Why do horses roll?
Horses clearly love to roll! If you spend time around horses you will be familiar with the signs that they are about to indulge! Putting their nose to the ground, perhaps pawing at the dirt or dust, circling and then dropping, horses appear to relish a roll but is there a good reason for this behaviour?
When horses feel relaxed, they may roll for pleasure and the behaviour seems to be infectious. You will see horses rolling one after the other on the same spot. Rolling helps the horses to shed their coat, maintain their coat and regulate their body temperature. The mud conditions their skin and can be a useful insect repellent into the bargain. Drying sweat can be irritating but the dirt or dust relieves this.
Why does my horse roll just after being untacked?
Horses often roll just after being untacked as a nice roll eases the irritation of drying sweat. Rolling enables a horse to dry the sweat with dirt to gain relief quickly.
Correcting vertebral subluxations
Equine Chiropractors believe that rolling may help to correct vertebral subluxations. They have suggested that horses who have the freedom to roll and run freely often have less chiropractic issues. If you allow your horse to roll, you could be preventing health issues from developing.
Is your horse trying to tell you something?
If your horse is rolling in winter, he might be trying to tell you that he is over-rugged. If a horse feels too hot, rolling helps them to cool down.
By monitoring rolling behaviour, it is possible to assess social status in a herd. If there is a favourite rolling spot, the most confident animals tend to roll last as this enables them to leave their scent.
Rolling isn’t always for pleasure
If your horse is rolling, do be aware that this may not be for pleasure. Horses also roll in response to pain. Stomach ache will often induce rolling. It can be an instinctive reaction and an attempt to move gas or liquid to ease the discomfort. Contrary to popular belief, rolling will not make colic worse. But there are reasons to prevent a horse with colic from taking a roll. If the horse is being kept in a confined area, it can injure itself or damage the structure of the building when it rolls.
Get to know your horse
It is crucial to familiarise yourself with your horse’s normal behaviour as this will help you to identify when rolling is a sign of trouble. You can learn the difference between rolling for pleasure and rolling to ease pain. A horse which is suffering should also be displaying other symptoms including sweating, pacing, looking at its sides and getting up and down frequently.
If all is well, a horse will usually play or graze after a good roll. Pay attention when your horse rolls so that when they are in pain, you will spot the issue immediately and can call the vet.