Monday, September 19, 2011

Why Does My Horse Groom Me?

I was wondering if it’s normal for my horse to groom me. I’ve searched high and low on the internet and can’t find anything about horses grooming their owners. I haven’t even heard of other horse people experiencing this with their horses. What does it mean? Should I let him do this to me? He doesn’t hurt me and he isn’t pushy about it but rather quite gentle and sincere (if that makes any sense). Typically he does this as a response to my scratching/rubbing his neck, back or withers. This is my first horse; I adopted him from a rescue 18 months ago. He was very sick and lame when I adopted him so the first 8 months I couldn’t do anything but hang out with him in his stall and in pasture. Does he think I’m another horse?

If you watch other horses together in pasture, they perform "mutual grooming". They'll stand next to each other facing opposite directions. One will start grooming, or gently nibbling, at the other horse's withers. Then the groomed horse will begin nibbling or grooming at the first horse's withers. They'll generally groom along the withers and neck, and sometimes onto the back. They are gentle and it is a herd behavior that promotes closer ties in the herd. And it feels good to them.

So sometimes while a human is grooming her horse, especially if the human is using a curry comb or scratching with her fingers, her horse will turn around and try to groom her back. I don't allow my horses to groom me - I'm not a horse and don't want to be treated like a horse. Once you allow your horse to treat you like a horse, you open yourself to being on the receiving end of dominance behaviors like biting and kicking as well as comfort behaviors like grooming.

I keep my horses tied when they're being groomed, and if one does reach around to groom me, I gently push their head away from me. I don't hit them, slap them, or make a big deal of it. I either use my open hand on their cheek to push their head away, or I tug on their halter or lead rope to push their head away. After a few times, most horses understand that you don't want to be groomed and they leave you alone.

Your horse will still enjoy the scratching and grooming, though, and that is a great way to help him relax with you, trust you and bond with you. So enjoy your grooming time - without being mutually groomed!

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