Horses really know how to lighten up our lives at the best of times. They often have funny little quirks that keep us smiling, but in complete contrast have some annoying habits and behaviors that we wished they would just stop with. Either way, we always seem to be curious about their behavior and manage to accept it one way or another.
One habit you will notice quite often when being around horses is their need to nudge you with both their nose and head. They will usually catch you off guard with this behavior and it can be intriguing to know why exactly they do this.
We recently got asked the question of what it means when a horse nudges you with his nose and we thought we would take a deeper look into why they like to do this and what it actually means.
So, what does it mean when a horse nudges you with his nose? Horses can nudge you with their nose for a variety of reasons. The key reasons are likely to be: pushing you out of the way, encouraging you to give them treats, rudeness, itching, and affection. Sometimes it just genuinely means they want to play.
As you can see there are some positives and negatives to this type of behavior depending on why your horse chooses to do this and how you personally feel about these reasons.
What does it mean when a horse nuzzles you?
There are many reasons why a horse chooses to nuzzle and nudge you. Some of this type of behavior can be classed as quite sweet and welcoming, but you will usually find for the most part it is classed as an undesirable behavior that needs to stop.
Let’s look at some of the reasons why a horse may choose to nuzzle you and what you can do to prevent this behavior if you so wish.
“Get out of my way”
Sometimes you are in the way! It’s as simple as that. A horse may choose to nuzzle or nudge you when they are asking you to move out of their way.
A typical example of this may be when you are in the stable with your horse tacking them up and are quite innocently standing right in front of the hay rack. Your horse can then not get to their hay so they are asking you to remove yourself by providing you with a nuzzle as a reminder.
This may seem cute, but in most equestrians’ eyes, this is rude behavior and should be discouraged. In the case of the example above your horse should not really be eating their hay with their tack on anyway.
A small tap on their shoulder with your hand should be enough to let them know that you are not accepting this behavior.
Horses love nothing more than a tasty snack. I mean, don’t we all? Horse’s will quite literally mug you and search all your pockets if they think a delicious treat is hiding somewhere for them (this is a great choice if you’re looking for a new horse treat).
This can result in your horse nuzzling and nudging you. They are effectively saying to you ‘where’s my treat?’ ‘I want it now’.
This is another rude behavior that should be stopped straight away. One of the problems we see with horses time and time again is food aggression. When your horse starts nuzzling you for treats this is most definitely the slippery slope to becoming food aggressive which you will want to avoid at all costs.
The best way to discourage this behavior is by allowing your horse to have their treats as part of their regular feed rather than from out of your hand directly. They will then not have that association with your pockets and treats anymore.
Sometimes horse’s nudge and nuzzle us for quite genuine reasons. They do not have paws like a cat or dog does and therefore are unable to often scratch that itch that has been annoying them the whole morning. They see you enter the stable and they can’t help but think what a good scratching post you would make. Cue the nuzzling!
This is quite a debatable subject and not everyone sees this behavior in the same way. Some believe that this is still classed as rudeness and you must nip it in the bud straight away. Other equestrians find this quite endearing and feel quite sorry for their equine friend not being able to itch themselves when they need to.
It may all seem quite cute in the beginning, but we can assure you if it happens too often the novelty will wear a bit thin. After all nuzzling and nudging with a bridle on actually hurts quite a bit and you may come away with some painful scratches and leather burn.
Horses can be particularly playful sometimes. We see this often with young horses and foals where they are at the stage in there life which to them is just means fun, fun, fun.
Older horses can sometimes still be pretty playful too. They like to nudge and nuzzle each other in the field and they are likely to try this with you too.
We could say that horses at a young age don’t know any better, but it is down to you to show them what is right and what is wrong early on. Otherwise, you could end up with a heavy 16hh warmblood on your hands that is boisterous and has no manners. These types of horses can be particularly hard to manage.
It is in your best interest to nip this type of behavior in the bud early on to avoid potential hazards later on in life.
It may seem strange to disapprove of a small nudge or nuzzle, but it can become very irritating after a while particularly when you are trying to handle your horse on the ground. The reality is that too much messing around can cause accidents.
We have to be honest, some horses are just plain rude! Many people see nuzzling and nudging as a way of affection and in some cases this is true, but this behavior is usually out of rudeness on the horse’s part.
We have to remember that in a human/equine relationship there always has to be a leader, and that leader needs to be you.
Horses are far too big and potentially dangerous to be able to walk all over us and we are often required to stand out ground with them. Without a leader, a horse has no direction and this couldn’t be any truer a word then when you are in the saddle.
Occasionally nudging and nuzzling is a sign of affection, but most commonly it is used against us as a sign of dominance that you should try to discourage at all costs. In recap, some types of horse nudging you want to try and avoid are:
- Pushing you out the way (possible to get to something)
- Hassling and pushing you for treats and food
- When a horse has an itch and wants to use you as a convenient scratching post
- Young horses at play (they have plenty of friends to do this with in the field already)
- For no reason other than pure rudeness
What does it mean when a horse rests his head on your shoulder?
When a horse rests his head on your shoulder, it is often a similar behavior to when a horse nudges or nuzzles you.
It is true to say a horse’s head on your shoulder is usually a pretty peaceful one and is nowhere near as irritating, however, there are still some things you may want to consider:
- Your horse is once again showing dominance over you.
- Your horse’s head on your shoulder may seem rather cute and loving however they have effectively invaded your space (which horses are very good at we’d like to add).
- When a horse invades your space in this way this behavior could follow through to other areas of handling such as leading which can be a hazard to you.
- Horses’ heads are pretty heavy and if they were to become startled and scared will likely throw their head up in the air which could leave you with injuries to the facial area (think broken noses).
- It is important to remember that as with all actions you must initiate, not the horse.
- It is inevitable that as human beings we seek affection from our horses. This is perfectly understandable and we do not question this, but we must understand that not all actions are what they seem.
- A horse resting their head on your shoulder is not usually them showing you affection or love, even though it may seem that way. They are trying to reign dominance over you.
- A horse’s world is all about dominance and submission. They do not love in the same way us humans do.