What Does It Mean When A Horse Nudges You With His Nose?

Horses’ nostrils and sense of smell are very sensitive. In fact, horses communicate a great deal with their noses. What does it mean when a horse nudges you with his nose, snorts or blows through his nostrils? In this article, we explore these nosy questions and more.

Horse Nosy Questions

1. Why does a horse nudge you with his nose?

Horses who are used to getting treats may tend to nudge as a reminder that a treat is desired. They may also use this sort of nudging as a way of getting attention, pets and scratching.

2. Why does a horse sometimes put his nose in your face?

Horses are very social, and they also use their lips and muzzles to explore interesting things and to show affection.

A friendly, outgoing horse might bring his nose to your face to get to know you. If he already knows you, he may just want to greet you or show affection.

3. Why do horses blow through their nostrils when meeting each other?

This is a sign of affection and also a way of exchanging information. Some very friendly horses may want to blow in your nostrils.

If you’re not opposed to this, it can be a nice way of bonding with your horse. Take care not to do this with horses who are unknown quantities.

There are some horse germs that can negatively impact humans (such as the one that causes the disease known as strangles).

4. Why do horses need to gather information with their noses?

A horse’s field of vision is not like ours because their eyes are not in front. Instead, with eyes to the sides of the head, horses have binocular vision.

This leaves them with a blind spot directly in front. For this reason, they tend to gather information with their lips and noses.

5. Why do horses blow forcefully through their nostrils when no people or other horses are present?

A horse who seems excited, paces, trots or canters back and forth and tosses his head snorting may be testing the breeze for scents of other horses or other interesting things that are out of sight but not out of scent.

You’ll see this behavior more often on windy days when interesting and unusual smells may be blown your way.

6. Why do horses blow forcefully through their nostrils after running or other exercise?

Just like people, horses naturally breathe heavily during exercise. Sometimes after a gallop in the pasture or good workout, a horse may snort and blow as a way of cooling down.

This can also be taken as a sign of relaxation and tension release after a good workout.

7. Why do horses turn their upper lips inside out sometimes?

This comical expression is called the Flehmen response, and it serves to expose the vomeronasal organ, which is a structure that’s found under the upper lip.

Horses may display this expression in response to a wide variety of smells, both pleasant and unpleasant. It allows them to take in more of the scent and process it.

8. Is it all right for a horse to nudge you with his nose?

Your interactions with horses can be a lot like your interactions with people. You need to set the boundaries for what is comfortable and uncomfortable for you.

Even if a horse has no intentions other than to get a closer look at you, make friends with you or elicit some affection or treats, if you don’t like it you should not allow it to happen.

A well behaved horse will stop this behavior if you firmly push his head away or push or tap on his chest to make him back up.

Badly behaved horses may simply use this behavior as a way of invading your space and showing disrespect.

Horses who have been spoiled with treats may show this behavior as a way of forcing you to give them treats. This can quickly escalate into nipping and biting if it is not stopped.

Although the presenter of this video seems to believe that the mare’s nose bumps and nibbling are intended to be affectionate, a look at the horse’s backed ears and overall irritable expression belies this belief.

This mare is actually being quite obnoxious and should be corrected.

Crowding and relentless nudging, bumping and nipping are unacceptable under any circumstances.

You’ll need to take firm measures to retrain a badly behaved horse to respect your boundaries.

This can be difficult, and it may even be necessary to engage the services of a professional trainer.

Trying to understand the horse behavior a bit better? Here are our guides on why horses show their teeth, and why they yawn.

Frequently Asked Questions

what does it mean when a horse nudges you with his nose Frequently Asked Questions
1. How can you tell if a horse is aggressive?

If a horse lays his ears back, flares his nostrils and/or thrusts his nose toward you, he is expressing aggression. This is especially true if he bares his teeth.

2. Do flared nostrils always mean aggression?

No, sometimes flared nostrils can mean something smells interesting. A horse may flare his nostrils when meeting another horse or when meeting you, just to get a whiff of you and better understand you. If flared nostrils are your only clue, get it in context. Read the room to determine what else is going on and see what the horse may be responding to.

3. How can you tell if a horse is calm?

A horse who is standing quietly with relaxed ears is typically calm. If he is very relaxed he may be looking away, smacking his lips or even yawning.

4. How can you tell if a horse is happy?

A horse who is happy to see you will whinny at you. He may come trotting or even galloping to see you. A horse who is just happy to be alive will romp and buck in the field. He may roll in the grass just for the sheer joy of it.

5. What does it mean if my horse keeps pushing me with his head or bumping into me with his shoulder?

These are signs of disrespect. He is not respecting your space. You’ll need to focus on groundwork and on teaching him to stay out of your personal space unless he is invited in. Luckily, most horses can be taught to back off with a firm NO and a quickly and firmly raised palm directed toward the horse’s face. (The classic traffic-cop signal for STOP.) Never be tentative about this. Be firm and decisive in your voice command and action.

8 thoughts on “What Does It Mean When A Horse Nudges You With His Nose?”

    • As others have said, the way a horse is raised and treated has a great deal to do with how gentle it is no matter the breed. Having said that, there are some breeds of horses that are naturally “hotter” than others,(e.g. Thoroughbreds, Arabians and others) and there are some that are known for being quiet and level headed. For example, the Norwegian Fjord is a small draft type horse that is very versatile and well known for its sensible behavior and gentle nature. Even so, with all horses nurture can easily override nature.


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