Most horse owners, at one time or another, have watched with chagrin as their nice clean horse that they just finished riding, bathing and grooming, drops and rolls in the first dusty or muddy patch he can find as soon as he is turned loose.
Why do they do that? Well don’t worry — your horse isn’t getting back at you for riding him and getting him all nice and clean.
Horses roll for a number of reasons — it’s all part of normal equine behavior.
If your horse is still wet or damp when you turn him out, the chances are good that he is simply drying himself off.
I’m so happy that my horse Annapolis, now 33 years old, is still able to get down, roll and get back up again that I don’t worry about him undoing all my bathing and grooming efforts. I think I enjoy watching him as much as he enjoys rolling.
During the shedding season, rolling can help the process. During that time of year, we use curry combs or shedding blades to loosen the winter coat. A good roll on rough ground is the horse’s way of doing the same thing.
In summer, when there are lots of biting insects about, rolling is the horse’s natural way of coating himself with a layer of mud or sand which may provide some protection against biting insects. It can also offer some sunscreen protection, especially on light colored horses which are prone to sunburn.
Many horses roll just because it feels good! In addition to helping them get rid of itches caused by shedding etc., rolling stretches muscles in their back, body and legs, and eases up stiffness. It’s akin to do-it-yourself massage for horses!
If you spend time watching horses, you can spot the signs that a horse is thinking about having a roll in the dirt.
He begins to circle with his nose close to the ground, sniffing around as he chooses the perfect spot for his roll.
Then he’ll drop to the ground, often with a satisfied grunt.
Then the horse will roll vigorously back and forth, writhing and wriggling. It’s a full body exercise and many horses can get up the momentum to roll all the way from one side to the other, although it may take several tries.
Others aren’t able to do that, either because of their conformation (prominent withers, for example) or some other reason. Often a horse will roll on one side, then stand up and get back down to roll on the other side.
Rolling usually lasts a few minutes, with the horse then standing back up and often going for a brief sprint around the pasture before resuming grazing.
If your horse seems distressed, rolling frantically and keeps looking around at his flank, possibly biting or kicking at himself, he could be suffering from colic. In this situation, call your veterinarian immediately and walk the horse gently until the vet arrives to prevent him from rolling, which can cause intestinal twisting.