Do Horses Like to Be Hugged? – Is the Feeling Mutual?

Do horses like to be hugged


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Hugging is just one of the many ways that people show affection to their horses. There is nothing better than wrapping your arms around your horse and snuggling your face into their neck. But do horses like to be hugged? Or is it something that they tolerate simply because it does not hurt them?

Most horses like to be hugged, as they are social creatures who can recognize emotion. A hug mimics one of a horse’s natural behaviors, and so many horses like to be hugged as a show of affection. However, to enjoy a hug, the horse must be comfortable around humans first.

While horses enjoy hugs, there are a variety of different ways they express emotions. Because they don’t have arms, they have developed other ways to show affection. Read on to learn more about how to show affection to your horse.

Why Do Horses Like to Be Hugged?

By nature, horses are social animals. They like to interact with other horses, dogs, sheep, humans, or goats, to name a few. There are many stories of horses forming strong bonds with their owners or other animals. This is why it is generally recommended that horses be kept with another horse or animal for companionship.

Hugs involve gentle touch or leaning. Since horses cannot talk, they rely mostly on body language and touch to communicate. Horses like hugs because it mimics the behaviors they use to show affection towards each other.

do horses like to be hugged
Image by JackieLou DL from Pixabay

Do Horses Hug Humans Back?

Some owners report that when they hug their horse, the horse will hug them back. This usually involves the horse wrapping their head and neck around the person.

This act does increase physical touch and pressure, which is the natural behavior horses use to show affection.

Legendary horseman Buck Brannaman once said that “the horse is a mirror to your soul.” This means that horses can read your body language to decide if they should engage with you or not. Humans don’t often use body language to communicate, so we are less aware of it than horses are. It is difficult for us to hide our emotions when it comes to body language.

There are many reports that horses know when humans are feeling angry, sad, or upset. Horses are being increasingly used in rehabilitation and mental health centers for humans.

They offer comfort through nuzzling, breathing on you, or standing closely. This is how the horse offers a ‘hug’ to a human using its natural behaviors. This claim has been backed by science. Studies have shown that horses can detect human emotion based on body language, tone of voice, and facial expression.

Additionally, research has shown that horses are able to remember the emotions expressed by different people. If you meet a horse while you are angry, they are able to remember that for your next encounter (source).

Do Horses Like to Be Hugged By Each Other?

Horses hug each other, but not in the same way that people do. They use different behaviors to show their affection toward each other. These behaviors often involve some kind of physical touch, which is similar to a hug.

The most common behavior is for two horses to groom each other. This is where two horses stand next to each other, facing each other’s tails. They nuzzle or gently nip each other’s necks, withers, or backs.

Each horse will move to show the other where it likes to be groomed. This is an activity that horses use to bond with each other and to show affection to members of their herd.

horses grooming each other
Image by Admiral_Lebioda from Pixabay

Another behavior you might see is when horses sniff each other’s noses for extended periods of time. This is commonly referred to as ‘sharing air’. While it is a way for horses to greet each other, it is also a way for two horses to show affection.

Horses tend to also rest in groups, and stand close together. You may see horses standing so close that they are touching or very slightly leaning against each other. Some horses may rest their heads on their herd mates while they rest. These are all different forms of touch that horses use for bonding and affection.

What Are Some Other Ways Horses Show Affection?

There are some other ways that horses show affection that do not involve physical touch. The most obvious is when the horse whinnies when it sees you, or comes when you call. This indicates that the horse is happy to see you, and enjoys spending time with you. This can also be seen when horses wait for you at the gate or stand and watch you leave.

If a horse is relaxed around you, that is another sign of affection and trust. Horses are prey animals, meaning that they are constantly on alert for possible threats. If they are relaxed, they trust you to take care of them and protect them.

What Does a Hug Mean to The Horse?

Hugs don’t carry the same level of meaning to horses as they do to humans.

To humans, hugs are a way of showing affection, love, or comfort, and are used in a variety of situations. The meaning of the hug can change depending on the situation in which it is given. A hug between two acquaintances at a funeral is likely to be very different from a hug between two lovers.

To the horse, a hug is simply a form of affectionate body contact. It does not carry the same variety of meanings as it does to humans. However, gentle body contact or leaning is one way that horses communicate affection to one another. Hugging is one way humans can show love to horses, and it has a similar effect to grooming or massage.

Horses like to be hugged because it is a gesture meaning love and affection. This is because hugs mimic the physical touch horses use to show care toward each other.

Horses likely do not recognize the situation that they are receiving the hug in. They can only interpret it as affectionate touch, and may connect it with the emotion you have at the time.

Where Does a Horse Like to Be Hugged?

The most common place to hug a horse is around the middle or base of the neck. Most people will stand on one side of the horse, wrap both arms around the neck and rest their hands near the withers.

When you hug a horse here, you could also imitate grooming by scratching their withers at the same time.

Other places horses can be hugged include around the head, stomach, or hindquarters. Each of these areas should be hugged with caution.

A horse’s head is more sensitive, as well as being heavy and able to move quickly. Some horses will tolerate a hug around their head; however, others will find this distressing.

You are unlikely to be able to wrap your arms completely around the stomach or girth of the horse. This area can be another place to give a hug or to lean gently on your horse, but be careful of horses who are sensitive around their girth. Horses with stomach ulcers or other stomach ailments are also unlikely to enjoy hugs in this area.

Some horses like to be hugged around their hindquarters, or enjoy a gentle scratch in this area. Be very careful if hugging the hind end of a horse, as you may get kicked if the horse objects.

Some children hug horses around the front legs if they cannot reach any higher. Some horses will reach down to nuzzle or sniff if they feel someone hugging their legs. Others may not enjoy the sensation and move away or strike. This is generally not recommended, as if the horse moves suddenly the person is in a very dangerous position.

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How Can You Tell if Horses Want to Be Hugged?

Before hugging a horse, you need to evaluate its body language and make sure that the horse is happy to receive a hug.

The horse needs to be relaxed, and allow you to approach without becoming upset. If you do not know the horse, allow it to sniff and greet you before you attempt to give it a hug. Approach quietly and try to mimic the horse’s natural behavior. Don’t go running with your arms out like you are greeting a long-lost friend – the horse will see this as aggressive.

Do not attempt to hug a horse that is giving you clear signs to stay out of its space. These signs include flattened ears, bared teeth, showing the whites of the eyes, or turning away. Horses that are really upset may resort to charging or kicking at you.

These horses are not ready for a hug from a human just yet – instead, use some of the other bonding behaviors that do not involve touch. Spend time standing quietly near the horse and let them make the decision to approach. Over time, you might be able to progress to stroking or scratching, then hugging.

Final Thoughts

The majority of horses like to be hugged, as a hug mimics the natural behavior they use to show affection. Horses don’t necessarily value hugs in the same way as humans do, however, they enjoy the gentle touch involved. We can mimic other behaviors, such as grooming, scratching, stroking, or massage to further bond with horses.

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