Introducing touch acceptance to your horse

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Horses aren’t born welcoming being touched by humans and if they have had unpleasant experiences in the past, some of them may benefit from relearning touch acceptance in several short sessions. 

You can teach your horse that wither scratches and cuddles are nice experiences, by introducing them slowly and gently.

Although being scratched on their withers is an innately pleasant experience between two horses, some have to learn that the same treatment from humans feels good too.

Look for calm relaxation, keep each session between three and five minutes long. Aim for two or three sessions a day, with rest breaks in between.

The session itself:

  • Position yourself at your horse’s shoulder. Slowly reach and touch his shoulder with your fingers, then immediately but slowly, withdraw your hand and give her a food treat.

  • Continue until you can touch his shoulder for a few seconds at a time, then progress to using the flat of your hand, eventually stroking his shoulder, before withdrawing your hand.

  • Repeat on the other side. From here you can move along his body, touching along his back and sides before moving to more sensitive areas like his head and belly until he calmly accepts you touching him anywhere.

  • Once he readily accepts this, you can start to introduce gentle wither scratches, accompanied at first by treats. In time, the scratches will become rewarding in themselves as he learns to enjoy this new, affectionate relationship with you.

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