To answer this question, you first have to consider your definition of love. Horses may not love each other in the same capacity of a human loving another human. Subsequently, the love you feel for your horse may not be exactly reciprocated. But a horse can certainly feel — and give — affection.
It’s about trust
Like any relationship, don’t rush things. Your horse has to trust you in order to let you get close. It is not easy for a horse. As prey animals by nature, their instincts are to be on guard. Take your time and build up trust between you and your horse. Longtime horseman Franklin Levinson from “Way of the Horse” writes that “love, respect and trust are basically the same thing for a horse.” These things must be earned. His advice to his readers is that horses respect leadership and this can be done by directing movement on the ground before attempting to ride. “Unfortunately, it is always the first thing done with horses,” he writes, “when it should be the last. Gaining knowledge of horses should always be the first thing taught.”
Take his lead
Let your horse make the first move. Earned trust and respect cannot be rushed and you should wait for your horse to offer some signs of affection before returning the gesture. Study your horse’s body language and learn when he is relaxed and comfortable enough for you to get close. Levinson tells us that horses are either receiving or giving affection, not both at the same time. So when your horse offers you attention, take it without immediately offering affection back. “Keep your hands and arms down,” he suggests. “Let them nuzzle you and gently bring their heads to you. Be still and quiet with your mind and body if you want to join with them.”
Cuddling and purring
Learn how your horse shows affection. It’s not the same as you and I or even the same as other animals, like your dogs or cats. Humans cuddle, a horse will nuzzle. While a cat will purr, a horse will nicker. Our first reaction with a horse is often to touch their face as a sign of affection. This is a gesture that horses are unfamiliar with, as they do not “touch” in the same way we do. Reversely, horses are fond of licking and kissing, which can make a human feel uncomfortable. A hug is often a mutual sign of affection between a human and horse, but wait for your horse’s green light before putting your arms around his neck. And remember, that every horse is different. Take your time to learn about your horse’s temperament and personality in order to learn how to give and receive affection.
Return the favor
We’ve said this many times before — one of the best ways to bond with your horse is grooming him. It is a relaxing activity for both you and your horse and a great way to get to know one another. To aid in this process, Mane ‘n Tail offers a full line of non-drying, moisturizing, beauty-enhancing cleansing and conditioning grooming products. While grooming, speak in soft tones to your horse and let him get used to your voice. Avoid direct contact with his face, when possible, and be slow and meticulous, especially the first few times. By paying attention during grooming, you can learn what your horse likes and doesn’t like and you’ll be able to win over his affection by repeating gestures he is in favor of.