The Nicker

Horses are generally quiet animals. They do most of their communicating with their bodies. Why talk when a flick of an ear can bring all of your pasture-mates to attention? Once in awhile, though, a horse will use his voice. Some horses don’t like to leave the group, and, when ridden away from home on the trails, will holler to let his friends know that he is returning. That neigh can resonate so loudly that it will rattle his rider’s bones. Sometimes, a horse, when faced with new horses, like when she is unloaded off of the trailer at a show, will stand with head raised, tail up, and shout. That neigh pierces through all of the show hubbub and can drown out the announcer on the PA system.

Sometimes the quiet in the pasture is broken by a horse’s squeal of displeasure. Perhaps someone got into someone else’s space, and was then presented with a haunch and a lifted hoof with the threat of a kick. A squeal adds punctuation to the body language. If you have mares, then you know what happens when they come into season. There are moods. There are flirtations and then (for the geldings) many confusing “go away” squeals.

But, for the owner of a horse, the most wonderful sound of all is the nicker. Imagine a horse chortling. It is an expression of the anticipation of pleasure. You’ll hear nickers in the barn at feeding time because horses do love their grain. The feeding time nicker is an urgent sort of sound. During the rest of the day, horses rarely nicker. A nicker in the field is reserved for only the best of friends, and it is softer and more melodic than the feed me! vocalization. Some horses never nicker at all. When you do hear it, you know that two very good friends are greeting each other. It is a clear sign of affection.

I’ve had Tonka now since the beginning of December. Last week, when I was walking out to his paddock, he nickered for me.

This is how we greet each other.

Hello, Tonka!

He looks my way.



Tonka turns.




He thinks about it. I let him think. Sometimes, not rushing a horse makes what you want to have happen, happen faster.

Good boy!



Hi, there.



Hmmm, I think that we have some grooming to do.



Now, we can do something interesting. The trails are no longer icy. Let’s go!



  1. What a beautiful horse and what a wonderful relationship you have. I love the little nickers I get come feeding time and sometimes when I just walk into the paddock. Thank you for sharing about you and Tonka.

  2. Great story! Beautiful relationship. Isn’t it wonderful too, that you can hear him nicker.

  3. A short video would let the rest of us (so unlucky as not to have a Tonka of our own) hear what a nicker sounds like………

      • I’d love to be able to capture it on video, but it’s not something that I can ask him to do. I’ll keep my iPhone on the ready, though!

  4. Such a handsome boy! You both look like you’re ready for a nice ride after a nasty winter :)

  5. That is one of the sweetest sounds around the barnyard or paddock..that sweet, low and musical nicker. Y’all have a great time on your ride this morning. We are warmer now so here come our Spring storms!

  6. Ugh. Mud month a month late. While great riding weather, I always hated wading through 4 – 6 inches of goo. And pushing wheel barrows around? Noooo… And, of course, the mud monsters. The horse or horses that felt that the deepest, muckiest spot in the pasture was the absolute best rolling spot in town. There was one horse that would go ’round and ’round in a puddle like a dog circling his bed until it was ‘just right’ and then plop down and doze in the sun. Guess he liked a warm mud bath on a sunny day. *shakes head*

    I hope you and Tonka had a wonderful ride. When I clicked on here a bit ago I noticed no chickens in the run and two goat boys circling and shoving and kicking and head butting and then running to the gate to look longingly out into the yard. Hope your yard work went well, too.

    • Very observant about the goat boys! I actually let them join my on the lawn until….
      instead of eating the grass (much nicer than the brown stuff in their paddock) they ran over to my prized Chinese Beech trees and ripped at the bark. I chased them from those trees and they ate buds off of the peach tree. Then they trotted over to the roses. Then I dragged them back into their paddock, where they promptly lay down and took naps.

  7. I always enjoy your posts about Tonka. He is beautiful and you guys certainly have a mutual admiration society going. But I’m mystified today by all the oak leaves in the chicken yard although the chickens certainly seem to be enjoying them. Just watched Betsy Ross come down the ramp and stand looking at all the activity. The leaves looked deep enough to swallow her up. She extended one foot carefully onto a leaf and the foot and leaf slid out from under her. She finally hopped over the offending leaf, landing on both feet, and then slipped an inch or so down and off the end of the ramp! She was one confused little hen.
    Enjoy your sweater weather. As I expected, we went from mid twenties at night and low 40s in the daytime to 50s at night and up to upper 80s during the day over a span of 2 to 3 days. My daffodils enjoyed the long, cool spring but the sudden onset of summer will finish them off in no time. Typical of NC!

    • The hens were jealous that I was raking and they were stuck in the pen, so I gave them something to do. A pile of leaves is filled with interesting tidbits to scratch through.

  8. Loved this post! I had no experience with horses, until I was asked to horse sit for my sister-in-law. I learned alot just from watching them as I was mucking stalls, topping off water buckets and hauling hay. She has an Arabian horse, a rescue, who is kind of flighty and nervous. She didn’t really trust me, and stayed well away from me when they first got her. The last time I “sat” for them, I was out in the pasture to bring in her other horse. As I was walking towards the other horse, I could hear the Arabian creeping up behind me. I would stop, turn and look, and she would stop. Finally, after a few of those stop and turns, she stood next to me, her head by my head, and nickered in my ear. It was PRECIOUS!! I took it as a sign that she trusted me. LOVE those horses!! And then I go home to my cats!

    • Shy horses much prefer people not to fuss over them. But, they are curious and appreciate company (and good care!) You must have very calm body language.