Horse Emotions: How Do Horses Show Affection

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Can you tell if your horse feels frustrated, uncomfortable, or fearful? There are a few general ways horses show these emotions. If you have a horse, you’re likely familiar with them. Equally important to understanding these is the ability to know how they give and receive affection.

As in any human-to-human relationship, communication and understanding one another is key. Any breakdowns in communication can cause discord, even when showing affection. As Cherry Hill says in her handbook “How to Think Like a Horse,” “The better you understand horses, the less often conflict will arise” (Hill).

Here are five ways horses show affection to their loved ones:

Coming toward you

Horses love the ability to go to you and give you affection. Any instance where your horse comes to you or gives you attention, some warmth is there. Because horses don’t often spend time on anything, they don’t have an interest in.

Along those same lines, horses can only process one thing at a time. “They are consciously either giving or receiving input, but not both simultaneously” (Levison). They are either giving you attention or receiving yours. In fact, “when we reach into a horse’s physical space, no matter what, we stop its affection coming back towards us” (Levinson).

This means that when a horse is giving affection, they need to be able to provide it without the stimulation of receiving attention. This is important because your horse likes to be able to both give and receive affection. And when we are always giving them affection it blocks their cognitive ability to reciprocate with us.

You may question why your horse doesn’t give you as much affection as you would like. You may also show your horse continual love to get more affection from them. But it may surprise you how much devotion you get back when you focus on receiving rather than giving.

Practicing interaction awareness can be very helpful with this. It’s a lot like dancing, give a little bit, then let your horse give a little bit, then give a little bit again. So when a horse is coming to you to show you affection, let it. Be still in the moment and soak up the attention you’re getting. Learn to dance with them.

Leaning on you

One example of horses coming to give you affection is by gently leaning on you. You can see them doing this with other horses as well, both in the wild and in domestic care. Sharing body contact is one of the main ways horses share affection. Since horses don’t have hands to hold or arms to give hugs, gentle leans and even “neck hugs” express their love. 

Nuzzling you

Another way horses give physical affection is by nuzzling you. It’s more intimate than leaning because compared to the majority of their body, their faces are much more sensitive and vulnerable. In his article, “Horse Affection: How Do They Show It,” Archie Davis wrote, “opening this up to you shows just how comfortable they are with your presence.”

Obedience

Being obedient to you is also one way horses show their affection. Horses are soft and compassionate and enjoy pleasing the ones they love. They will do their best to give you what you ask for or expect. This is not to say that a disobedient horse is an unloving one.

As with humans, individual horses have specific things they struggle with. Obedience may be one of them. But this does not take away from the fact that obedience is one of the main ways horses show their affection.

Sharing air with you

Has your horse ever brought their face to yours and then just...breathed? In the wild, as well as in domestic care, horses will show affection to one another by sharing breath with one another. Horses will put their noses together and then share the air. This tendency extends to horses showing love to their owners as well. Have you noticed your horse doing this? Did you know it was a sign of affection from your horse?

Of course, there are many ways horses can show affection. And your horse may have their own unique way of showing you love. But these are five general ways in which horses show affection not only to people but to other horses as well.

Are there ways your horse shows you affection that we didn’t mention? Do you have a favorite way you and your horse share love? Leave a comment, we would love to hear from you!


Works Cited

Davis, Archie. “Horse Affection: How Do They Show It?” Horsemart, 18 Sept. 2017,

www.horsemart.co.uk/care/horse-affection-how-do-they-show-it-/655.

Hill, Cherry. How to Think Like a Horse: The Essential Handbook for Understanding Why Horses Do What They Do. Storey Pub., 2006.

Levinson, Franklin. “How Do Horses Show Affection?” The Way of the Horse,

www.wayofthehorse.org/Essays/horse_affection.html.