Question: Don't mean to bother you, but have a
nagging question. I've heard something about blowing into or
onto the nose of a horse means something. What was it if this
is true? Was it something to do with letting them know
you like them or what? Thank you for your precious time.
Take Care & Keep Smiling.
a bother at all. There are no silly questions in my book.
Asking questions is how you get good at this stuff. Let
me pass along what that's about as well as a couple other
horse whispering "melting" tricks-of-the-trade
while we're on the subject -- and you can try these as well.
The following are especially designed to help a tense or fearful horse to relax in our presence. Use common sense always when trying these methods and perform only what feels safe to you at a given time.
Whispering “Tricks of the Trade” Tips to Help
a Horse, Build Trust and Bond Them To Us
- Breathing into a horse's nose with your
nose is a little horse whisperer trick-of-the-trade that really melts some
horses and is perceived by them as a sign of friendliness, and is what they do to each other in
greeting. Another little trick some enjoy along this line (especially the
younger the horse, like a foal or a yearling, but some older horses like
it, as well) is: whistle into their nose. Doesn't have to be any
particular tune, just pleasantly whistle into their nose and it can really
melt some. This is how we sometimes get a foal to stand still for baby
exams/shots, etc. Really captivates them. Try it! If you want, suck on a
mint before breathing into a horse's nose or whistling into it
and many really love that scent. Incidentally, whistling some
pleasant tune while you work with a horse in general can calm some horses.
Singing to them can help, as well, though they seem to like the female
higher pitched singing voice tone the most, I've noticed.
- Secure the horse's
nose/muzzle with one hand (so the head can't fly around) and with the
other hand, stick a finger in the corner of the horse's mouth (no teeth
there usually, don't worry) and "feather the tongue" (stroke the tongue
briefly). This produces the horse "working their mouth"
instantly. And when a horse works their mouth like that just on their own
at liberty, they are "letting down" or relaxing, submitting.
When you produce the mouth working yourself by sticking a finger in the
corner of their mouth and feathering the tongue, and the horse begins to
work the mouth, it produces the exact same response in their brain as if
they'd done it all by themselves: they "let down," relax more,
feel better. When I'm working with a particularly tense, troubled or wild
horse, my finger is going to be constantly going into the corner of their
mouth there to get them working their mouth so they can remain in the
relaxed frame of mind throughout our session. Where their body goes,
their mind follows.
The horse works the mouth/licks the
a sign of understanding and
Stick a finger in the
corner of the mouth & feather the tongue to
them working their mouth,
producing the same results as
they worked their mouth at liberty, instantly relaxing the horse.
- Stand next to the horse's
head, facing forward, but bend your body at the waist, your head
down, and using pressure on the lead rope (releasing for
the smallest tries, slightest changes in the right direction), ask for the
horse's head to come down, close to the ground. A high head is a tense,
"on alert" horse.” A lowered head is a relaxed horse. Where
the head goes, the mind follows. So, to get a horse to relax more, ask
the head to drop to the ground. The horse will relax instantly. If the
horse hangs up there locking his neck muscles, resisting as you hold
pressure steady downward on the lead, just stick a finger in the corner of
the mouth (without releasing the rope pressure) and when they work their
mouth there, it instantly unlocks their neck muscles and they will then
give downward to the pressure easier. If you trust the horse enough there,
squat to the side of the front legs, which lowers your stature to
less threatening posture, and use pressure on the lead rope to ask for the
head to come down. Remember to open your hand and release instantly for
every inch the horse gives downward incrementally there. All horses
learn from the release of pressure what it is you want, not the
pressure itself, so get your release timing quick and crisp for every
give. Once the horse's nose is close to the ground, while you're down
there, stroke and scratch on his head and face and he'll find that
(remember: relaxed) spot a wonderful place to be. Tip: Don't pat a
horse to soothe them. Patting is not considered
pleasurable to them and is not part of their own herd nurturing
behavior. There’s nothing wrong with patting a horse to desensitize them,
but keep in mind that when you want to relax, soothe or reward a horse,
use only strokes or scratches. Another tip: While you're in that squatting
position, if the horse starts to step forward, or into you, make a
"shhhhh" sound, quickly jerk the lead rope downward a couple of
times, and the horse will step back and away respecting your space better
- Stroke softly underneath the "peach
fuzzy" area underneath the base of a horse's tail with the back of
your hand, moving on to stroking that spot gently with the back of
It's a very sensitive, pleasurable spot on horses and they will lift their
tail (when they trust enough) to invite you to do it more, and you're
helping them to relax as well. A clamped tight tail is a tense horse; a
raised up "soft" tail is a relaxed horse, so, you are
teaching them to relax around you when stroking in that special spot under
their tail. Where their body goes, their mind follows. If a horse
won't lift their tail at first to allow you into that spot, first scratch
vigorously the top of their rump right where the dock of their tail
connects up there; this will usually loosen the tail muscles. And
then stroke down the inside line of their rump several times, then
slip the fingers under the dock of their tail to that special
spot; the horse will then generally lift the tail inviting more. This
is an especially important tip for those who need to do mare exams, or
before using a rectal thermometer on any horse, to get the
"invite" first back in that region.
- Scratch the horse's belly button
(navel). If you don't know where their belly button is (where their
umbilical cord was connected to their mother in her uterus): it's about
3/4 down the underneath of their belly in the abdominal area, and you'll
usually feel a little bump there. In a male horse, it's a few inches in
front of their sheath; in a female horse it's a few inches in front of her
teats. Stroke the belly softly as you make your way back, to make sure the
horse will accept you back there first, keeping a close eye on the inside
hind leg to remain safe, and when you find the belly button, take your
fingernails and give the belly button some good scratching.
Glance at the horse's face to see how they like it. Most instantly melt
and stick a lip out quivering it with pleasurable delight. Quit while it's
working, leaving the horse wanting more.
- Down the center of the
horse's nose/muzzle is a small grooved area. Take your index finger, start
at the top of that groove and very slowly and softly stroke all the way
down that groove to the tip of the nose. The softer and slower you can
move your finger there, the better. Go from top, slowly all the way down
to the bottom. Make your touch very light/soft, not a deep scratch here.
Do it as lightly as you can. Do it several times. This can downright
nearly hypnotize many horses.
- Rub the horse's closed eye
with your open palm, much like you might rub your own itchy eyes at the
end of a long day. Press firmly, but gently and circle your palms there.
Most horses absolutely love this. Quit while it's working, leaving the
horse wanting more. It is always important to quit before the horse pulls
away tired of something, but instead leave him wishing for more. This
psychologically bonds them to you more deeply, them wanting to be with you
- "Search touch" the
horse's face, neck, around & behind ears to find the particular
horse's favorite spots to be stroked or scratched (again, no patting
please). Each horse is different and when you find that favorite spot
where the horse suddenly leans into you for more, memorize it, because you
are going to return to that spot in the future to help soothe him when needed,
but indulge only for a second, then quit before he pulls away, ideally
leaving him wanting more. Common favorite spots: underneath the chin in
that grooved area; in summertime that spot can get pretty bitten up by
insects and be itchy, so many horses enjoy a good indulgent scratching in
there with our fingernails. They can't get to that spot themselves and
many are delighted that we can. Scratch the cheeks, behind the ears,
stroke the neck. Mother horse's lick their baby's neck in long, soothing
strokes to comfort them if the foal is ever upset or afraid, and
long, soft strokes of the horse's neck reminds them of how Mom used to
lick them there just like that. Another spot many like to be scratched:
between the front legs, which again, is a spot they cannot get to
- Knead the withers (the top
ridge between the shoulder bones of a horse). When horses are bonding or
mutual grooming, they will cross necks and with their teeth, they will
knead each other’s withers. Try it on your horse, squeeze and massage the
withers area. Incidentally, some horses, especially the younger ones, as
you indulge them in some of this equine-language grooming and bonding like
kneading their withers, will instinctively try to turn and do the same to
you. Meaning: put their mouth/teeth on you. Some people think the horse is
trying to bite them there, when actually, the horse is just
instinctively trying to return the grooming favor (they think!). But
we have to teach them it's not okay to put their mouths on humans. If this
occurs, just poke the side of their nose away from you with
an extended finger or your elbow (which act as a horse nose butting them away
there) and use a "shhhh" sound at the same time, to let
them know: "I don't need grooming, thank you; be polite here and
don't put your mouth on me." And they'll learn returning the favor is
just not necessary in "our herd."
- If the horse is afraid of something
you want to use with them (could be a tool or instrument), they are going
to shoot their head up high suddenly (high head is a tense, “on alert”
horse). Squat, lowering your stature to less threatening, and let them
smell the object with their nose close to the ground. Remember: a lowered
head is a relaxed horse automatically. A horse cannot be tense with the
head down, so introduce a feared object to them with their head down. This
will help them digest the item is nothing to be feared. Then rub their
face and neck with that object. (Below: the horse is afraid of plastic
bag at first, an item I like to use, either in my hand or on the end of my
extendable/retractable training wand, to raise their fear bar and build
confidence in them, since so many horses are initially afraid of loud,
crinkly plastic bags).
- If a
horse is initially afraid of you when approaching them, do not make
eye-to-eye contact with them, which is a predatory pressure to a prey animal.
Instead, drop your eyes to the ground and reach out with the back of your
hand to allow them to sniff it. If they are very afraid, bend at
the waist and lower your stature at the same time you reach with the back
of your hand, eyes averted.
- If you need to pick up a hind foot for
cleaning, picking, or examining, first scratch the horse's rump up high where
the dock of their tail begins. Then stroke repeatedly down the leg,
starting high, moving your way down to the foot as you stroke. This will relax the
hindquarters and a horse will be more willing to give up the back foot.
When the horse gives you the foot, indulge the horse in lower
leg massages, pleasurable squeezing up and down the leg, and the horse
will be more willing to give that foot up quickly in the future.
I have a
training philosophy: If you're not getting your fingernails good and dirty
while working with a horse, well...you're probably not training/handling
them right. Good natural horsemanship training/handling skills
are very much about pleasuring the horse via strokes and lots of scratches to
bond them deeper to you so that they will be more willing to do what we are
asking of them.
are just a few of the many tricks-of-the-trade we horse
whisperers/natural horsemanship trainers use to melt/relax a horse and get them
more bonded to us psychologically. And the interesting thing is: they don't
connect up the dots that you just did something there to relax them instantly.
All they know/think is: "wow, for some reason whenever I'm with this
particular person here I feel so relaxed; oh man, I think
I love her and I definitely trust her! What a good and fair deal I'm
getting here!" Goes a long, long way!
every horse is a unique individual, not every horse likes every single
pleasuring technique above, but explore to find the ones the horse you are
working with likes the most and memorize them; return to them often to
keep the horse well bonded to you. His gratitude will be translated into his
willingness to be your friend and loyal, trusting, willing partner
for the duration of the time you are working with them! Take the time to make
friends first, be patient with the horse, and be patient with yourself. The
long way is the short way, as we say in natural horsemanship!
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