Got My Horse

Unlocking the Mysteries: Understanding Why Horses Lick People and Need Salt

Reasons why horses lick people

Horses are social animals that thrive in herds. One of the ways they bond with their herd mates is through grooming behavior.

Horses use their tongues to groom each other, removing dirt and debris from their coats, and providing care and comfort. When horses lick people, they may be exhibiting this social behavior or expressing dominance.

Salt craving

Horses have a natural desire for salt, which is essential for their health. Salt plays a vital role in the body’s fluid balance, nerve function, and muscle contraction.

Horses need to replenish their salt levels regularly, especially after exercising or sweating. If horses lack access to salt, they may seek it out in unusual ways, such as licking people.

Playful/social behavior

Horses may engage in licking behavior as a way of bonding with their human companions. They may also be expressing affection or seeking attention.

However, it is important to remember that horses are large, powerful animals, and their playful behavior can quickly become dangerous. Horses may inadvertently nip or bite if they become too excited or overstimulated.

Lack of saliva

In some cases, horses may lick people because they have a dry mouth due to stress or nervousness. This can be a symptom of an underlying medical condition, such as TMJ (temporomandibular joint) or a neurological disorder.

If your horse exhibits excessive licking or other abnormal behaviors, it is important to consult with a veterinarian.


Horses are curious animals that rely on their sense of taste and smell to navigate the world around them.

They may lick people to taste unfamiliar substances or to explore their environment. However, horses can accidentally ingest toxic substances or harmful objects if allowed to lick indiscriminately.

Owners should monitor their horses closely and provide a safe, controlled environment.

Boredom/stable vices

Horses are intelligent animals that require stimulation and social interaction to remain healthy and happy.

When horses are kept in confinement or lack opportunities for physical or mental exercise, they may develop stable vices such as crib-biting or weaving. These behaviors can be harmful to the horse’s health and wellbeing and should not be encouraged.

Not feeling well

Horses may exhibit unusual behaviors when they are not feeling well. If a horse licks people excessively or exhibits other abnormal behaviors, it may be a sign of an underlying health issue.

Consult with a veterinarian if you notice any sudden changes in your horse’s behavior or demeanor.

Importance of salt for horses

Salt is a vital nutrient that horses require to maintain their health and wellbeing. Horses need access to salt in their diets to replace electrolytes lost during exercise or sweating.

Salt plays a key role in muscle function, nerve impulses, and hydration. Without sufficient salt intake, horses may become dehydrated, develop muscle cramps, or experience other health problems.

Need for salt replenishment

When horses exercise or sweat, they lose fluids and electrolytes, including sodium and chloride. Horses need to replenish these nutrients promptly to avoid imbalances in the body.

Access to salt licks or loose salt can help horses regulate their salt intake and maintain a healthy balance of minerals.

Salt/mineral licks

Horses may prefer to obtain their salt from a salt lick rather than from their feed or water source.

Salt licks are available in a variety of sizes and formulations, including pure salt, mineral blends, and flavored options. Horses may prefer one type of salt lick over another, so it is important to offer a variety and monitor the horse’s intake.

Lack of minerals

In addition to salt, horses require a variety of minerals to maintain their health. Mineral deficiencies can result in a variety of health problems, including poor coat quality, weakened immune systems, and bone disorders.

Horses may instinctively seek out minerals, but they may not have access to them in their environment. Providing mineral licks or supplementing their feed can help ensure that horses receive sufficient minerals in their diets.


Understanding why horses lick people and the importance of salt for horses can help owners provide better care for their equine companions. Horses are complex animals that require attention to their physical, mental, and emotional needs.

Salt is a vital nutrient that horses need to maintain their health, and offering a variety of salt licks and mineral supplements can help ensure that they receive the nutrients they need. Whether horses are licking people for social reasons or due to an underlying health issue, owners should monitor their behavior closely and consult with a veterinarian if necessary.

By being attentive to their horses’ needs, owners can develop strong bonds with their equine partners and provide them with a fulfilling and healthy life.

Social behavior of horses

Horses are herd animals and as such have developed intricate social behaviors that help them interact effectively and safely with other members of their herd. Understanding their social behavior is therefore important in the proper handling, management, and training of horses.

In this section, we will delve into the key aspects of horse social behavior.

Herd mentality

Horses prefer to be in the company of other horses as it provides them with a sense of safety and security. Horses are inherently prey animals, and they instinctively seek the safety of herds to protect themselves from predators.

The herd also provides social interaction, grooming, and play to keep them mentally stimulated. However, it is important to note that not all horses get along with others.

Some horses may be more introverted, while others may be more extroverted, leading to conflicts. The knowledge of how to safely introduce and manage horses together – as well as providing opportunities for social interaction – can reduce stress and minimize the chances of dangerous situations arising.


Horses display a hierarchical social order within their herds. They determine the hierarchy through behaviors such as pushing, biting, and kicking.

The dominant horse in the group has priority over resources such as food, water, and shelter. Horses also have a defined personal space, and meeting another horse within this space may result in a reaction such as aggression.

When it comes to training, leadership plays a key role in horses’ behavior. Horses prefer confident, assertive leadership as this provides them with a sense of security and direction.

It is important to establish consistent and fair control measures over horses to prevent dangerous behavior.


Horses also communicate with each other using vocalizations, body language, and scent.

They use their ears, tails, and eyes to express their emotions, and their vocalizations range from snorts and whinnies to nicker and neighs. Each horse has its unique scent, which helps them distinguish between herd members and strangers.

Horses also demonstrate affection through grooming behaviors, where they use their teeth and tongues to groom their companions thoroughly.

Solutions to common licking behaviors

Horses engage in licking behaviors for different purposes, including salt cravings, social behaviors, and even underlying health conditions. While licking is a natural behavior, excessive licking can be detrimental to health.

In this section, we will discuss workable solutions to prevent horses from indulging in excessive licking behaviors.

Low-calorie forage/straw/grazing muzzle

In some cases, horses may engage in licking behaviors as a result of boredom or the need to occupy their mouths.

Providing low-calorie forage like hay can help prevent boredom-driven licking behaviors. Additionally, a grazing muzzle can help deter horses from licking the ground or fence posts while grazing.

This can reduce the risk of ingestion of harmful substances and help limit excess calorie intake, promoting a healthier diet.

Hay net

Using a hay net or other slow feeding methods can also help reduce the risk of obesity and prevent horses from engaging in boredom-driven behaviors like licking. A slow feeding method like a hay net promotes consumption over longer periods, preventing overeating and the need to occupy their mouths with other objects.

Stable vices

Some horses may engage in licking behaviors due to anxiety or boredom resulting in stable vices such as cribbing, weaving, or wood-chewing. To combat these behaviors, owners may consider companionship or animal pairing, which is an excellent way of reducing vices.

Some horses that are solo may develop these bad habits because they lack a social partner. Additionally, owners may consider spray products that discourage horses through a sour or bitter taste, deterring them from chewing.

Medical issues

When horses excessively lick themselves, it is important to investigate underlying medical issues that may be causing it. The underlying reasons could range from TMJ, neurological issues, adrenal disease, anxiety or parasite infestation.

Early detection and intervention could prevent harmful conditions from worsening.


Understanding horse social behavior, and the reasons behind excessive licking behaviors is essential for horse owners to provide healthy, physically, and mentally-nurturing environments. By understanding why horses exhibit certain behaviors can help make informed decisions concerning their management and care.

The solutions to common licking behaviors ranging from low calorie forage, hay nets to stable vices, and medical issues, highlight the importance of being present and attentive to the needs of the horses and providing access to appropriate environments to help them lead healthy and happy lives.

Interpretation of horse licking behavior

Horse owners and enthusiasts may often observe and wonder about the meaning behind the horses licking behavior. The interpretation of horse licking behavior is not always straightforward, and context is an essential consideration.

In this section, we will delve into the different contexts in which horses lick and the interpretation behind such behaviors.

Sign of affection/trust

One of the most common reasons why horses lick people is to show affection and trust.

When horses lick their companions, they may be expressing friendship and respect towards them. Horses value the relationships they form with humans and often show their appreciation by licking them.

Licking behavior may be seen as a sentiment of love and a sign of intimacy as groomed areas on the horse’s body are considered private areas. Licking behaviors, therefore, serve as a sign of mutual respect and trust in such situations.

Communication method

Horses utilize various forms of communication with humans, including licking behavior. Licking, like humans hugging, is not just a grooming behavior but also a communicative one.

Horses may lick to indicate their mood or convey a message to their companion. They may lick their companions as a sign of appeasement, indicating their submission to a dominant horse or a respected human.

Additionally, horses licking one another may represent mutual grooming, where they take turns grooming each other’s coat to remove debris from the surface as well as providing a relaxing benefit.

Individual personality

As with humans, horses also possess unique personalities that influence their behavior. Horses lick for different reasons, and their motivation for licking behavior may vary depending on their personality and preferences.

Some horses may not engage in licking much, while others may engage more frequently as part of their social interaction. Some horses may be more introverted and prefer not to lick, while others lovable personality could be described as being a licker.

Understanding the unique personality and temperament of horses could help owners and handlers make better decisions in terms of handling and training.

Body language

Horses communicate using body language effectively, and licking behavior is no exception. When horses lick people, their body language may indicate their level of comfort and ease.

Horses that are demonstrating signs of discomfort may be tense and stiff or retract their head away from the person they are licking. Horses that are relaxed might lower their head and show signs of enjoyment, nuzzling and rubbing their head against the person receiving the lick.

Being aware of the horses body language is critical in interpreting their licking behavior and understanding the horses general state.


Horses also use vocal cues to communicate with their herd or human companions. Licking behavior can be accompanied by a variety of vocalizations, including nickers, sighs or even the sound of lip-smacking.

Different vocal cues may imply different messages delivered by the horse, such as the level of comfort, pleasure, or contentment of the horse.


In conclusion, Interpreting the meaning of horse licking behavior is multi-faceted. Its a communicative gesture that horses use to interact with humans and fellow animals.

While licking behavior has various interpretations – trust, affection, communication, individual personalities, among others – it all depends on the context in which the behavior is observed and the accompanying body language and vocalizations. Understanding and interpreting horse behavior is essential to the safety and wellbeing of the animal, and as such, it is important for handlers and handlers to experience and interact with horses positively and effectively while maintaining a safe environment for both horse and human.

In this article, we explored why horses lick people and the importance of salt for horses, as well as horse social behavior and solutions to common licking behaviors. Horses lick people for different reasons, including salt craving, playful or social behavior, and boredom.

Lack of access to salt and minerals can lead to health problems, and understanding horse social behavior can help owners provide better care for their equine companions.

Solutions to common licking behaviors range from low-calorie forage to companion pairing, and early detection and intervention can help prevent harmful conditions from worsening.

Remembering that horses have individual personalities is key to understanding their behavior, and interpreting licking behavior requires consideration of context, body language, vocalization, and other factors. Overall, the wellbeing and happiness of horses require attentiveness, consideration, and expertise in their management and care.


  • What is the importance of salt for horses? Salt is vital for horses as it plays a crucial role in the body’s fluid balance, nerve function, and muscle contraction.
  • Why do horses lick people? Horses may lick people for different reasons, including salt craving, playful or social behavior, and boredom.
  • What causes stable vices in horses?
  • Stable vices, such as cribbing and weaving, can result from anxiety or boredom, and may need addressing with solutions like companion pairing or bitterness spray.
  • How do I interpret licking behaviors in horses?
  • Licking behaviors can be interpreted as a sign of affection, trust, or communication and are dependent on the context, body language, and vocalization accompanying the behavior.

Popular Posts