We get very attached to our horses, we love them, but that’s because we’re highly emotional creatures. Horses, while not completely tamed, are able to form bonds with their owners and with other horses. Figuring out if your horse is showing affection towards you or other equines can be a bit tricky if you don’t know what to look for. Sometimes, the signs are so subtle that you might end up missing them altogether.
Today I’m going to teach you how to tell if your horse is showing affection. We’ll talk about affection towards humans as well as affection towards other horses. One thing that’s important to keep in mind is that horses are highly sociable creatures. They prefer to be in the company of other horses, and they even sleep better if they know that there’s at least another horse around.
Are horses capable of love?
A quick answer to this question is: horses do love, but not in the same way as us. We do know that they are capable of feeling and showing affection. A horse might not be able to feel love in the same way as you and me, but there is an element that they can definitely nurture and respect, one that makes them feel safe and at ease: trust.
We value trust as well in our own relationships. We value it just as much as love if you think about it, and once trust is broken, there’s rarely any love left. The point I’m trying to make is that if your horse trusts you, it probably loves you in its own way.
Interesting fact: horses cannot focus on more than one thing at a time. When it comes to affection, they either receive it or offer it, but never at the same time. That’s why it is incredibly important to allow a horse to show affection towards you without interrupting it. More often than not, when a horse comes our way or brings its head towards us, we rush to pet it, touch its face, its nose, its mane.
The horse then automatically focuses on receiving input and abandons its attempt to output affection. Keep your hands down, let the horse do what it came there to do: to show you that it appreciates you and that it acknowledges your presence. All that being said, let’s talk about some of the ways that horses show affection towards humans.
Horse affection towards humans.
Turning its ears and head towards you.
While not necessarily an act of love in its own right, a horse that respects you will pay attention to you and will watch your every move. Remember when I said that horses can only focus on one thing at a time? In this case, you represent its main focus. It will watch your every step and will patiently wait for you to give it a command or to take the lead.
This is what a healthy relationship with your horse looks like: the equine should not be distracted by other things as long as you are in its presence. You should be the most important thing for that horse at that given time. This signifies a bond, and it shows that your horse respects you and is willing to follow you. If the horse does get distracted in your presence, you’ll have to figure out a way to improve the bond between you two. But more on that in a separate article.
Following you around.
If a horse is following you around without you leading it, then it considers you part of its herd and actually enjoys spending time with you. Horses prefer the company of other horses, and they will rarely go out and about without a companion. Naturally, the equine will know that you’re not a horse, but it will trust you and feel safer around you regardless.
Once again, this signifies a bond, and if the horse chooses to follow you around willingly, it is showing affection in its own way. Maybe not in the most active way, but it shows that it wants to be in your presence, and that’s a pretty big deal in this line of work.
Coming to you on its own.
If a horse comes towards you when you make an appearance without you calling it or giving it any attention, in particular, that horse deems you important. This is only true if you don’t have any treats stashed in your pocket. In that case, the horse will most likely be interested in a delicious snack. By the way, you cand find out more about treats and which ones are safe for your horse to eat in a separate piece that I put together not too long ago. Go check it out if you’re interested!
Back to the matter at hand, if a horse was eating and suddenly stops and comes toward you for seemingly no apparent reason, then it is showing you tons of affection. It means that it considers you more important than its food, and we all know how important food is for horses.
Physical acts of affection.
Horses will sometimes show affection towards humans by nickering softly or by putting their lips on us. This shows that they’re at ease, relaxed, and enjoying physical contact with us. Horses that are often groomed and hugged often get used to being touched by humans, and will actively seek physical attention from us.
A horse might sometimes try to lean on you, thus showing that it enjoys your company. It might also nuzzle you, which is a clear sign of affection. The more time you spend with your horse, the more likely you are to form a tight bond with it. Remember that horses pick up on our emotions very easily, which is why you should always be as calm as possible when handling yours.
Horse affection towards other horses.
Touching noses and sharing air.
This is one of the most fascinating examples of hair behavior, at least for me. Whenever two horses meet, whether they know each other or not, they touch each other’s nostrils and share air for a little bit. This is like a handshake of sorts, and it helps them figure out if they are familiar with each other or not.
If the horses are familiar, they will each go about their business, but if they’re just getting acquainted, one of them might try to establish dominance over the other. Most of the time, though, horses will engage in this behavior to show affection towards other horses, particularly if they already know each other and are part of the same herd.
Spending time together.
A horse will never spend time with another horse if they’re not getting along. Horses that stick together are clearly affectionate towards each other, even if we might not catch on to this at first. Horses that share a pasture for a long time form a tight bond, and they expect to see each other every day. It becomes routine.
This pretty much goes for any herd animal, but horses are somewhat special in this regard because they form tight bonds in pairs, as well as in larger groups. If you have a large group of horses on the same pasture, chances are that the herd will break off into smaller groups, as horses will choose to hang out with their “friends” – equines they find agreeable.
Sharing a scratch.
It’s not easy to reach that really itchy spot when you’re a horse. Fortunately, horses that get along well will use each other as a scratching post. They will engage in this sort of behavior only if they are really close, as horses don’t allow other horses to share their personal space if they’re not well-acquainted.
%AThey will often stand tail-in-tail and take turns scratching each other by rubbing against the other’s body. Most of the time, none of them will attempt to kick. They do this for their mutual benefit, and it seems to work pretty well. If two horses use each other as scratching posts, they’re definitely very good friends, and they feel comfortable sharing a confined space together.
Perhaps the clearest and most effective display of affection is grooming. Horses will sometimes groom each other, but they will only do so once trust has been established between them. Mares always lick and groom their foals, which creates a very strong bond between them.
As horses get older, they groom each other as a sign of affection. Maybe it also helps them remember the good-old days when they spent most of their time at their mothers’ side. Grooming is an affectionate task that also serves a practical purpose. Horses have a hard time reaching their backs and behinds, which is why grooming each other is not only welcomed but sometimes necessary.
As I mentioned before in my piece about horse sounds and how to identify their meaning, the whinny basically represents a gentler version of the neigh. Horses use this sound as a “hello” or in order to call on each other while out on the pasture. It can be interpreted as a sign of affection, particularly if practiced between horses that ar familiar with each other.
On the pasture, a horse might whinny in order to locate its friends or the rest of the herd. It will often hear a response from other nearby horses. Therefore, the whinny is also used as a safety mechanism. Horses need to know that other horses are nearby in order to feel safe.
Horses have many ways of showing affection both when it comes to their keepers and with other horses. The trick is to know what to look for, and to let the horse get on with it if it does decide to empathize with you.
The way we treat our horses says plenty about who we are, and if we do it right, these wonderful equines will reflect that goodwill towards us and then some. Horses do appreciate us in their own way. We are important to them, as we are heavily invested in their lives. If we treat them with love and care, they will reciprocate, and it is truly a wonderful thing to experience a horse’s unconditional affection.
As for us humans, we sometimes show affection towards horses in unusual ways. We do it directly by caring for them and interacting with them, or sometimes we decorate our bodies with their image in the form of tattoos. Other times, we write books about them, or maybe we create entire websites dedicated to their well-being.