Juliane Dykiel's Horsemanship Blog

Rolling Horses

By Juliane Dykiel

We’ve all felt it – after hours spent scrubbing our lightly-colored horse, no matter how long we let him dry, he goes and rolls. Most likely on top of a huge pile of manure instead of his usual spot in the dust.

We’ve all experienced the huge manure stains at 4 in the morning as we’re running late for a show. Sometimes, we’re luckier and we don’t have a show coming up in the immediate future, so we can sit back and enjoy watching our horses roll around in the dirt, grunting and rubbing their faces against the ground, then standing up and shaking themselves out.

We’ve all seen our horses roll, whatever emotion it evokes. But what does rolling really mean?

For the first part, rolling has one surprising negative: horses tend to roll more when they aren’t groomed properly. So if you notice your horse dropping down to the ground more often than usual, take a look at your grooming habits: Are your brushes clean? Do you sufficiently curry your horse? Is your horse’s coat healthy?

However, despite hours of struggling, however clean you manage to get these outdoor animals, they will always roll occasionally. This occurs especially after exercising. So what can our horse rolling tell us?

Horse Rolling at the Beach

Devon, Juliane's first horse. Photo by Anne Dykiel

First, there’s the slightly more obvious thing: horses are prey animals and even usually sleep standing up in order to make a quick getaway. Therefore, if you have a horse that tries to roll wherever you take him, you’ve got a pretty bold and secure horse. It’s a slightly annoying, but overall positive quality; just make sure that he doesn’t break that expensive saddle! Always pay attention to signs. Your horse will tell you when he is going to roll dropping his head, walking around in circles sniffing the ground, and pawing.

Still, exercise does make horses crave a good roll. So does soft terrain. People sometime misinterpret the need for a horse to roll for disrespect and put a stop to it, which is perfectly reasonable when a dressage score or $4000 saddle is on the line. However, when the situation is appropriate, I take my horse’s saddle off and let him know he can roll by undoing one rein and backing off. I do this every time I go to the beach, and the horses love it!

If you’re bored watching your horse roll over and over again in the soft sand, also, why not pay attention to what a horse’s roll is telling you about your horse’s physical health?

Have you ever seen a horse roll on one side, then attempt to roll onto the other, but find it too difficult? This means that your horse is not equally muscled. Are you a righty, and perhaps riding him too much to the right? This could account for this problem. Or maybe your horse is a lefty, and is easier to ride to the left, and you subconsciously do too much on that side. Now, external factors may affect the horse being able to roll over onto his other side; he may be simple smart enough to realize that the easier option is to get back and drop back down onto the other side, or he may have chosen a slightly uphill spot. Therefore, don’t assume anything from one roll, but if you notice a trend, it may be a good idea to sit back and make sure you do the same amount of work on both sides!

I hope this helps, and I hope that your horse enjoys his rolls!


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