One of the reasons I think we love horses, is the ability to 'love on' our horses. I know that if at the end of the day I have dirt under my nails because I got to scratch my horses all over, I'm a happy woman.
But horses have their own feelings about receiving physical attention from people. Sometimes horses don't want to receive this attention. Giving animals a sense of choice and control over things like receiving attention has many positive benefits - for the individual animal and the relationship they have with that person. Do you know the Three Second Rule for petting horses? The Three Second Rule began in the dog world, as a way to teach people to recognize how a dog may feel about being petted. In short, pet your dog for three seconds and then stop. Does the dog solicit for more, or do they walk away, appear uncomfortable, or show other signs indicating they aren’t interested?
I like to use this rule with my own horses, and those I meet at consults. I want the horse to have the ability to communicate ‘No thanks’ or ‘More please’. This short clip demonstrates both of these reactions to receiving physical attention, and how I would respond.
While it may seem counter-intuitive, when we give horses the ability to opt-in or opt-out of this type of interaction, we often will see an increase in the horse's willingness to engage with us in this way.