10 Jul Horse Affection: 10 Clear Ways Horses Show Affection
If you’ve ever wondered whether or not your horse actually shows affection, you’ll be happy to learn that they most certainly do. However, recognizing the affection can be difficult if you’re not familiar with the signs to look for. I put together this guide to help!
10 Ways Horses Show Affection
Signs of Affection Towards Humans
Coming to You
If a horse comes to you when you walk out into the pasture, not because they expect food but because they recognize you, then they are showing affection. If a horse picks up its head from eating to come over to where you are, your horse has just shown that you are more important than their food!
If a horse is willing to approach you on their own, without being asked, it shows that they like your presence. That’s why it’s important to always remain calm and relaxed when working with your horse.
Horses can pick up on emotions, so if you’re always around your horse getting stressed and frustrated, they’ll negatively associate you with those emotions. If your horse is used to you being a calm and decisive leader, they will positively associate you with a happy atmosphere.
If you’d like to train your horse to come to you, our article, Getting Your Horse to Come to You: Complete Guide, shows you how I train my horses to come to me.
Turning Their Heads and Ears Toward You
A horse that respects you and pays attention to you will watch your every move. (literally) They’re waiting to see what you’ll ask them to do next. Next time you go to groom your horse, tie them up and walk away to do something else for a moment.
You may notice that your horse’s head and ears are constantly following your movements even though you aren’t giving them direct attention. This means that the horse is focused on you, which is a good thing! A horse should be focused on their owner and not on what else could be happening around them.
If you notice that your horse is constantly being distracted by other things instead of focused on you, then you need to reinforce your presence and get your horse focused back on you. To learn more about this, check out our article, How to Get Your Horse to Pay Attention to You.
Following You Around
Horses are herd animals and they will rarely go anywhere alone without a buddy. If you go and watch your horse in the field, you’ll probably notice that there are certain horses that your horse hangs out with the most. These horses will follow each other around and stick together.
You can tell what your horse thinks of you by seeing if they will follow you around. If a horse is willing to follow you around, then it considers you a buddy. It has bonded with you and is fond of your presence.
Following Your Instructions
Since horses are herd animals, they will constantly be trying to prove that they are the dominant horse. Next time a new horse is turned out into the pasture, watch: even the horse that has been at the bottom of the pecking order will challenge the new horse in order to establish dominance.
Horses are the same way with humans; they want to see what they can get away with and in what areas they can be the dominant creature. Horses do this by testing you, whether it’s disobeying your cues or trying to scare you by acting as if they’re going to buck.
A horse that has come to terms with you being the leader will respect you. Don’t get me wrong, while horses may be vying for the alpha spot, they also love to be led. When they look to you as their leader, they will actually feel a closer bond with you. They won’t question your cues; instead, they’ll respond willingly.
Being Relaxed Around You
A horse that is relaxed around you likes you and trusts you! I can’t tell you how many horses I’ve met that started out being jumpy and aggressive to be around or to ride. After spending time with them and being patient, the horses soon came around to trust me and to know that they could relax.
Horses are flight animals, so with any new person they meet, they’re going to determine whether or not you’re a threat that they need to flee from. If a horse is relaxed around you, then they’ve decided that you’re safe to be around.
If you work with a horse that constantly seems nervous, the best thing you can do is work on building your bond and showing them that they have nothing to be afraid of. Check out our article, Bonding With Your Horse: 8 Simple Steps That Actually Work, to see how we recommend bonding with your horse.
Signs of Affection Towards Other Horses
I have a little POA pony named Tucker. Tucker has a little quarter pony named Missy as his girlfriend. It’s almost as if they’re in a monogamous relationship. They have shared the same field for about three years, and they’re constantly together when out in the pasture.
Missy is constantly following Tucker around. (up to one point of escaping under the fences when I took him out of the field. We had to put new fencing up.) They are always together, away from the rest of the herd. So romantic.
Horses show affection and relationship towards one another by hanging out with the horses they like. Even pasture horses tend to break off into small herds of horses that get along well together and those who don’t.
Tucker and Missu have their own herd, with a few other horses. Take note of what horses your horse likes to be around. Next time you go looking for your horse in the pasture, you probably will be able to spot them not too far away from their buddies.
Sharing Air or “Kissing”
Horses touching noses or blowing into each other’s nostrils is basically like a handshake. This is how horses introduce themselves to one another as well as say hello and show fondness with other horses they’re fond of.
This is another thing that Tucker and Missy do; when I turn Tucker back out into the pasture, he goes over to Missy and they sniff noses. After that, they walk away together.
By breathing into each other’s nostrils, the horses can smell whether or not the scent is familiar or unfamiliar. With a familiar horse, your horse will probably sniff and then walk off. With an unfamiliar horse, your horse may squeal and strike out with their front hoof to establish dominance.
I have a Youtube video also on this subject where I expand on each point. You can watch it here:
You may have seen two horses standing with their heads at each other’s backs, using their teeth to reach each other’s scratchy patches. Grooming another horse is how your horse can show affection.
When horses are young, their mother licks and grooms them. It becomes a very familiar and comforting task that represents the bond that mother and foal have. Likewise, when horses get older, they’ll do it to one another to show the same kind of fondness towards one another.
You will probably never see a new horse just introduced to the herd standing there scratching another horse’s back. As with humans, horses take a while to learn to trust one another. If a horse is letting another scratch it’s back, then that horse trusts the other horse.
Scratching One Another
Horses show affection to one another by using each other as a scratching post. One time I walked out into the pasture to see two horses stand tail to tail, one standing still while the other scratched its rump back and forth against the other. I thought for sure the other horse would kick out, but it never did.
One way horses establish dominance is by not allowing other horses into their personal space, no matter how big their bubble is. If a horse allows another horse to step into its personal space to be used as a scratching post, you better believe that those two horses are buddies.
Horses that are ride-and-die friends will be all up in each other’s business. This can also look like a horse putting their head over another horse’s back, or two horses sharing the same water tub together without getting angry at each other.
Whinnying At One Another
Any time I turn my horse out into the pasture, he whinnies for his friends. They always whinny back to him and come galloping over. Just as humans talk and communicate with each other, horses do too by whinnying.
A horse may whinny in order to locate the rest of his herd. If another horse hears the call, they’ll respond. Only horses that are familiar with each other can distinguish whether or not they know the horse based on their whinny.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why Don’t You Consider A Horse Nuzzling You or Rubbing on You as a Sign of Affection?
The reason I don’t consider a horse nuzzling me or rubbing on me as a sign of affection is that I actually consider it as a sign of disrespect. Before you completely disagree with me, hear me out:
We teach our horses to respect our personal space; that means that they shouldn’t ever step into our bubble and crowd us. So if a horse starts rubbing its head on you and pushing you over, didn’t the horse just break the boundaries you’ve been setting this whole time?
I didn’t realize this until I started to notice repetitive behavior in my horse. Every day when I would go to turn him out in the pasture, he would nuzzle me. At first, I thought it was cute and I thought “Aww, he loves me!”
As time went on, he would start nuzzling me in the back every time I went to open the gate. I still thought it was cute. Soon, however, while my back was turned to him as I tried to open the gate, he started head-butting me. I quickly realized that this wasn’t a sign of affection; rather, my horse was impatient to get back into the field! And, he was completely ignoring my boundaries!
Next time your horse goes to nuzzle you or rub their head on you, look at the situation: do you usually feed them around this time? Is the work over and they just want their tack off? Remember, in order to for your horse to respect your space, you have to be consistent in what you teach them.
Do you just ever get the feeling that a horse doesn’t like you, but you don’t know why? Check out our article, Why Doesn’t My Horse Like Me? to get your questions answered.
(P.S. Did you know I’m on Youtube? You can subscribe to my channel here for weekly horse videos!)
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I’m a lifelong horse trainer and horseback rider who’s passionate about teaching others about the things I’ve learned. I grew up competing in numerous English horseback riding disciplines and am now a certified equine massage therapist. I currently own three horses.