You and Your Horse – A Sensory Relationship – Touch
By Carole Herder
Much of the sensory relationship you have with your horse will be with sight and touch. You will get a sense of your relationship from how he responds to your touch. If he flinches and moves away he is sending you a message. If he leans into you, there is a message. They are rather tactile animals. They like to touch and groom one another. Regular grooming is a way to connect and communicate. Brushing is excellent for your horse’s circulation and hair follicle health. Also, as you’re grooming him, or just walking around him and patting him down as part of your hello ritual, run your hands across his body and pay attention to what you feel. Notice if you feel tightness or knots. If you do this often, you will become familiar with him and you will know if something feels wrong or has changed. It is not unlike your own body. Becoming familiar with how you feel, literally touching your skin, allows you to know if you have a knot, a new mole, if your neck is out of alignment, etc.; you’ll know if things have changed. This is why women are told to do monthly breast exams, so that they know what they’re feeling and can recognize a change, often leading to early detection of breast cancer. If you are regularly intentionally touching your horse and do feel tightness, consider some relaxing massage for him. If you are concerned with lumps or anything out of the ordinary, consult your vet.
Most horses like to be touched, but not every horse wants to be touched in the same way. I’m sure you know this to be true about people in your life. Some are huggers and others won’t even shake your hand. While, like people, horses have different levels of being ‘people persons,’ there can be reasons they shirk your touch. I’ve said before that horses are ever present – not living in the past or the future. However, they do learn and carry that forward. So if your horse was abused in the past, he may be hesitant when you reach out to touch him. Be extra gentle, patient and let your physical connection build over time. You will have to take care to earn his trust.
Each animal is different in how they like to show affection. I have a horse with whom I have a special ritual. Every time we come back from a ride I have to stand there and turn my back to him. He puts his head down and rubs his forehead against my shoulder. He gives himself a really good scratch that way. He really enjoys it. I actually love it too. He could give me a bop with his head that would send me flying, but he rubs nicely giving us both sensations. Building the touch relationship with your horse is simply about being sympathetic with their bodies, trying different things and allowing them to touch you too. Kids are particularly great at cozying up to their horses. You see them cuddling up and wanting to take their sleeping bags to the barn. Sometimes people are afraid to allow their horses to touch them, concerned they may bite, kick or knock them down. All of that could happen, so of course you have to be guarded and respectful of the reality that they are large animals, who may bite and can cause harm. Yet their nature is gentle and sometimes they want to nuzzle and touch you too. Be open and build that relationship.