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In the wake of Valentine's Day I remembered an article I had read in passing a little while ago. It had appeared in one of our local, free equestrian magazines and was so irritatingly blighted with bad spelling, grammar and punctuation that I didn't dwell on it any further. Part of the message, however, stuck.
It was entitled: "Does Your Horse Show You Affection?" I would venture a guess that the resounding answer from most of us on this site would be: "Of course!" Having said that, the interest we generate when we are holding a carrot doesn't really count in this context. We are talking about affection for its own sake.
Horses are very touchy-feely with each other and, at times, also surprisingly intimate (as, for example, when they are sharing breath with one another) but never overly demonstrative in their loving displays. They have no hands, so the exchange happens mainly by means of body posturing, acknowledgment of the other and invitations to share personal space. Real intimacy ensues when the face, the muzzle and the mouth get involved.
This is certainly something to keep in the forefront of our minds where the use of bits is concerned. Have we REALLY been invited? Or have we invited ourselves? And what, exactly, are the possible consequences of this intrusion? In fact, let me take this one step further: Have we even been invited to touch our horse's face, be that with our hands or with the halter?
Absolute KUDOS to Pat Parelli for making "haltering / unhaltering with Savvy" one of the very first lessons we are expected to learn.

If I can simply hold the halter, and my horse voluntarily puts his nose in it, then (and only then) the scene is set for Partnership Play.
Which takes me on to the loving-too-much bit. Even though I am dissecting the topic in more depth than the original article did, this was the gem I took away from it . Because horses are so subtle and selective with their behaviours, are we maybe too keen to show them that WE love THEM to allow them the space to be affectionate with us?
Do we even make time, and are we even present enough, to notice that try, that incline of the head, the look of acknowledgment in their eye, that tiny change of posture, that softening of the stance, that slight relaxation in their musculature? All these (and more) are displays of their affection.

Not that it isn't ok to hug our horses; far from it. They understand what this is about. But maybe we need to become better at truly receiving their affection and being content with it. Just that. There is no need to always reciprocate, touch, talk... In fact, our eagerness to express ourselves can spoil the moment. Let us learn to just sit with what being loved by our horse feels like. We will both know what occurred between us.
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