What’s The Best Way To Pet A Horse [8 Useful Tips]?

If you’re new to horses, understanding how to approach and interact with a horse is one of the first and most important things that you should learn. In this article, we explain some of the concepts surrounding approaching, interacting with and successfully petting horses. Read on to learn more on how to pet a horse.

How To Pet A Horse – Few Useful Tips

how to greet a horse

1. Proceed With Calm And Caution

Remember that every horse is an individual with different experiences and preferences and should be treated as such. This is why it’s important not to just rush up to horse and start petting. Aside from the possibility of startling the horse, you run the real risk of being injured if you rush around and take a horse by surprise.

Horses are not like dogs, they do not automatically welcome pets and hugs and kisses. When you see a horse for the first time, begin by simply observing it. Watch how it interacts with other horses or with people. A horse’s body language and expressions can tell you a great deal.

2. Determine What The Horse May Be Telling You

For example, if a horse tosses his head, pins his ears and/or moves away, it’s pretty obvious that he does not like whatever is happening.

On the other hand, if he lowers his head, reaches forward with his nose, makes eye contact and/or moves forward, these are signs that the horse feels confident and comfortable and is interested in what’s going on.

Once you got an idea of how the horse is feeling about circumstances in general, you can make your approach. It’s best to approach a horse at an angle towards the left side of his head and his left shoulder.

3. Be Careful Not To Seem Aggressive Or Threatening

Approaching head on can be seen as confrontational and may be met with a bite. Approaching from the back can be seen as a sneak attack and may be met with a kick.

When you approach calmly at an angle towards the horse’s left side with your arms and hands down, you’re more likely to be seen as nonthreatening.

4. Use Your Voice In A Comforting Way

Speak quietly and calmly to the horse as you approach.

  • Don’t talk in high-pitched baby talk.
  • Don’t engage in an animated conversation with someone else.
  • Don’t talk on your cell phone.

Give the horse your full attention and speak in a gathered and self-controlled manner.

5. Move Your Hands Carefully And With Purpose

If the horse does not shy from you or seem startled in any way, you can calmly raise your hand no higher than your own shoulder level to stroke the middle of his neck, in the front of his left shoulder.

Don’t pat, scratch, tickle or touch lightly. Use firm, confident strokes in the direction in which the horse’s hair grows. If he turns to look at you, you should politely turn your whole body to look at him.

If he sniffs you, you can calmly reach your hand up to stroke the side of his face along the jaw. Don’t try to stroke or pet the front of his face as horses don’t generally tend to like this.

6. Respect The Horse’s Space

If he moves away from you and doesn’t seem to want to be touched, respect that. Don’t be pushy. Just stand by calmly and wait for him to approach you. It may even help to turn away and gaze off at something in the distance as this will pique his curiosity.

7. Allow The Horse To Get Used To You

If you’re getting to know a horse who is not used to being handled or who is a rescue, you may spend a lot of time just being in his presence before you are ever able to touch or pet him. If this is the case, do quiet tasks around the barn or paddock or bring a book (not an electronic device) sit quietly and wait for the horse to approach you.

8. Don’t Rush!

When you are able to touch him, just take your time talking with the horse and stroking his neck, shoulders and withers, firmly and calmly. As you get to know him better and feel more confident handling him, you can stroke his back, hips and sides. Don’t try this too soon, though.

Remember that you are a stranger and the horse may not trust you to touch him. A startled or anxious horse is far more likely to shy, kick or even bite, so take your time and keep your wits about you. If you are calm, the horse will be calm and all will go well.

How To Approach A Horse

Nicky Ellis
Nicky has been an editor at Horses & Foals since 2017. Horses have been in her life from her earliest memories, and she learned to ride a horse when she was 5. She is a mom of three who spends all her free time with her family and friends, her mare Joy, or just sipping her favorite cup of tea.


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