Equines have many different forms of communication. Sometimes they rely on their body language while other times they vocalize through varying sounds.
Being herd animals, horses need to establish where they stand in the pack. When they meet for the first time or after a period of separation there is a need to investigate each other.
One method horses use to inspect each other is breathing into each other’s nostrils. This is how horses say “hello”. Horses remember the smell of each other’s breath and they use this to identify one another.
The action of breathing into each other’s nostrils lets each other know if they are friends or rivals. The intensity of the breathing expresses their attitudes toward each other. If the breathing escalates, this is a sign that there are dominance issues to be worked out. This could lead to more aggressive behavior such as biting, striking, and kicking. However, if the equines merely exchange a few short breathes, they have probably already established their rank in the herd and will refocus their attention to something more important.
Horses with also breathe, or “blow”, towards something they are curious about or unsure of. Their reaction is based on whether they feel safe or threatened by the object. If they feel safe they will relax, while if they feel threatened they may become distressed over the object.
Knowing what your horse is trying to say and being aware of how they communicate is incredibly beneficial both to you and your equine friend.