How to pet a horse


Many people love horses and want to interact with them, knowing how to interact and touch them can be a very rewarding experience.   Here is a description of some concepts to consider if you want to give a horse a pat.


1-      Each horse is different and has preferences about its personal space bubble and the location, amount and manner in which it likes to be touched.  To help determine this, watch the horse’s body language to have insight into its response to your approach and interactions.  Generally speaking if the horse does not like it, he will move away, pin his ears, or raise his head.  If he does like it, he may lower his head, move towards you, or tilt his head to the side and look at you.

2-      Generally speaking, approaching a horse from the side, and petting or rubbing the horse on the side of its body rather than the front or nose is best.  The horse can see you better from here and your body language and out stretched arm is less likely to be misunderstood as aggressive by the horse.

3-      Generally speaking, horses prefer to be rubbed or stroked strongly and in a rhythmical fashion versus being scratched or tickled.  Imagine how two horses would groom each other in the wild.  They are strong and would rub or pull on each other strongly.

4-      Many horses like to be rubbed on the neck, shoulder, hip, or on the chest.  Some horses enjoy having their heads and ears rubbed.  Horses often groom each other on the whither, so this would be a good place to try too.

5-      Pet or rub your horse for a few minutes, watch him and be with him, and then move away.  If your horse wants more he will come to you.  People have a tendency to forget that standing close to the horse, talking to the horse, or just touching the horse can be putting pressure on the horse.  Horses do not need touch the way we humans do; they often enjoy just being near each other.   I recommend experimenting with this idea, go into the corral with your horse, watch him, pet him, and then find a place to sit or watch for a while, see what happens 🙂

6-      If your horse does not want to be pet or moves away, do not be upset.   Not wanting to be petted does not mean the horse doesn’t like you, or that he wouldn’t love to go for a ride with you.  It could mean that you need to inspect yourself, your body language, or your energy, it could also just mean that your horse isn’t in need of a rub and would like to chillax on his own for a bit.

Have fun with your horse, watch your horse to see where, when and how he likes to be rubbed; then give him space and be curious about what he does next!  Please let us know if you have questions, comments, or would like further information about this or our lessons or therapy programs.  Happy Trails!


Salisbury Farms.

About Amy

Dr. Amy Jane Hayden Oleson is the founder of Salisbury Farms. She is a licensed clinical psychologist and lifelong horse enthusiast. She has combined her passion for working with horses, instructing, and helping others into a unique and versatile community support program. She offers equine assisted activities and classical riding instruction to individuals interested in learning more about horses and themselves.

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