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A Horse's Nose Knows

A horse’s muzzle is more than just a velvety spot to kiss. Horses have many times more olfactory receptors than humans. Their delicate noses are an important part of their survival and daily life. They use their whiskers to sense the world around them, they lift their lip (flehmen response) to process pheromones and odors, and they share breaths with each other as greetings.

I’ve been thinking over the last couple of years about why I don’t see or hear of people taking advantage of a horse’s way of greeting via scent. A good horseman knows how to read a horse’s body language and respond in kind, so why ignore the nose? Anyone who has spent any length of time around horses has seen two horses touching noses and sharing air. It is a greeting, but also a way to gather information about each other.

girl and horse greeting
Dreamer seems to be a fan of this greeting. He is big on face-to-face communication!

I want horses I interact with to be able to obtain any information they need from me. It can help them feel more comfortable to be able to exchange information their way. It gives you an “in” with the horse, and can help more easily build a relationship with them. This is something I have experienced firsthand.

Some may say it’s stupid, or crazy, or useless for me to do so, but when I greet a horse, I let them scent me out, then, if safe, I breathe into their nostrils, as they do with one another. I have never had a horse not return this greeting. In fact, I have noticed that horses who tend to be high strung, when greeted in this manner and followed up by gentle, calm motions and physical touch, respond very well to it. I wish I had the opportunity to test this theory on more high-strung horses, because I think it would be an interesting experiment.

I continue to greet horses this way, even ones I know well. I think it’s part of knowing how to “speak horse”, and I’ve had good results, so why not?

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