Why Do Horses Roll? The Different Reasons Explained...

why do horses roll - natural horse behavior - aspiring horseman

If you've spent time around horses, you've likely seen them take great pleasure lying down and rolling on the ground. It's a sight that can be both amusing and puzzling, especially for those new to horsemanship.

In this article, we'll explore the various reasons behind rolling, bringing you a step closer to understanding and appreciating horses' unique behavior.

So whether you're a budding horseman, a seasoned horse owner, or simply someone captivated by these beautiful animals, this article will hopefully help you get to know them better.

Short Summary

  • Horses tend to roll on the ground for various reasons, including to scratch their backs, remove loose hair or skin, and reapply their natural scent after it's been washed away during a bath.

  • Colic in horses is an abdominal discomfort that can induce a horse's rolling behavior on the ground to alleviate the pain. The behavior can range from occasional rolling to persistent and vigorous rolling, indicating the horse is in significant distress.

  • If your horse appears restless, squirmy, or overly itchy, these might be signs that they're considering a roll, and it's a good time to redirect their attention.

Primary Reasons Why Your Horse Is Rolling

why horses roll - natural horse behavior - aspiring horseman

Let's delve into the heart of the matter: the primary reasons horses roll.

As you observe horses indulging in this seemingly playful behavior, you might wonder what prompts such an action. Is it a mere expression of joy, or does it serve a more pragmatic purpose?

The truth is, it's a combination of both and so much more.

Understanding the reasons horses roll deepens our appreciation for these creatures, aids in our ability to provide better care, and fosters a stronger bond with them.

Horses Roll to Relieve Irritation From Tack

One of the common reasons a horse rolls is to relieve the irritation caused by the tack. If you're unfamiliar with the term, 'tack' refers to the equipment used in horse riding, such as saddles, cinches, stirrups, and bridles.

After a long ride, these accessories may cause discomfort or irritation on the horse's skin, and rolling is a natural way for horses to alleviate this discomfort.

Rubbing their bodies against the ground can ease any itchy sensation or irritation caused by the tack. This is similar to us using our hands to scratch an itch.

If you notice your horse rolling after you've taken off their tack, they're likely just trying to ease some of the discomfort it has caused.

Horses Roll Because They See Other Horses Rolling

Like children who often mirror their friends' actions, horses mimic their peers' behavior. This is evident in how horses roll because they see other horses rolling.

This behavior is part of their social dynamics and can be interpreted as communication or bonding.

When a horse sees a fellow horse roll, it's almost as if they're being given the green light to enjoy a good roll on the ground themselves.

In the wild, horses often roll in groups, seemingly taking turns in the same spot. This group behavior can be seen in domesticated horses, too.

So, if you see your horse rolling after another horse has done so, don't be alarmed; they're just following their natural herd instincts.

Horses May Roll As a Symptom of Colic

Colic in horses is an abdominal discomfort that can induce them to roll on the ground to alleviate the pain. The behavior can range from occasional rolling to persistent and vigorous rolling, indicating the horse is in significant distress.

It's essential to understand that while rolling is common in horses, excessive rolling, especially when combined with other signs like reduced appetite, could signal a colic episode.

If you observe these symptoms, it is critical to seek immediate veterinary assistance. Remember, early identification and treatment of colic can drastically increase your horse's chances of recovery.

Horses Roll to Help Shed Thick Winter Coats

Just as we change wardrobes with the seasons, horses naturally shed their thick winter coats as the weather grows warmer. Rolling on the ground is one method horses use to expedite this process. The friction the horse's body creates against the ground helps to loosen and remove the excess hair.

If you see your horse rolling more frequently during the transition between winter and spring, it's likely they're just trying to feel a bit cooler and more comfortable by shedding their winter coat.

​As an owner, you can assist in this process by providing regular grooming sessions and using a tool like a horse shedding blade, which can also serve as a bonding time between you and your horse.

Horses Roll to Determine Social Status

Horses also exhibit rolling behavior as part of their social dynamics.

In a herd, horses roll on the ground to mark their territory with their scent, demonstrating their status within the group. Observing horses rolling can provide interesting insights into the hierarchy of the herd.

For instance, the dominant horses in a herd often roll first, and only when they move away do the lower-ranking horses take their turn.

This behavior is a natural way for horses to express their social standing and communicate with other horses within the herd.

Why Do Horses Paw the Ground Before They Roll?

horses paw ground before they roll - natural horse behavior - aspiring horseman

Horses often paw at the ground before they roll, a natural behavior that might seem puzzling at first. However, this action serves a reasonably practical purpose.

By pawing the ground, horses check the terrain for hazards like rocks or sharp objects that could harm them during the roll.

This behavior also helps them soften the chosen spot, making it more comfortable for the roll.

Is It Bad For A Horse To Roll?

why do horses roll - natural insect repellent - aspiring horseman

To put it simply, no, it's not inherently bad or harmful.

Rolling is a natural behavior for horses and contributes to their well-being in several ways.

It helps them get relief from irritating bugs, aids in shedding out their coat and even allows them to stretch out their back muscles.

However, excessive rolling could indicate discomfort, such as colic, a common and potentially dangerous digestive disorder in horses.

Therefore, while rolling is generally safe and beneficial, it is important to observe and understand the frequency and context of this behavior to ensure your horse's health and welfare.


In conclusion, rolling is part of a horse's natural behavior and serves multiple purposes.

Whether it's scratching an itch, drying off after a bath, or reapplying its natural scent, these behaviors are deeply ingrained in a horse's nature.

We must respect these instincts while ensuring their safety and well-being.

So next time you see your horse rolling, don't be alarmed - they're just being themselves!

Frequently Asked Questions

Why do horses roll after eating?

Horses often roll after eating to express comfort and contentment. A full belly can be a pleasurable experience for a horse, prompting a roll in the grass or dirt. This rolling also aids in digestion by stimulating blood flow. However, if the horse seems restless or is rolling excessively, it could indicate colic or another digestive issue. As always, observing and understanding the context of your horse's behavior is crucial to ensure their welfare.

Why do horses roll during the summer?

Horses tend to roll more frequently during the summer months primarily to cool off, deter bugs, and shed their summer coats.

The heat of summer can be intense, and rolling helps them cool down by coating their coat with dust or mud, acting as a sort of natural sunscreen and insulator. Furthermore, rolling can relieve irritating insects that are more prevalent in the summer (like a natural insect repellent).

It's a way for horses to scratch those hard-to-reach spots and dislodge any bugs that may have landed on their skin.

Should you let a horse with colic roll?

Generally, it's not advised to let a horse with colic roll. While rolling is a natural behavior for horses, it could be a sign of colic when it occurs in conjunction with symptoms of discomfort like pawing at the ground, looking at the belly, and displaying a lack of appetite. Rolling excessively could lead to complications such as a twisted gut, a life-threatening condition.

If you suspect your horse has colic, keep them calm and walking until a veterinarian can examine them.

How can I stop my horse from rolling while I'm riding?

Stopping a horse from rolling while riding starts before you step into the saddle.

If you have done the proper groundwork and preparation, your horse shouldn't need to roll while you are out riding; if you still sense they are trying to roll while you are out for a stroll, preventing the action can be tricky.

First, keeping your horse moving is critical. If you feel your horse starting to buckle or drop a shoulder as if to roll, apply leg pressure to urge it forward.

Second, avoid riding in areas where the ground is particularly enticing for a roll, such as sandy areas or freshly mowed fields.

Lastly, be observant and get to know your horse's signals. If they start to act restless, squirmy, or overly itchy, these might be signs they're considering a roll, and it's an excellent moment to redirect their attention.

Remember, safety is paramount, and if your horse is insistent on rolling, it's best to dismount and prevent a potential fall.

Why do horses roll after getting a bath?

Horses often roll after getting a bath for a variety of reasons. Primarily, it's a way for them to dry themselves, similar to how a dog might shake off water. The act of rolling helps to wick away moisture from their skin and fur.

Additionally, horses enjoy the rolling sensation, as it's a natural behavior that allows them to scratch their backs and remove loose hair or skin. However, it's also a method to reapply their natural scent, which gets washed away during a bath. Their scent is a significant aspect of their identity and communication with other horses, so rolling in the ground helps them feel like themselves again.