How to Pet a Horse

Being one of the most magnificent creatures on the planet, horses are unique in their way. Although like any other prey animal, a horse would be afraid if you touch him without permission. Petting a horse requires a tactical approach if you are doing it for the first time. 

Luckily, these tactics are well known. In this guide, we’ll teach you exactly how to pet a horse so you can physically bond with your furry friend.

Steps to Pet a Horse

Here’s how you can safely pet a horse.

Announce Your Arrival

When you approach a horse for the first time, make sure he knows you are in the vicinity. A horse’s line of vision does not allow him to see what is directly in front or at the back. The ideal path is getting to the horse from the side where he can see you. 

You can whistle, or take the horse’s name when you get near. Running directly towards the horse and screaming will put him in discomfort. As a result, the horse may kick or rear up especially when it cannot see you. Let him know you mean well by slowly walking towards the shoulder where you are clearly visible to him.

Stay Calm When Petting

Horses are great at picking the tension in the surroundings. If you fidget or express discomfort, the horse will pick the negative energy and respond similarly. Horses usually greet each other by touching their noses, and you need to do that with your hand.

Start by showing your hand to the horse and allow the horse to investigate. Keep your fingers together and wave your hand just under the horse’s nose. If the horse lowers his head, comes closer, or licks his lips, it means the horse has accepted your presence.

The Right Way to Pet a Horse

Your calm exterior will open gates of trust with the horse. He will know that you mean no harm and your hand gesture is the first step of building trust through physical communication. It may be tempting to pet the horse on the head; however, it is advised to avoid it. Stay on the side and pet the neck.

Horses like being scratched on the neck and right behind the ear, so you can do that as well. Additionally, you can also scratch the horse on the withers. If you feel the horse showing discomfort or backing away from you – step right away. Make sure you vacate the horse’s personal space of about 15 feet. This distance is important in case the horse kicks or rears.

What to do if a Horse Reacts Negatively to Petting

In case you get a negative reaction from the first touch, do not give up. The next tactic is to pin his ears and raise his head. Keep in mind that every horse will react differently, so you need to slow down accordingly.

Patience is key in building your relationship with the horse. The ideal way is to start with a single rub on the neck. If the horse does not back away, rub again. Slow down or continue to rub the horse’s neck until you get a positive reaction. Like all animals, horses will lean their heads into your hands when you rub them in a good spot. Like behind the ears or just near the neck. Increase the number of rubs when you are sure the horse is getting comfortable to your touch.

Places to Avoid Petting a Horse

Like any other animal, horses too do not wish to be touched on sensitive areas. Avoid petting the horse on the underbelly, legs, or anywhere near the tail. In addition, these areas are not in line with their vision, so horses may assume this as a sign of danger.

The best course of action is to speak to the owner of the horse and ask about what to avoid. Some horses do not like being touched on the face or the head. It depends on the individual horse and not all are the same. Usually, all horses like being scratched behind the ears.

When to Back Off?

Like humans, horses can have a temper and only the owner of the horse can handle one that does. The reason is simple – a relationship built on trust and friendship over the years. Therefore, you can never know if a horse has a temper when you approach him for the first time.

However, several signs point out to a horse’s body language that will tell you to back off. For starters, notice the ears of the horse. If they are pinned back towards the neck, it is a sign that the horse is angry. It is best to back away to safety. The second thing to notice is the horse’s tail. If the horse continuously fidgets his tail, it means that the horse is unhappy.

Horses that you Should Avoid Petting

Every horse has a personality and this can be seen in how safe it is to approach one. Always avoid approaching horses that back away from your presence. Chasing one is a bad idea when he runs away from you. Some aggressive behaviors to look out for include baring the teeth, kicking, rearing, or pinning of ears. 

If you notice such behavioral issues in a horse, it is best to leave that horse alone. Only a professional trainer can handle such a horse and tame him for riding and safety. Keep in mind that if you are unfamiliar with a horse, avoid going to his stall or pasture. Always stay under supervision to maintain your safety.

Go Pet a Horse!

Like humans, horses are aware of the unfamiliar presence around them and can feel danger in their surroundings. It takes time for them to become familiar and more time to begin trusting a human being. When approaching a horse for the first time, it is important to greet and talk in a gentle tone so the horse knows you mean no harm.

Once the horse knows you mean well, he will trust you and remember you the next time you approach him. The horse will pick your scent and remember your touch well for the years to come. Befriending a horse is a talent and a skill rarely found today. So go ahead and pet a horse – you will not regret it (hopefully)!