Dr. Weiss, I've spent many years loving dogs and catsboth at home, and as a shelter and rescue organization volunteerand I am very aware of the importance of body language in my interactions with them. However, I've had little opportunity to interact with horses, so I'm very excited to have received an open invitation to "visit" with the horses at a nearby stable.
I suspect my body language, which predator animals find reassuring, might be inappropriate or confusing to horses. Can you give me any tips on how to convey both goodwill and confidence when I approach these potential new friends? For my first few visits, I've arrived equipped with a big bag of apple slices, which has definitely helped break the ice. I'd love to know what other behaviors would be regarded positively. Can you help me?
Colleen, I would first like to thank you for the support and love you are giving to those dogs and cats in need.
You are correct that horses, being a prey species and a herd animal, respond to human body language. When a horse faces another horse, he is often communicating “Stay theredon’t move forward!” And turning his back, while his head is low and his tail is passive, communicates that it’s okay to follow along. So, when first approaching a horse, it is handy to turn your body to the side and work to engage him to approach you.
When interacting directly with horses, a hearty scratch on the crest of the neck is a great bonding tool. Horses will use their teeth to do this behavior to each other, and it can often be observed in a herd. Good luck, and thanks for the great question!