Horse lovers around the world share dreams of our horses seeing us across an open field, abandoning their herd, and galloping toward us with love in their eyes. Horses fill our hearts with love, and they express themselves in many ways. But how exactly do horses show affection?
Horses are very expressive in showing affection. It may not be as obvious to us as humans, but we can learn what to look for and how to read their body language, and we will find that horses are in fact very affectionate creatures!
How do Horses Show Affection to Humans?
Horses show affection to both humans and other horses in a variety of ways. They are extremely intuitive and can very easily pick up on our own emotions, which can affect how they show affection to us.
Nickering when they see you arrive
If your horse sees you walking down the barn aisle and nickers or gives a soft whinny, that is a way that he or she is showing you affection. They are saying they are happy to see you.
Horses nuzzle by gently rubbing or moving their lips on your shoulder or hand. Standing quietly with your arms by your side, allow your horse to gently nuzzle you in their own time. If you are still and quiet, you will likely receive a lot of this type of affection.
Horse kisses are a sweet way your horse can show you affection. They may lick your hand or even your face as they show you their love.
Leaning into you
As you groom, rub, or scratch your horse’s favorite spots, he or she may lean into you as a sign of affection. Leaning into you shows that your horse trusts you as the leader of your “herd.”
Exchanging breath with you
Your horse may show affection by breathing with you. He or she does this by putting his nose up to your face and exchanging air with you. Take advantage of this special sign of affection by breathing the same air together.
Horses are big and strong, and yet they often will go out of their way to please their owners or handlers. When horses are obedient or listen to your direction, they are showing you that they respect you. This is a sure sign of how a horse shows you affection.
How do Horses Show Affection to Other Horses?
Following each other
Horses are herd animals who seek the companionship of one another. They often seek out familiar buddies in the pasture and move together as they graze or walk around. If a large group of horses shares one pasture, you will often see the same smaller groups break off together and follow each other around as a sign of affection.
Sharing air with one another
When horses greet each other, they often will sniff noses and share air with one another as a sign of affection. This is a common greeting between them and is their way of saying a friendly hello.
You may see two horses “hugging” in the pasture. They will sometimes rest with one horse’s neck on top of the other in a demonstration of a type of a sweet hug.
Whinnying or calling to each other
Horses will whinny or call to each other as a greeting or to locate the rest of their herd. As social creatures, this type of communication is their way of talking to each other or identifying each other. Each horse has a distinct whinny that is recognizable by the rest of their herd.
Scratching, grooming, and nuzzling each other
Horses standing together are often seen nuzzling and scratching or even appear to groom one another. This is a sure sign that they are buddies and are showing affection toward each other.
As herd animals, we know that horses have a definite hierarchy among them. They demonstrate leadership over one another by moving each other around their pasture. When they allow another horse into their space, they can be seen leaning on each other as a way to show their bond with another horse. This skin-to-skin contact and sharing of space is a sure sign that two horses are the best of friends.
How You Can Show Affection to Your Horse
I love to hug and kiss my horse’s sweet nose, but these are of course very human ways of showing affection. What are the top 6 ways we can show affection to our horse in a language to which they can relate?
Establishing yourself as your horse’s leader
As herd animals, our horses are constantly looking to either lead or be led. If we do not establish ourselves as our horse’s leader, then our horse may try to assert his leadership over us. That is not what we want with a 1000 pound animal.
Learn basic groundwork and practice it regularly with your horse to show them that you are their leader. This is a language your horse understands and he or she will view this as a sign of you showing affection for them.
Most horses love to be groomed. It feels good to them, and it is a great way that you can show your horse affection. A regular grooming routine can be something your horse looks forward to experiencing with you.
Horses are athletic animals. They have very large muscle groups that can get tight and sore, and they love to get a thorough massage! Spend time rubbing and scratching different areas of your horse and watch for their reaction.
When you find a spot that feels good to them, they are likely to lean into you as if to say, “don’t stop!” Often their ears will be at half-mast when they are focused on the good feelings of the massage, and they may extend their head and neck in pleasure or even yawn in release.
Talking to your horse
Your voice can be a source of comfort for your horse, especially if they are feeling nervous or uncertain. Talk to your horse and give them verbal praise both on the ground and while riding. This is a great way to show your horse affection.
Caring for your horse
Day to day care is another way you demonstrate affection for your horse. This includes feeding them, giving them the occasional treat, turning them in and out to the pasture, and providing them with regular farrier and veterinary care.
Try new things together
When you can have new experiences together with your horse, their trust in you will grow. At the same time, you will develop more trust in them. Get out and try new things together! Go on a trail ride, take them to a local horse show, or experiment with a new riding discipline. Your bond will grow as you share new experiences together.
How Can You Tell the Mood of Your Horse
Horses show us their mood all the time. We just have to know what to look for. When trying to determine how your horse is feeling, pay attention to some of the following signs.
A horse uses his or her ears to show their mood. Here are some ways we can tell their mood by looking at their ears.
- Ears pricked forward– If your horse’s ears are pricked forward, they are usually feeling curious or attentive to something.
- If the Ears are turned back– When you are riding, your horse may turn one ear or both ears toward you to show that they are listening to you.
- Ears pinned back– Your horse is showing anger when she has her ears pinned.
- Ears at half-mast or out to the side– Your horse’s mood is relaxed and calm.
If a horse’s nostrils are flared or quivering, it may indicate they are feeling nervous. Sniffing nostrils show curiosity.
When horses’ eyes appear soft, their mood is relaxed and calm. Wide eyes or eyes that are darting back and forth indicate they are scared and may spook or bolt.
Take a look at how your horse is using his body language to convey their mood.
- Resting a hind leg indicates they are relaxed and calm.
- High head carriage means your horse is alert.
- Low head carriage indicates contentedness.
- A drooping lower lip indicates they are sleeping or tired.
- Chewing or licking their lips means your horse is thinking or processing information.
- Swinging the hind end toward someone or toward another horse is a good indication your horse is mad and may kick. This is especially true if their ears are pinned as well.
- Stomping or pawing can indicate they are feeling restless or impatient.
- Yawning can be a sign that your horse is relaxing or releasing stress.
Horses show and receive affection and express themselves in a wide variety of ways. As responsible horse handlers, it is our job to learn how each of our horses like to receive our affection. We also need to be in tune to how our horses show their affection toward us and other horses.
Learning to read and understand our horses’ moods can help us have the best partnership possible with them. Every horse is slightly different, but all horses show affection, and they love to receive it as well!
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