, but whether this indicates self-awareness is a much larger and more opaque issue. This leads us to whether animals can have desires – as opposed to needs – and whether they make choices – as opposed to following the dictates of instinct.

Here’s an example. When my cat goes to drink water, is she realizing she’s thirsty? Surely the sensation of “thirsty” is something we both experience similarly…right? Of course, we cannot know this – but let’s take it as a given for now. How does the sensation register for her? How does her “decision” to go drink water then get enacted? From my point of view, all I can empirically verify is that she is taking a series of actions that end with her drinking water.

The point being: if we cannot know how another mind works, we cannot attribute intentionality to it.

This, I would venture, is why the OP put “communicate” in quotes. I understand that your point was that the word can be taken in another way, where it does not imply intentionality but only bare signifying. I agree that we can attribute this limited form of communication to horses and to animals in general.

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