Wälzen richtig deuten
Rolling is an innate behaviour in horses. Sometimes, however, it expresses more than playfulness or general well-being. We explain the reasons behind this habit and why the environment plays an important role.
The right environment
For horses it is part of the Wälz ritual to find a suitable place for them. Especially earthy or sandy soils are preferred by the noble four-legged friends, because they offer the possibility to explore a lot of smells. On some farms there are even specially designed rolling places or round pens for horses. In summer, for example, when they have sweated more heavily after a ride, they also like to roll on musty places, because the mud cools the skin of the sensitive animals. In the cold winter months, snow is ideal. Since rolling is an innate behaviour, horses should be given the opportunity to move freely without blankets at least once a day, even in winter.
If a horse now finds the right environment for rolling, it first bends slightly with its front legs and lies down. While some animals roll from one side to the other, others stand up first and then continue rolling. Then they first rise with their front legs. From the sitting position, the horse then also rises with its hind legs to shake. The latter loosens the coat and removes loose dirt particles.
Rolling for relaxation
Rolling is like a blood circulation stimulating massage of the horse’s skin and protects the noble quadrupeds from vermin and mosquitoes. Especially when encrusted sweat itches strongly or during the change of coat, skin scales or hairs get stuck to the respective underground while rolling on the floor and the coat is freed from dirt particles. Whether a horse rolls out of relaxation can already be seen from the way it rolls: A slight grunting sound coupled with a snorting sound after getting up are signs that the horse enjoys rolling.
Rolling in pain or frustration
Sometimes, however, a quadruped performs the rolling ritual even when he is frustrated or even feels pain – for example, due to colic. However, the shaking usually does not take place afterwards and they look in the direction of their belly during this time. This is an attempt to reduce or even relieve the pain caused by the intestinal obstructions. In case of frustration, however, the rolling may mean that the animal wants to get rid of excess energy.
Horse communication and rolling
Rolling is as “contagious” among conspecifics as yawning is among humans. Horses spread their body odour on the ground and communicate to other four-legged friends that they have been to that place: They want to mark their territory, so to speak. So the highest ranking member of a herd always rolls last, because he wants to cover the smell of the others with his own.
In addition, the highest ranked person is the one who rolls around in larger places. This is why we often see horses that lie down again and again, get up and then roll back and forth on another spot, just to mark a larger radius.