Do Horses Show Affection?

Amanda-Jo King, DVM
Published: November 3, 2022
Do Horses Show Affection?

Horses are very social and affectionate animals. They cannot verbalize “I love you” but they can communicate those sentiments through their actions. Not all horses show affection in the same ways though. Here are some things to look for in your horse’s behavior to know he loves you.

How Do You Tell If Your Horse Likes You?

One of the best experiences with horses is entering the barn and as soon as your horse hears your voice, he lets out a loud whinny or nicker. A horse may also be very happy to see you if they trot over to you from the pasture when they see you coming. These are two common ways that horses show they are excited and eager to see you.

Horses will become very relaxed when they are in the company of someone they love and trust. In these circumstances, their breathing and heart rate will decrease and they will assume a relaxed posture where one hind foot is crossed over the other and resting on the ground. Their eyes may appear soft and sleepy and their muzzle will relax, their head may lower and their muzzle get droopy. At this moment they are truly at ease.

In addition to observing these behaviors in your horse, your horse can actively show you he likes you. When you are grooming your horse, he may reciprocate this care and affection and “groom” you back. He may nibble at your shoulders or head, lay his head on your shoulders, or nudge you in the back, like a mini “back massage.”

When a horse shows you respect, that also indicates that he likes you. They will accept you as their leader and do what they are told, while not running over or cramping you. Sometimes they may even follow you around. Sometimes horses will blow air in your face through their nostrils to show you they love you, like they do with other horses.

The love our horses show us is based on their feelings of trust toward us. In order to develop that trust you must spend quality time with your horse. This may include riding time, groundwork exercises, grooming, or just letting them graze in the grass.   

Affection for Other Horses

As horses show their owners and caretakers affection, they will also show affection toward their herd mates and other horses.

As mentioned previously, horses will lift their head and blow gently through their nostrils into each other’s faces. This is their version of a horse handshake. It is also very common to see horses grooming each other; mostly itching each other’s backs, shoulders, and withers. They will also rest their muzzles on each other’s backs. Just like as they call to you when you arrive to see them, they call and whinny for each other.

In herds, horses will sleep next to each other, not only for warmth and protection, but out of affection as well. On trail rides, they will also buddy up. However, this can sometimes make things difficult if one buddy is not going on the trail ride that day. Horses will run around the paddock chasing each other for fun, like a game of tag.

Affection for Other Animal Species

Horses will even express interest in their smaller animal companions. They may stretch their neck out to sniff and greet the resident barn cat, or curiously nose at a friendly dog.

Horses also enjoy the companionship of wildlife. In some cases, small barn birds will perch atop a horse’s back or neck while they are resting in their stall. Horses are also used to sharing their pasture with deer or moose.

Beware of unfriendly creatures like raccoons, bats, foxes, or possums, as these animals can carry disease such as EPM or rabies. As always, vaccination is strongly encouraged to help protect horses from various diseases potentially contracted through encounters with wildlife.

Featured Image: iStock.com/Somogyvari


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