Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Clacking Teeth or Flehmen Response - Maybe Both!

OK, I should never blog when I'm tired or sick and last night I was both so I apologize for any confusion. Dressagemom didn't comment about the flehmen response specifically, she was remarking about the teeth clacking that babies do which she reminded me of this morning

but somehow I got fixated on the flehmen response part of the new foal's behavior and left off the teeth clacking.

Foals will normally do both the clacking of teeth followed by the flehmen response during their initial contact with another horse. One of the comments reminded me of this. Lady of Chaos mentioned the purpose of the flehmen in this case is to imprint the scent of the new horse to memory which makes sense, I just hadn't really thought about it in that context.

As soon as those first comments came through last night, I realized what I had done. My instinct was to fix it on the spot, but I just figured I'd make a bigger mess. So instead I headed off to bed hoping I'd feel better in the morning and my head would clear around this whole subject.

It's probably a good bet that I shouldn't be working with horses either when I'm tired and not feeling well. If I get confused and turned around blogging, what kind of mistakes could I be making working with the horses. It's a good thing that they are so forgiving.

Yesterday I addressed the flehmen response so today I'll cover the teeth clacking. Why do baby horses clack their teeth?

Watching my herd I see the foal (or young horse sometimes) will lower the position of its head and neck almost like they are stooping down while clacking their teeth together. If you watch their eyes closely, you will see the foal glance away from the horse they are directing the gesture towards and glance back to see if the horse is accepting the gesture. Their eyes will continue to glance back and forth until the gesture has either been accepted or rejected.

This behavior can be seen as well in some older horses. Whether a horse is new to a herd or a young stallion learning to breed, teeth clacking can be seen usually followed by the flehmen response. The flehmen response however is not always precluded by teeth clacking.

If the teeth clacking gesture is rejected, the approached horse will throw its head up high in an aggressive manner and sometimes even shake its head or exhibit other signs of "I am the boss" behavior. Depending on how this horse sees the threat, sometimes it will even scream.

At the first signs of rejection, the foal will flee with its tail between its legs. Usually running for the comfort and protection of its mother. If this happens to a youngster that has been weaned, it will seek some form of refuge whether it's dodging behind a tree or seeking its companions. You can bet it will run as far away as it can get from the rejecting authority. An older horse will usually back away slowly. Only turning to leave when it feels it is safe to turn tail and run.

If the teeth clacking gesture is accepted, the approached horse will drop its head down to the level of the foal. Its eye will soften. Sometimes it will take a small step forward or reach forward gently with its muzzle, an invitation for the gesturing horse to approach.

Depending upon the youngster's intent in the first place, you may see the young horse approach or just walk through the space of the other horse. If the youngsters intent was to get acquainted, you will see the youngster slowly approach the horse it directed the gesture towards in the first place. The foal will continue to watch the horse it is approaching, lowering its eyes and retaining its submissive posture until it is within the range it is seeking trying to make friends.

I see this a lot with my foals and my stallion. His stall is open at the top so he can reach over the wall and visit with his mares and their foals. A new foal will approach Legs slowly with clacking teeth but once they are sure that Legs is open to contact, they pop right up into their normal posture. The next thing you know the darn colts are face boxing with their dad. The fillies on the other hand like to rub their faces up against his face and neck and groom on him while he caresses them in return.

It is important to note here that not all foals are brave enough to visit with their dad. Some it takes a while to work up the courage and others never do. I will see the more timid foals standing off a ways studying the stallion. They will spend a part of each day standing there studying him. Some will gradually shorten that distance until they work up the nerve to visit. While others will never shorten the distance at all, but be content to visit from afar.

Only if the mare comes to visit the stallion will a very timid foal get near the stallion at all. Even then that foal will be sure to keep its mother between itself and Legs. Actually pushing into the mare for comfort. I have seen those very timid foals, however, reach underneath their mother's neck and steal a brief peek at the horse a time or two.

I could spend all day studying the behavior or foals. The foal in the picture is Andy (Scandalous Addiction). He is the bravest foal I have ever seen. Somehow at two days old he and his mom got out of there stall and Andy was found in the morning up visiting with his dad, nuzzling him and biting him, no less!

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  1. Hope you are feeling better today. I love the picture of Legs and his baby. What a pleasure to have such a well behaved stud, it certainly makes life so much easier. They are both gorgeous. I posted a few pics of the foal mouth and lip curling on my blog yesterday too.



  2. Simply marvelous picture!
    The baby face of suckling is so precious. Our little barn just acquired a miniture horse foal. She went around telling everyone that she is a baby by doing that tooth clicking/suckling. The horses were beside themselves.

  3. Woohoo just checked you are at Number 2 on the Blog Village ranking.

  4. Great photo!!!

    I hope your feeling better.

  5. as much as i dislike foals, i am surprisingly drawn in by your study of their behavior.

    and i'm thrilled to learn that your stallion can have physical contact with other horses, not only visual.


    ~lytha in germany