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Personal space and horses looking for reassurance

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  • Personal space and horses looking for reassurance

    I'm middle of the road on personal space. I don't want their bodies in my space, but I actually like them to nuzzle me as long as they are not being pushy looking for treats. I'm a total sucker for a head hug or muzzle kiss.

    So, I've been doing some massage work with the horses and in a video by Masterson, he says that as you work on the horse and the horse is getting ready to release, the horse may turn and nuzzle you looking for reassurance. Which in fact, they do.

    Which makes my wonder about all the horses out there that are trained to keep all parts, including their heads, out of the handles personal space. (I have a friend who absolutely, under no circumstances, allows the horse to touch them with their heads. Too dangerous, she says). What do they do if they need reassurance? Are these trainers missing an opportunity to be a rock for their horses?

    As an aside, I had a lovely, usually calm, hanoverian brood mare, Grace. just under 17H so a big girl. I had her out in hand and something was going on, I can't remember what, but it had all the horses in an uproar and was a scary situation. And I remember Grace standing tall and watching it all with great concern and as we walked she would turn her head and touch me on the arm to check if I was OK (like I was a foal actually) then return to normal walking, and this continued off an one during the whole uproar. It was the sweetest communication. Her daughters, 4 and 2, do the same thing.
    "The mighty oak is a nut who stood its ground"

    "...you'll never win Olympic gold by shaking a carrot stick at a warmblood..." see u at x

  • #2
    I do the Masterson Method as well and have found the same thing to be true. When I'm working on the hind end the horse will often reach back around with his head and I will reach forward and touch him softly on the nose or cheek - really helps them let go.

    My horse will frequently walk slightly behind me with his muzzle resting in the palm of my cupped hand as we come in from the pasture. I find it completely endearing, sap that I am.

    I think it depends on the horse.


    • #3
      I think it depends on the horses personality more than anything.
      I have one horse who is an odd combination of tough as nails competitor, very bold and brave, yet, when getting vet/farrier work will hang onto my jacket sleeve with his teeth, or lick relentlessly - he gets very insecure when people other than me are doing something around/to him.
      Originally posted by ExJumper
      Sometimes I'm thrown off, sometimes I'm bucked off, sometimes I simply fall off, and sometimes I go down with the ship. All of these are valid ways to part company with your horse.


      • #4
        I used to think that no matter what, the horse shouldn't enter my personal space, I should enter his. But then I took a 4yo TB to a very busy event. He was terrified and practically tried to sit in my lap (nothing pushy, just wanted to be close). Even though I stayed near, I pushed him away. Our relationship was never the same - he never fully trusted me after that.

        That lesson taught me the difference between needing reassurance and being pushy. I never let a horse enter my space if he's being pushy and trying to dominate - even if its in play. But if he's looking to me because he's scared, I'll be there for him.


        • #5
          QHDQ ---
          What an interesting observation! I'm sorry it changed things for you that way though.
          I agree with middle of the road thoughts; generally not allowed in my space but it's okay to have polite conversation, esp if I'm the one who starts it, or gets close first. It always comes down to learning to read the horse.


          • #6
            My take on the matter is that my horses or those I train are not permitted in my space unless I give permission otherwise (which I do regularly) or they ask politely. If they are polite about it, I am perfectly fine with their nuzzling me or such.

            It does depend on the horse's personality though and where they are in their training with me. If it is a horse who tends to naturally be pushy and disrespectful (ie. extrovert), I am more careful about when and how I allow them in my space. However if it is a horse who is naturally very polite and maybe even timid (ie. introvert), my rules are more lax. It all comes down to balance. I have to balance both trust (which includes allowing them in my space and spending friendly, undemanding time with them) and respect with each individual horse. If a horse is starting to become pushy, I might restrict their nuzzling privileges for a bit, to make a point. Then when they are behaving more respectfully in general, well they may come in politely. Such horses I am quicker to correct and slower to allow in my space.

            It depends though but as a general rule, I think a trainer/rider is missing out on a lot and is likely not sufficiently balancing their relationship with their horse if they NEVER allow their horse into their space nor just spend quality time with said horse. It's a fine balance though between never allowing your horse in your space and allowing your horse too much leeway too (ie. horse is generally pushy, causing YOU to move YOUR feet out of his space, etc).
            ....horses should be trained in such a way that they not only love their riders, but look forward to the time they are with them.
            ~ Xenophon, 350 B.C.


            • #7
              It is a fine line.

              My horse was a pushy, mouthy nipper in the beginning. For the longest time I never allowed him to touch me...because his mouthing of course might degrade into a bite.

              But recently, he does sweet things, like hold his nose still on my arm, and gently wiggle his lip. More often, when I am leading him somewhere and he is insecure for whatever reason, he'll walk perfectly calmly next to me -- only with his muzzle touching some part of my arm or back. No wiggling or anything. Just touching.

              I've never disallowed that, even though my trainer has yelled at me multiple times to not let him, out of fear I suppose of him returning to old habits.

              But, I haven't ever sensed anything "wrong" about these little things he does, although sometimes I'm not sure if I should continue to allow him or not. I'm glad to hear I'm not the only one who permits it when it really seems necessary for the horse.


              • Original Poster

                We bought a young (2.5 years) old mare that was taught to stay out of your personal space. She would stand in the cross ties with a glazed look and not interact with you. My husband hated that and started to coax her to interact and she had no idea how to manage her head and would run it into him all the time. Same thing walking in hand. She is a percheron/paint so she has a BIG head.
                Took her a while to manage it, but now she never runs it into us and is so sweet and dainty when she takes treats.
                "The mighty oak is a nut who stood its ground"

                "...you'll never win Olympic gold by shaking a carrot stick at a warmblood..." see u at x


                • #9
                  QHDQ- I think I love you. Of course, working with the rescues changes things in a big way. I can tell the difference between a pushy, mouthy horse and one who simply needs me. When my old pals are scared, worried or just not feeling well, they ask to come into my space cause they need my reassurance. they are more than welcome. They remind me so much of my foster kids and its all ok, its my job.

                  A very funny story sort of. Neighbor dogs had cornered a wild baby pig a few years ago. That baby was screaming something fierce and I wanted to help it. So, I am crossing the field to try and help the pig but being careful that I am not the one attacked by either dogs or pig. Now, the horses had been standing there at full attention, ready to flee the entire time. But, once I started in that direction, they all followed me trying to stay as close to me as possible but behind me. They were peeking over my shoulder the brave souls. And better yet, they thought I would save them from whatever harm was out there. IT was hilarious in its own way but due to them following me and making the entire situation even crazier, I had to give up on saving the pig.
                  When the barn burned as well, I had this entire herd of horses trying to stay as close to me as humanly possible. they simply believe that I will keep all harm from them. Sort of like a dog running to his owner when a bear is behind him, typical. thats what these horses do to me.
                  Our horses are not seen as the old and disabled they may have become, but rather as the mighty steeds they once believed themselves to be.

                  Sunkissed Acres Rescue and Retirement


                  • #10
                    I had to have a couple of come to jesus meetings with my gelding for nipping. I was a bit worried that I'd damage his trust in me--he'd been handled pretty roughly by his previous owners. He's really a sweet, affectionate guy but has crossed the line to pushy and mouthy more than once. We have worked it out and he hasnt pulled a fast one on me in a long time. Yelling at him works as well as thumping him.

                    Both he and the mare seek reassurance from me. The mare isnt as touchy feely as the gelding but although she has actually kicked me she has never offered to bite. Hasnt raised a hoof in anger in over three years now and I have no real concerns about either one of them getting in my space as long as BOTH of them arent doing it at the same time (dont want to get caught in the cross fire--that's pretty much the only reason I'll shoo them away.