Approaching a horse

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Approaching a horse

This is a discussion on Approaching a horse within the Horse Talk forums, part of the Keeping and Caring for Horses category
  • How to greet a horse to brush it
  • Approaching strange horses

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    06-04-2012, 12:22 PM
Approaching a horse

Hi from Quebec everyone! I am new here, joined last night. This place looks incredible - there are so many threads, posts and members!

I am overall pretty new to horses. I am turning 26 this month and when I was about 10 yo my parents had my sister and I enrolled in horseback riding classes. We learned nothing but how to ride a horse (a very tolerant and patient horse, must I add! ). Oh yes, we were taught how to brush them, clean their feet, give them apples, and put the saddles on their back. But the trainer never taught us anything about the correct way to approach a horse or how to read their body language. He did tell me about 100 times to "watch for your horse's ears!"... but never thought it would be a good idea to tell me WHAT to watch for and what meant the various ear positions!

Anyways, I joined this forum because my boyfriend and I moved into a new house in December and there is a ranch across the street. We hear horses all the time and sometimes I get to see a few when they are being worked in one of the fenced areas. We bumped into the owners this weekend and they told us we could visit the horses any time we wanted so of course I am interested in going over there and meeting them. But I would like to have a little insight as to what would be the correct way to approach and greet a horse. They will probably be in their stalls and maybe a few will be outside.

I am not planning on riding any time soon - I am more interested in learning about their behaviors and body language and possibly working on building a bond with one of them at the ranch across the street. Any advice, book recommendation, anything - will be greatly appreciated!
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    06-04-2012, 12:52 PM
Hi Vale Nice to meet you
Good luck with your horse adventure
    06-04-2012, 01:01 PM
Hi Vale, welcome to the forum, nice to see another person from Quebec on here!

Well one thing to look out for is if a horse pins his/her ears straight back he's probably going to bite or kick (depends where you are standing at that moment lol.) Look at the horses muzzle/lips too some give a sign with ears and muzzle.
    06-04-2012, 01:04 PM
Hi vale! Welcome to the forum! :)
I'm glad you are interested in getting back into horses, even if it just interacting with them from the ground. Truthfully, that's often when you can learn the most about them.
In terms of approaching them in a pasture/paddock/pen, I would do the following: Relax your shoulders, release any intent from your posture. You're just there to make friends, take a leisurely stroll, yes? Walk towards the point of their shoulder, not directly towards their head. Talk sweet, audibly announce your presence. When you reach the animal, I always tell folks to give a scratch on the neck rather than pet the face, which is what people usually want to do. You wouldn't want to be rubbed on your nose, would you?
As far as watching ears, ears pricked forward or turned towards you as you stand at their shoulder are both okay. They are alert, curious, listening to you. Ears pinned flat against the head are a no-no. Get away if that happens.

Approaching a horse in a stall is a different story. It is a confined space and therefore leaves little room for you to escape should you need to. I would not do this alone the first time, maybe with their owner present. Approach at the point of the shoulder, speak calmly, with relaxed body language, same as before. Try to keep the stall door to your back, so you may exit quickly if need be. And remember, watch those ears! Most horses loves brushing, so I'd try that first if you want to have them relax in your presence.

Good luck, enjoy your new equine friends, and I hope I helped!
    06-04-2012, 01:28 PM
You might really want to check around your area, see if you can find a trainer that will work with you about a horse on the ground, let them show you. It's better than trying to read about it. Though you can learn a lot from reading, it's better if you have someone knowledgeable to show you too.

    06-04-2012, 01:36 PM
Vale, if you enter the field with loose horses, always carry a stout stick at least 4' long, or a dressage whip. When horses clamor to see the new person, often in hopes of food, they get to sqabbling amongst themselves and forget that a person is there. By waving the stick side to side, not quickly, about waist high, they will keep their distance. When in the barn in front of a box stall, extend your fist in a downward position. If the horse is interested he will come and touch your hand. Be sure he comes the last inch, not you to him. That is how horses greet each other.
    06-04-2012, 01:50 PM
Saddlebag, although I can see your point, I would never - ever- suggest that to someone who knows nothing about horses and how to act around them. If I owned the ranch and someone came into my field with a 4' stick, I would throw them out.

I would not recommend a newbie to horses to enter an open pasture with strange horses by themselves.

Have the owner show you how he would like for you to handle his horses.
    06-04-2012, 01:52 PM
Hello Vale. There are many great books to read about horse language including Parelli. However, always remember herd behaviour when approaching an established group of horses. Yes, ear pinning is a warning but body position ( talk to the butt ) is equally important. A relaxed horse lowers his head and will lick and chew. A direct look with pawing can be a threat. I'm not sure what your neighbor intended but perhaps they would let you handle just 1 at a time...much safer bonding situation. Good luck!
    06-04-2012, 04:16 PM
I agree with Iridehorses; you will not want your first meeting with them to be out in the field without some help from the owner.
ONce you become more secure, then it isn't such a bad idea to have something in hand to "push" the horses away, if necessary.
But first , you have to learn how to push them away, and when they need to be corrected in this way.

I think it's wonderful that you wnat to learn how to approach them. REally, they will approach you. You just have to let them, but not to the point where they walk over you.

So, stand without "intent" as someone said. Just peaceful like. When the horse starts to approach you, I often step toward the horse when I see them getting in pretty close. This tell them that they have entereed MY space and I will kind of stop their approach, which puts things on my sayso as to how close I let the horse come. But, this depends on how the horse is approaching me.

If he walks up to me somewhat hesitantly and cautiously, I allow him to approach as much as he will, because he probably wont' get too close. I then reach forward and I do stroke the nose, but first using the back of my hand and letting the horse sniff it.

If he approaches me with a sense of "I own this human", then I step forward with a bit of firmness in my body, when the horse is about 6 feet away and make the horse stop. I set the amount he can approach me. If he gets closer, I will make him back up. I can usually just use my body, by kind of stomping on the ground, or swishing my arms a bit. You'd have to see it to be able to imitate it.

There are some horses in the herd where my lease horse is boarded that are persistant in their desire to get on top of me. I have to use a lead rope , swung like a propeller, to get them to change their minds. IT's my fault that they do this, because I bring treats to feed my horse, and the others know it.
    06-05-2012, 10:28 AM
Bonjour again everyone! Thank you all for the warm welcome and the great advice!

A few things I want to clarify:

The stalls are closed enclosures and I have absolutely no intention of going IN there! I'm more thinking of greeting them through the gate. I'm guessing letting them sniff me or come to me is the way to go. Should I calmly call them? Is it better to avoid bothering them when they are eating (I really am new to this thing I'm just so much more used to dogs than horses...!)?

Also, I would never ever go into a field by myself with loose horses around! It never crossed my mind - I don't know enough about horses or their behaviors to attempt this kind of thing. But the info was great regarding the stick. It might just be months or years before I have to use this trick, heehee

I love the idea of brushing or finding someone in my area that would teach me in person. There are about 4 or 5 more places with horses a street away from mine (including the place where I took the classes as a child but I heard it's been sold!). Oh just as a side note - I've looked up the definition of "ranch" and realized it might not be what the place across the street really is... I'm not sure what would be the correct translation It is really just a place where they keep horses and give classes and everything relating to horses. Nothing else there besides two dogs and many horses. There is a stable and I'm guessing the horses are not all owned by my neighbors.

It's good to know regarding some horses' pushy behaviors when treats are involved. It totally makes sense. But as I said I am not going to enter an open pasture by myself for many months to come!

Thank you so much again for your replies everyone!

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