Like humans, horses are complex creatures with different personalities, interests, and likes. When facing the question, ‘do horses like to be hugged?’, the answer isn’t a simple yes or no.
Some horses might like to be hugged while others don’t, and still, some are just tolerant of them, while others will avoid human contact whatsoever.
This article will explain why this is the case and how you can build a bond with a horse to earn a hug or good physical contact. We will also touch on how some horses have been trained to give hugs.
Why do some horses like hugs?
In the wild, horses live in herds with multiple other horses. They form bonds through physical contact like grooming, scratching with their teeth, sharing breath, and other forms of touching.
Horses enjoy scratching each other’s backs by wrapping their necks over the other horse’s front shoulder and placing their extended necks over the other’s back so their mouths can reach the scratchable areas.
I personally have seen my horses do this; their chests will be touching in this position-almost like a hug.
It is through physical contact that horses survive. They seek affection and asylum in a herd, not only from predators but also from the weather and loneliness.
Hugs from a horse’s owner may bring a horse a feeling of acceptance, safety, comfort, and companionship.
A horse may understand this as a positive experience, and it could be a way to build a stronger bond between horse and owner.
Why some horses dislike hugging?
Not all horses are domesticated.
They lived in the wild (some still do) and used instinct to survive. Many of these horses were hunted by wild predators for food, and they had to use their hooves, swiftness, and cunning to outmaneuver these threats to their lives.
If a creature outside the horse’s accepted family or herd approaches a horse, it can get spooked, defensive and nervous.
It might close off and be unreceptive to any form of contact because it may perceive the outsider as a threat.
Some horses might not accept the bond.
Horses may run away or fight back, especially if they feel cornered. It is important to never make a horse feel unsafe. The horse may injure themselves trying to fight or flee, or even you yourself may get hurt.
A horse may not like a hug because it does not have a good bond with the person offering the hug. Trust is essential for a close physical bond.
A horse may also not like a lot of physical contact outside of scratches, being brushed, or face and body petting.
They each have their preferences, and the only way to find out if a hug is acceptable, liked, or tolerated, would be to firstly have a good bond with the horse before any attempt to give a hug.
In my personal experience as a horse owner, I attempted to give some of my horses a hug. I have good bonds with all of them.
When I approached and attempted a hug, some horses ran away, perhaps confused about my intention or because they weren’t entirely comfortable with the idea.
The other horses seemed to tolerate my hugs, not seeming to love or hate the hug. However, what they fought over were the treats I brought them.
Do horses understand the meaning of a hug?
Horses are smart
Horses have a keen intellect, especially when it comes to bonds. They might not understand a hug the same way we do, but they are believed to understand its significance.
Horses also don’t hug the same way that we do. When they give a hug, they use their neck and head. They wrap their neck around us, resting their head on our shoulders and back.
Horses are fantastic emotional support animals, coming to the aid of a human’s negative emotions by comforting them with touch.
In fact, horses are so good at this that there are therapy programs that incorporate them into it. This is called equine therapy.
Horses might like giving humans hugs because they understand it is one of our ways of conveying the emotion of love, and they find joy in making us, their companions, happy.
Some horses have been taught to give hugs, and your horse might be able to be taught too. This is accomplished through positive rewards, time, and patience.
A horse owner may use a treat or clicker to coax their horse to rest their head over their shoulder. The owner might hold the treat above their shoulder, then move it to their opposite hip behind them so the horse will want to place their head over their owner’s shoulder.
Who should hug a horse?
Anyone can hug a docile horse, but it is best to follow good procedures before even approaching one.
It is in everyone’s best interest (including the horse’s) if the person approaching the horse either already has a bond with it or is being escorted to it by its owner.
The horse owner will have the best understanding of their horse and its temperament, can read the horse’s body language, and can help prevent any injury that could come from such a large creature.
Proper ways to hug a horse include hugging them around the withers, around the neck, and sometimes around the legs.
However, this method is only recommended if the horse is very calm since horses can sometimes get skittish when touching their legs or hooves.
Those who would likely be using this method would be children or other people who are not tall enough to reach the horse’s withers or neck, and they could get really injured if it is not a calm horse they are attempting to hug.
In the case of a child or new person hugging a horse, it is advised that they are closely observed and always have an experienced person (or the horse’s owner) with them.
Building a bond with your horse so it will accept a hug
Always read a horse’s mood before attempting to approach or hug it. It’s not likely you will embrace your horse every time you approach it, so make sure your horse is in a good mood before attempting a hug or other close physical contact.
Do’s and don’t’s when approaching your horse.
These are some good tips when approaching your horse:
- Walk calmly
- Stay upright
- Talk gently
- Be confident
These are some behaviors that are not encouraged when handling your horse:
- Don’t approach too slowly
- Don’t approach crouched like a predator
- Don’t wave your arms or in a wild way
- Don’t yell or make loud noises
- Don’t display nervousness (horses can sense our feelings and may mirror them).
Reading body language
Horses will display their emotions through body language. If a horse is running away, trying to flee, or has its ears pinned back, they are unhappy with the individual approaching them or the situation.
Just as horses build good relationships through contact and body language, they also build negative relationships by pinning their ears back flat on their heads, biting, kicking, and pawing at each other with their hooves.
It is important to build a good physical relationship with them, so they will accept you and possibly allow you a hug.
Building trust and a relationship with your horse
Good ways to build a relationship with your horse include visiting your horse often, grooming them (including brushing them in hard-to-reach places), giving them treats and massages, and spending a lot of time with them to create memories.
The more time you give your horse, including outside of time meant for working (rides, training, etc.), the more your horse will trust you.
Your horse will crave your companionship, and it may invoke the desire for your horse to have a close physical bond with you, pushing it closer to tolerating and possibly hugging you.
As far as studies have gone, no one is certain if horses definitively like hugs or not. It seems all horses have different personalities and preferences, ranging from liking hugs to strongly disliking them.
We understand the importance of building a solid bond with a horse through positive acts to understand their hug preferences, to train them to give a hug, or even to safely give them a warm embrace.
It is important to read the horse’s mood and have an experienced owner nearby when attempting to hug an unknown horse.
Always remember to respect a horse’s space and feelings of safety so the horse and you won’t gain any injury and so the horse doesn’t become nervous or anxious around you.
Considering all the above, we can assume that if a horse is given the option between a hug or a carrot, a carrot will likely win out in the end.