One of my non-horsey friends (I know strangely enough they really do exist) came to stay recently and couldn’t believe the way my horses were following me everywhere. She laughed thinking that they were trying to push me around until I explained how I knew they weren’t doing that. This started me thinking though about why horses do actually follow people around.
What does it mean when a horse follows you? Of course, if you have a packet of mints in your pocket most horses will follow you in anticipation. That said if you don’t have any treats and your horse is still following you then it’s a sign of trust and affection, especially if your horse is also mirroring your actions and pace.
It can be a great thing when your horse follows you around, not least because it can make your life much easier when it comes to things like catching them. Regardless of the benefits to us though there can be a number of reasons why a horse will follow their owner around.
Why do horses follow people around?
Being herd animals horses are extremely sociable creatures that use body language to communicate with other herd members and following them around is just one example of that. In most cases horses will follow another horse around as a sign of trust and affection, it’s a sign that they have a bond and like being with that horse. The same can be said if your horse is following you around, he sees you as part of the herd and enjoys your company, and respects the bond you both have.
That said though there are a number of reasons why a horse might be following you around:
If the bond between you and your horse is strong they will want to be with you more and one way they show this is by following you around.
Horses that respect their owners and see them as the leader will often follow them around, mirroring their pace and even their movement (ie if you step to the left your horse will also step to the left).
Despite their size horses are often big babies that can get scared easily and, while they are more than capable of defending themselves, will look to their owner to take care of them and make the baddies go away. This is often reinforced when he hides behind you and the perceived danger goes away. In your horse’s mind, it was you that protected him and will therefore turn to you again when he’s next scared.
We all know how much horses love their food and the lengths they’ll go to in order to get an extra treat, and following you around is a great example of this. If your horse can smell treats on you he may well follow you in the hope that you’ll give him some of those delicious smelling sweets. This can also be a learned behavior in so much as, if you walk into the field to get your horse before feeding him he’ll soon learn that’s what you’re doing and before long will start to follow you as soon as he sees you.
Horses are extremely curious and have been known to follow people around (even people they don’t know) just to see what they’re doing. After a while, they may just lose interest and stop following you, or their mischievous streak may kick in and they’ll look for ways to cause mayhem. Whether it’s nudging you when you’re not expecting it or tipping the barrow over if you’ve been picking up manure.
Is it always a good sign when a horse follows you?
While a horse following you around is generally a good sign it can also, in some circumstances, be a sign of dominance. Some horses will try and assert their authority on their owners but you can tell whether or not this is the reason your horse is following you by paying attention to your horse’s body language.
How are they holding their head? If your horse’s head is low and close to the ground then they’re following you out of affection but if they’re shaking their head or throwing it upwards they’re trying to impose their dominance. If they’re nudging you with their head at the same time, almost pushing you forward, it’s another indication of this.
It’s also a good idea to pay attention to how your horse is moving, is he moving at his own pace, does he stop before you, and is he moving from side to side (albeit subtly)? Horses that are trying to dominate their owners will set their own pace (rather than mimic that of their owners) and will stop before you do. They probably won’t follow a straight line either, they often do this as a way of cutting your options of escape down.
While it can be frightening if your horse is doing this it can easily be stopped by teaching your horse to respect your space and authority. This can (and should) be done with simple groundwork exercises.
How do you get a horse to follow you?
Horses are very independent animals that won’t do something if they don’t want to do it, no matter how many treats you offer them. While it may be frustrating (and even upsetting) if you’re horse won’t follow you around it also means that if they do it’s their own choice.
You can of course train a horse to follow you but this, in my opinion at least, is a trained behavior rather than a natural one. That said though the best way to encourage your horse to want to follow you is to always be patient, kind, and respectful towards them. This might sound like a very simplistic view but if your horse is happy and relaxed and feels safe around you he’ll want to be with you even more. With this in mind relax and respect your horse, in time he will start to follow you.
Horses are intelligent animals that will choose to be with people they know and who treat them well so keep this in mind when you’re trying to get your horse to follow you.
What does it mean when your horse blows in your face?
When a horse blows in your face through their nostrils it’s a sign of affection, it might not feel like it (especially if they have a cold) but it’s your horse’s way of saying you’re part of the herd and that he loves you. Horses can’t give you a kiss in the same way you’d kiss them, but if you ever see two horses putting their nostrils together that’s exactly what they’re going.
Do horses protect their owners like dogs do?
It depends on the individual horse and the bond that you both have, but if your horse trusts you then yes they will try and protect you if necessary. That said though, if the two of you have a strong bond, your horse will also look to you to protect him if he gets scared.
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