Showing Affection to Horses
Before you start smooching on your horse, it may be useful to understand how horses show affection to each other. Mutual grooming (a.k.a. allo-grooming) is the primary affectionate behavior of horses that isn’t related to reproduction. Mutual grooming is a social, care-giving behavior. Young or adult horses that are buddies in the herd often show their affection by nibbling on one another’s withers and backs. Horses stand facing each other—close at the shoulder—to simultaneously groom each other in the areas hardest to reach alone: the crest of the neck, the withers, along the back, croup and dock of the tail.
When you want to show affection to your horse, stroke him with a massaging motion. Start along the crest of the neck and withers. This calms him and is proven to slow his heart rate and release soothing chemicals in his brain. It’s best to avoid kissing your horse on the lips. Being lip to lip is the same as biting for horses. It has a stimulating effect. You’ll see horses lip to lip when they’re fighting or aggressively playing.
Foals especially love to mutual groom and they love to be rubbed and have close bodily contact. Be careful you do not instill bad habits in your youngster by letting him move into your space to demand grooming; these habits won’t be so cute when he weighs 1,000 pounds. The dominant horse most likely begins any grooming session and he ends it by biting. So it’s best not to ever let a horse groom you back, since you don’t want him to become dominant. He’ll try to dominate by moving into your space, putting his mouth on you, and controlling your actions.
During the winter, or whenever you’ll have less riding time, it’s a good time to do more ground work with your horse to establish a strong bond and learn more about behavior and your leadership of the horse. Check out my Complete Groundwork Package, including my DVDs on behavior and ground training exercises plus the training equipment you’ll need.