Last Updated on March 9, 2023
All horse riders and lovers would like to think that their horses love to be petted as much as we love to pet them! But how do find this out for sure, and where do horses like to be pet? If you want to know how to tell how and where horses like to be pet, keep reading to find out more.
To understand if your horse likes to be pet, you need to learn about horse body language and what they are trying to tell us. Horses have very subtle methods of communication and it is not always easy to figure out what they want to say! But, if we can learn to read their language, we can better understand how they like to be pet.
Do Horses Like to Be Pet?
Petting a horse is a vital way to create a strong bond and trusting relationship with the animal. Most horses enjoy being petted and will get great enjoyment out of this time spent with their favorite human.
Remember that horse petting should always be on their terms – we cannot force a horse to be petted if he does not enjoy it. Listen to what he is trying to tell you and stick to what he enjoys, and he will soon be following you around the barn asking to be petted!
How to Pet a Horse Safely – Horse Body Language Explained
To pet a horse safely we must learn to understand what he is trying to communicate to us. He will tell us what he likes and what he dislikes, we just need to figure out what he is saying! This is not an easy task, as the expressions of a horse can be very complex.
Let’s find out how to understand basic horse body language:
A relaxed horse will have slightly droopy ears. They will swivel around gently to follow your movements or other sounds.
Watch for a horse that puts its ears flat back – he is feeling threatened or uncomfortable. So, if you are petting a horse and he puts his ears back, he is trying to tell you that he doesn’t like it! We should respect his attempt to communicate with us and stop petting him.
A calm and happy horse will have what is called ‘soft eyes’. This means that the muscles around the eyes are relaxed, with no sign of tension.
If a horse is unhappy about a situation, the facial muscles tighten and the eyes will seem wider. You could also see the whites of the horse’s eyes. This is another warning signal that he is not happy about what is occurring.
The muzzle is the best way to tell how where a horse likes to be petted! A relaxed horse has loose lips, that might twitch occasionally. However, if he is enjoying being petted, his top lip will become elongated and move around.
Watch your horse as you pet different areas – is there a particular spot where his top lip starts to wiggle? Try scratching this a bit harder and see how he reacts! This is a fun way to find out your horse’s itchy spots and favorite petting areas.
He may even start to use his muzzle to groom you, in the same way as he does with his equine best friend. If your horse wants to indulge in mutual grooming with you this is a sign that he trusts you and feels relaxed in your company. However, take care not to let it get too boisterous!
When relaxed, a horse will stand with its tail held loosely. The tail may swish lightly from side to side.
However, a threatened horse will swish its tail in a much more aggressive manner. If a horse is feeling nervous and threatened, it will clamp its tail down tightly.
A horse will use his body to tell us where he likes to be pet. For example, if he does not like having his face rubbed, he will move his head away from you. On the other hand, he will lean into a petting action that he likes, to encourage you to do it harder!
Some horses will also move a part of their body towards you if they want you to give it a pet. Some horses love to have their rump rubbed, and will turn their hindquarters towards you to encourage you to do this!
How Do Horses Like to Be Pet? Different Ways of Petting a Horse
You can pet a horse in one of two ways – by using a massage technique, or by gentle scratching.
To massage a horse, use your hand to rub the skin of the horse. Run the hand in the same direction as the hair lies, and use long, rhythmical strokes. They will particularly enjoy this action over large muscle masses, such as the shoulders and rump.
Gentle scratching is a lovely treat for a horse in the areas they cannot reach easily! Horses use their muzzles to groom themselves and each other, and we can replicate this movement with our fingertips.
Where Do Horses Like to Be Pet? 3 Best Places to Stroke a Horse
All horses are different, so not all horses will like being petted in the same place. However, knowing the most likely itchy spots can be the best way to secure a place in your horse’s heart!
Here are the three best places to try petting a horse:
The withers are the body parts of the spine, just in front of where the saddle sits. Horses will often groom each other’s withers for long periods. Your equine friend will love you forever if you give his withers a good scratch!
The chest is another area that is difficult for the horse to reach. Try giving the armpit area in between the forelegs a gentle tickle and see how your horse reacts. Most horses will lean into a good tickling spot, so if he does not move away he is most likely enjoying it.
Some horses are very sensitive about having their heads touched, so approach this area with caution. A scratch under the jaw is often appreciated, as is a gentle rub around the ears. Remember that if he moves away he is telling you that he doesn’t like it!
Are Horses Affectionate?
Horses can be incredibly affectionate creatures, and enjoy the companionship of other horses, animals, or even humans. Horses are herd animals and thrive in the company of others – in many countries, it is against welfare standards to keep a horse alone. But even if a horse has equine best friends, they still appreciate some human company too.
In a natural herd situation, horses show affection towards each other grazing close together, sometimes nose-to-nose. They will spend time grooming each other and will miss each other when they are separated. Younger horses may show affection by playing together and investigating new things, much in the same way as human children!
How do horses show affection to humans?
Has your horse ever nickered at you as you walk towards the barn? If so, it is showing affection towards you! Or perhaps towards the feed bucket you are carrying or treats in your pockets, but, either way, it is a sign that your horse is pleased to see you.
How to Know If a Horse Likes You
If a horse likes you it will be relaxed and comfortable in your presence and enjoy spending time with you. It will come over to you in the field, even if you don’t have any treats, and will choose to spend time with you rather than its equine friends. Many horses develop a strong emotional bond with their owner, rider, or trainer, and this increases the more time they spend together.
How to befriend a horse
Horses are prey animals and are naturally wary and afraid of any potential threat. Therefore, for a horse to become your friend, it must learn to trust you.
To befriend a horse, you need to spend time with it, teaching it that you are kind and are not going to hurt it. Let the horse approach you in its own time, and never force a horse to interact with you if it is scared or feels under threat. Learning how to read the body language of a horse can help you figure out how the horse feels about being near you.
For horses that are very wary of human contact, a good trick is to spend time in their vicinity, without trying to approach them. Many horse trainers recommend sitting in the paddock reading a good book – most horses are so nosy that once they realize you are not a threat, they will come over to investigate what you are doing! Have a few treats ready for when this happens, and the horse will become your friend in no time at all.
Summary – Where Do Horses Like to Be Pet?
So, as we have learned, horses are great at trying to tell us where they like to be pet! It can take some time to earn your horse’s trust but listening to his body language can speed up this process. Most horses will enjoy having their neck scratched or muzzle rubbed.
We’d love to hear about your experiences – do you know how to tell where your horse likes to be pet? Or is your pony a grumpy old man who doesn’t seem to enjoy being petted at all? Add a comment below this post and we’ll get back to you!
Kate Chalmers is a qualified veterinary nurse who has specialized in horse care for the vast majority of her career. She has been around horses since she was a child, starting out riding ponies and helping out at the local stables before going on to college to study Horse Care & Management. She has backed and trained many horses during her lifetime and competed in various equestrian sports at different levels.
After Kate qualified as a veterinary nurse, she provided nursing care to the patients of a large equine veterinary hospital for many years. She then went on to teach horse care and veterinary nursing at one of the top colleges in the country. This has led to an in-depth knowledge of the care needs of horses and their various medical ailments, as well as a life-long passion for educating horse owners on how to provide the best possible care for their four-legged friends.
Kate Chalmers BSc (Hons) CVN, Dip AVN (Equine) Dip HE CVN EVN VN A1 PGCE