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Your Horse Doesn’t Love You

A little while ago I wrote a post about guilt as an equestrian and a page I follow on Facebook called Equestrians Rock picked it up and shared it for me. It got a little bit of attention both good and bad and one particular comment was about how I was a bad horse owner because I hadn’t seen my horse for two weeks.

If you’ve not read the post go and check it out and read the background info as to why I didn’t see Spike for so long (I’m not neglectful I swear!). Anyway this person continued on to tell me that I was a bad horse owner and that I couldn’t possibly love my horse and that all they ask for is our time and our love and if we do that we will get their love in return.

your horse doesn't love you

Getting out to the barn is one of my favourite things to do, but do I get to do it as regularly as I like? Not always, because I’m an adult, I have a full time job and he’s boarded 45 minutes from where I live. So I get out there when I can, and sometimes it can be longer between visits than I’d like it to be. But, when I do get to see him I always find him eagerly awaiting my arrival, sitting at the gate, tail wagging, tongue hanging out… Oh no, wait sorry, that’s my dogs reaction. My bad.

My horse in the pasture doing horse stuff like eating grass, wondering when his next hard feeds going to come along and trying to tear yet another hole in the hundred dollar rug I bought him just weeks earlier.

What really happens when I get there is that he will dawdle over and happily allow me to do the rituals I find normal, like grooming him and picking out his feet and then making him do whatever I’ve packed into today’s lesson. Why? Because he’s been trained to allow me to do that.

Does he let me do these things out of love? No! If you think he lets me scrape his winter coat out with hard bristled plastic brushes or chop his mane off into a crew cut (confession time – it’s happened more than once, sorry Spike!) because he loves me and not because he’s educated enough and respectful enough to allow me to do those things, then you are delusional.

The truth is that horses rely on their owners. Your horse needs you to ensure that his needs are met… he needs you to ensure that he has enough water, that he is fed enough, that he is he wormed, that is he vaccinated, that his feet are done etc. These are all things you horse relies on you to do for him, but doing those things for him certainly doesn’t make him love you.

The second truth is that our horses tolerate their owners. They allow us to do the things we do because they’ve been educated. Your horse did not come fresh from the breeder with inbuilt knowledge of how he should act around you, some body taught that to him. He’s respectful because he knows he has to be. He is the way he is because time has been invested on training and placing boundaries about what can and can’t be done. But, respect isn’t love either.

Now before you get on your high horse (pun intended) and stomp your feet like a petulant child and tell me what a terrible, horrible person I am, let me say this. Just because I believe that education and respect do not equal love, does not mean that I believe that people do not have connections with their equine partners. OF COURSE WE DO! We are able to communicate with an animal… we are able to ask our horses, that are twice our size and have minds of their own, to do things for us using only things like body language and cues. Of course riders have connections with their horses…I just don’t think LOVE is the word to use.

So, do I love my horse? Yes I do, because I am a human, with human emotions, I can quite obviously say that I do love my horse and I can say that I am capable of having that feeling.

EDIT: As this post as gained quite a bit of traction I find it important to note that these are MY views. Yours do not have to be the same. What a boring place the world would be if we all thought alike. Please be respectful enough to accept that it is okay for someone, whether it be me or someone else who responds to this post, to have a view different to yours.

22 Comments

  • Reply Erin

    Very very VERY well said.

    Aug 02 at Aug 02
  • Reply Vikki Richardson

    We try to humanize animals. I totally agree with you. I have a barn almost full of horses and one foal. The foal is a blank page and reacts with instinct only, she is LEARNING to respect me as well as the other adult horses in the barn. She doesn’t love me but likes me to brush her, bath her, feed her…the basics. They are really not like my dogs that’s for sure. Dogs don’t love but they sure do like me. All to say I too love my horses and dogs and cats….

    Aug 01 at Aug 01
  • Reply Pam

    Thank you for this, as a new horse owner that has had dogs for 25 years, it’s sometimes hard for me to remember dogs are different. My girl and I are still new to each other, we are both pretty green and have a lot to learn, but it helps me to read your articles and remember she’s not my 50 LB dog that I bred, birthed, trained. She reacts to my body language where the dogs react to my voice, I can use the voice with my girl, but channeling the inner lead mare and using my body is more important, so it’s good to remember that Love like the dogs and I share is NOT what my horse and I share. It’s not a bad connection it’s just a different connection.
    Keep on riding.

    Jul 15 at Jul 15
    • Reply alyssaknee

      You hit the nail on the head Pam… the connections are absolutely different! I am the first to admit that it took me a long time to learn that lesson, you are very lucky to have what seems like some excellent knowledge behind you and I am sure that is reflected in the relationship you have with your horse 🙂

      Jul 15 at Jul 15
  • Reply Emily

    Some horses truely love their owners. Horses didn’t rely on humans before they were domesticated. We are their herd now. They see us a heard member, and we should be grateful that they let us dots and fuss about them. They can choose to be rude and disobedient. They don’t have to let us sit on their back and ask them to what we want. They can kill us. We should be grateful and accept everything they give us without second thought.

    Jul 11 at Jul 11
  • Reply Abbi

    Hi!

    Let me just say I just recently found your blog and I absolutely LOVE everything I’ve read so far and what a mature mindset you seem to have.

    I have to absolutely agree to what you say about the difference between respect and love. Respect is how your horse can act with anyone and be courteous of someone’s space, like a lesson horse is. But people tend to know when their horse has eyes only for them. Like my horse, Stormy. He’s a rescue… sorta. I mean this as in I found him and no one else wanted to “deal with” the “crazy, dead-in-the-eyes, rude Arabian.” He became one of my project horses, and even though I honestly had no interest in him at first, he came to realize I was going to take care of him unlike his previous owners. Three years later after fattening him up and teaching him vocal ques, I bought him because the ranch he was donated to(after his neglecting owner gave him up) didn’t want a horse who only listened to one person. He may not “love” me, but he definitely knows I’m not going to treat him like his past owner. I think that’s what’s most important – when your horse realizes you are going to treat him better and make sure he’s happy and healthy.

    Keep writing, I love your opinions!

    Jun 21 at Jun 21
    • Reply alyssaknee

      Thanks so much for your kind words Abbi. It’s a post that has caused a tonne of mixed opinions so it’s nice to get some feedback that actually takes on board the intended meaning of the post. Your horse sounds very lucky to have found you!

      Jun 21 at Jun 21
  • Reply Ashleigh

    I know that respect and training certainly do not equal love, but that doesn’t mean that your horse doesn’t love you, it just means that he doesn’t behave well out of love, he does that for other reasons. I’m not going to argue, as you said it’s ok to have different views, but I personally know that my horse loves me. Of course it’s not the same love I have for him, because he’s not a human and doesn’t have the same brain I do, but that doesn’t mean it’s not love. And I’m not going to say “oh my horse just loves me so much I’m his favorite person ever he would die without me blah blah blah” which is what most people say when in fact their horse has separation anxiety. My horse is not overly attached,or by any means obsessed with me, but he does show love and affection, not just mere respect.

    P.S. life happens. Sometimes you can’t travel 45 minutes from home as often as you’d like. And as long as your horse is fed, watered, and sheltered that’s none of anybody else’s business.

    Jun 04 at Jun 04
  • Reply Andrea

    Thank you! More horse people need to hear this! I’m around so many pathetic people who are all like “omw the horse ran away from me-he doesn’t like me anymore” or “aww the horse loves you cause he’s following you!” NOPE. NOPE. NOPE. Horses don’t feel/show love. They feel and show TRUST and RESPECT. My horses come to me and hang out with me because they trust me. They follow me because they trust me. They let me ride on their backs because they trust me. They don’t run over me, because they respect me. They don’t buck because they respect me. They don’t bite because they respect. For the last time, horses don’t “love people”. They either trust or distrust, respect or disrespect.
    Thank you for putting into words what I long to tell every horse person.

    But I LOVE my horses to death and would die if anything happened to them!!!!<3 They are so precious to me and my heart warms every time they look at me 🙂

    May 10 at May 10
    • Reply alyssaknee

      I absolutely agree, we can love our horses and that is totally okay but it doesn’t mean that they know that, understand it or love us in return. Thank you for actually getting the point of the post and not just flying off the handle at me as so many have done! LOL

      May 10 at May 10
    • Reply Carole Ann

      Great response! All so true

      Jun 06 at Jun 06
  • Reply Tc

    Boy this one is rough, I don’t think I would judge you for not going to the barn for a week or two if he is boarded some place nice with a clean stall lots of food and other horsey pals, but to make the determination that horses do things not out of love but because you have trained them to do it is only half right. I have had a lot of horses I’ve worked with and about for that I’ve made my own. I’ve reach the junior/AO jumpers on a 15 horse abs I had a 14.2 hand stallion that I did everything from Western pleasure to eventing on. At this time I have a tb gelding who had trust issues but in the last few week we finally became a team. I walk out to the barn and he is happy to see me, not cuz I have hay or grain and not cuz I’ve trained him but because I believe he loves me. He kicks at me and wants me to pet him and live on him and scratch his itch spots and I take him out and groom him and I jump him big because I trust him and he trusts me. I don’t think you can get to a high level in eventing by just training the horse. There has to be a deeper connection abs I feel bad for you that you don’t think a horse can love you.

    May 08 at May 08
  • Reply Alsosusieq2

    Horses don’t express love the same way we do plain and simple. You could say that their affection for you, is their way of expressing love. It’s much easier to define the near opposite in horses, the fear they have and show for certain people. Because horses can only show a certain range of affection, some folks can’t understand their ability to love. It’s real, but it’s not the pinkpaintedpony club expression. There actually were/are people that don’t believe tiny babies have pain as we do. I chose to believe that they’re affection is love, plain and simple. But you know that yourself. I hope in the future you can afford a house and barn. It’s a wonderful thing for a horseman to have.

    May 08 at May 08
  • Reply Lin

    When you have a horse you have had since a baby, he looks for you all the time. Others may come but his eyes are always on you. Then one day you believe that they do not feel, he is just a horse and you send him away to live with someone else. Months go by, you miss him. One day you visit and he runs over. Then you Whisper in his ear…if you’re not happy do whatever it takes and come home. A week goes by and you hear all this screaming then there is a knock on the door. It is the new owners to say your boy is up your neighbours drive in a real state..he knocked us down and has run home. He has run a long way over suburbs and found his way back to you. Noone could touch him but he ran to me. Call it what you will but i believe my boy loves me. I will never part with him again 🙂

    Apr 24 at Apr 24
  • Reply Cera

    I guess I find it sad that you have not had the chance to experience the love of a horse. Although it is important to also state that even though you have not experienced it, that does not in any way mean it does not exist. I am an equine therapist and see horses love for humans on a daily basis. I hope someday you will get to experience the love of a horse, it is much better than even a dog:)

    Apr 24 at Apr 24
  • Reply Cathy Crowder

    Define love… It’s a bit different for everyone and really cannot be measured. Does my horse love me? I think so. When I come to the stable and call Gracie she perks her head up and calls to me. Does she get treats – not right away so I know she is not looking for handouts. She steps right up to the gate waiting for me to put on her halter because everyday we go for walks. We don’t ride together anymore because she fell and injured herself and we don’t believe she should carry a rider. But she loves going for walks. She will leave her best barn buddies and we go for walks. Is that love? Yes I think so especially since When I first adopted her she was very stoic and never moved into my space. Very polite. I have had her for 10 years now and she touches you with her nose for rubs. She walks up next to me and stands for companionship and she even follows me around off lead. We are both older now, me in my 60’s, she in her 30’s. We are old gals who have been around the block and now just enjoy hanging out together. We understand each other and I am totally committed to giving her the best years of her life that she has left. As a retired performance horse she deserves that. Love is spending time together. Love is being happy when you see each other. Love is wanting to be in the same space with each other. We have that so yes my Gracie loves me.

    Apr 22 at Apr 22
    • Reply Debbie follman

      Love is a word, a human word.. I don’t know how to relate it to the way an animal feels about their offspring, but I have seen a mare protect her foal, a dog protect her puppies, and my Arabian circling me to protect me from another horse trying to take a bucket of feed from me… So what is that… Does she know that after I feed my other horse she will be fed and does she think that if the feed gets taken … She won’t get any? That’s pretty abstract thinking even for a horse… So if, and IMHO they do, she protects her foal and she protects me there’s some kind of emotion there.

      Apr 24 at Apr 24
  • Reply Tay

    I agree! I do believe my horse loves me though. Like maybe not like a dog would, but I think he sees me as his care taker and who doesn’t love their care taker. He takes care of me when I ride him as well as I take care of him. He makes sure I get up a steep hill safe before he makes sure he is safe. And that to me is love. A bonded love. I believe if something ever happened to me he would be depressed. I’m who he sees at 5 in the morning, I’m who puts him up at 7 at night. I feed, brush, and give him unconditional live everyday ❤️ He’s my ride or die baby. And I believe he sees me that way as well.

    Apr 21 at Apr 21
  • Reply Brittany

    Spike is gorgeous btw.

    Apr 19 at Apr 19
  • Reply Brittany

    Now I agree about some things but my horse loves me I know he does I’m the only one who can catch him. He just comes running or put a bit it. No one else can do that. Magnum likes to follow me and sit beside me in the grass. And I didn’t train him to do that. And I left to a show on sat. And I couldn’t take magnum because of cogins so I rode a different horse. That mornin and the next day he would not come to me at all. And I see several people who have a one on one relationship with their horse.

    Apr 19 at Apr 19
    • Reply Brittany

      But that’s just my opinion.

      Apr 19 at Apr 19
  • Reply Elizabeth

    Hi Alyssa and Spike,

    I have a similar view point, but with a bit of alteration.
    I have been riding off and on since I was Five years old. Fast forward, I am now 46 with a good bit of horsey knowledge under my belt.
    Does my horse ( Trojan, no I did not name him ) LOVE ME as my husband continues to think???
    Answer is NO. I always reply to smitten husband, Trojan Loves me in ” His Horsey Way”
    One must remember that horses generally think on the level of a four year old child. Just keep that in mind. Always.
    However, once a horse and Owner have bonded….this being over much time and various experiences…….
    Horse realizes the Human is His. Horse trusts Human to protect horse from these imaginary ( to his mind) Vicious Wolf packs that could run up at any moment. To that end Horse will listen to His Human’s Directives. His human keeps him safe. Much like the Head Mare decides where and what the heard will be doing,; You become the Head Mare.
    Your horse trusts you to make the right decisions when it comes to any tricky situation.

    Your Horse still does not Love you, but he feels safe and appreciated when being with you.
    And the End of the Story is….. Once truly bonded, your horse will take care of you before himself.
    God Bless, Elizabeth& Trojan. ( Percheron/ Appendix Cross)
    A True Blue Roan…. Lucky Me! XO to all horsey People

    Apr 08 at Apr 08
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