You’re in the grocery store, minding your own business, and then you see your talkative neighbour coming towards you. You turn tail, ready to disappear into the bulk food section but they shout your name. Too late. You turn around and greet them with a smile that anyone could recognize as exasperated.
Maybe you are that neighbour. It’s just as awkward conversing with someone who doesn’t want to talk to you as being talked at by an over-enthusiastic friend.
Sadly, this is what most horse owners experience going out to their horses. Most of the time, horses greet people with that look of discomfort and maybe even shyness. Sometimes, they are obviously trying to get away! However, when it comes to horses (and friends who don’t want to talk to us), we often try to fake that everything is okay, when really there is a giant hole in the relationship. Many times, there is no rhyme or reason why our horses avoid us, and some people don’t even want to know why!
I’ve collected a list of potential reasons why your horse avoids you. Hey! It could come in handy if you’re that talkative friend at the grocery store too.
1. Your horse is ill. Maybe he simply can’t run to the gate whinnying today because he is hurt or ill. Look twice before feeling unloved. Colic, laminitis, founder, etc. are valid reasons for not being interested in going out with you.
2. He feels uncomfortable with your approach. It’s amazing how many humans avoid other humans because of this. Everyone knows someone who inches closer through a conversation, and you end up on opposite ends of the room after twenty minutes. Maybe you need to work on your approach. Soften those eyes. Curve your mouth upwards. Be aware of space. Your horse will notice the change.
3. You’re too pushy. Horses do not appreciate pushy partners. Don’t pop blood vessels trying to get that certain maneuver. If you can’t get accomplish your goals through good, thorough, relaxed, work maybe you’re asking for the wrong things. Intensity, if necessary, should only last for a moment before the problem is resolved.
4. He is scared. Maybe you scare him. My mom once couldn’t get close to her horse unless she was wearing sunglasses to cover the intensity of her eyes. It hurts to admit that you might be the problem, but let’s see if I can convince you by the end of this list.
5. Your horse needs healing. Sometimes wounds are still bleeding from the past. Maybe it was you, maybe it wasn’t. Find a specialist to help. Get a second, trusted, opinion. Research your horse’s past and try to heal the wounds that are causing the scar tissue to get in the way.
6. You are boring. Being boring is a crime that is constantly being committed by horse owners (and lecturers)! If you don’t have a large repertoire of things to do, at least imagine yourself doing something fun and your attitude might cheer him up! But please, find something fun to do for your horse’s sake!!
7. He is in pain when he’s with you. Your saddle might be hurting him. He might not be physically able to carry your weight (if you keep your horse in optimum health, why not keep yourself in optimum health as well?) His jaw might be locking due to much needed dental work or your use of the bit. Regular visits from the dentist, barefoot farrier, chiropractor, and saddle fitter = pain free horse!
8. You don’t listen. It’s important to provide guidance and leadership for your horse. HOWEVER, good leaders recognize the needs of their partner and respond accordingly. Sometimes listening is all it takes for your horse to feel loved, and to love you in return.
9. You are too needy. Believe it or not, horses are insecure when you fondle them constantly. Unless it’s shedding season, the only time other horses will nibble and chew on one another is among the lower status parts of the herd. Lead horses rarely allow such affection in their personal space. So when horses exit your presence when you are petting them, they are taking you as an unwelcome subordinate. I’ve witnessed abhorrent amounts of petting and crooning over horses because they’re ‘cute’. Guess what? The horse DOESN’T CARE THAT HE’S CUTE!
10. There’s no good reason to leave his pen. And the last point is perhaps the greatest point of all. If there’s no reason to leave the pen with you – if you don’t meet his needs in some way – he won’t want to do it again. And this doesn’t have to mean food bribes … see my article on identifying what motivates your horse.
I hope this article was eye opening and educational. It’s not always comfortable to realize yourself as being part of the problem, but the best thing you can do now is to make a change. You can start with #1 and go from there. No change is too small.
This post was edited March 2018.