In the movies, horses make noise in situations where they would remain silent in reality. So let’s talk about the sounds horses make and some general guidelines on when and why each sound might be made.
Fart: Yes, we’re starting at the rear because in truth, horses fart more than anything else. You try eating a steady diet of high fiber hay and see how it affects you. So imagine, if you will, that typical movie scene where the hero and his trusty steed are overlooking the battlefield. They are preparing to gallop into the fray, and what usually happens? The rider dramatically yanks the reins and spurs the horse, who then rears up and whinnies loudly before plunging down the hill. That’s movies, people. In reality, in that same scenario, you’d be more likely to have the horse bolt forward and fart loudly as he took off down the hill. But that doesn’t look or sound as cool on TV.
Whinny: Having said that, horses do whinny often, but this sound is used more for calling out to their friends. If one horse is taken on ride away from her buddies, she may want to call out to see if anyone can still hear her. Think of that sort of whinny as “Hey! Is anyone out there?” Or “I’m here. Where are you?” A horse in a new environment with unfamiliar horses may also whinny for the same reason. They want to know if any of their friends are around.
A whinny sounds different from horse to horse and is as individual as a human voice. Some whinnies sound as graceful as hippo bellows, and some have a high pitched throaty sound and everything in between.
When I arrive at the barn, I often call out to Darcy, and she whinnies back. We had our conversation. I said, “I’m here,” and she answered back, “I’m here too.”
Nicker: A nicker means “come closer to me.” A mare will nicker to her foal (not colt, btw. A colt is a young male horse; a filly is a young female horse; and foal is a baby of either gender.) to bring him back to her side. Darcy nickers at me because I usually have treats, and she wants me to bring them closer.
Snort: A snort could occur for as mundane a reason as needing to clear their airways, but it can also be a sound that indicates a release of stress, like a sigh or large exhale. The nasal openings vibrate, and snot is usually involved.
Blow: Not to be confused with snort, a blow is a really huge snort that happens in a high stress situation. It sounds more like air moving fast through a straight tube, no vibration of the nasal openings. This is a good sign that the horse is about to freak out.
Some people combine snort and blow to mean blow as I’ve used it here. In that case, they may call what I call a snort a sigh. Whatever. Just know that they make sounds with their nose that mean things.
Here’s a handy page that offers audio samples of the sounds I describe above.