The Horseman‘s Handshake.

Now here is a thought.

We all know that horses check each other out by using their sense of smell. Yep, that is the nature of them.   It saves confrontation for them to do there sussing out from a way back.  Horses are non-confrontational by nature, as a prey animal  the strategy is normally if in doubt leave!

This is why turning a new horse out into an adjoining field is by far and away the safest  introduction to a new herd  as they  can get to know each other from a distance …..however, I digress, that is not what today’s articles is about.

Their olfaction system  is very very sophisticated and they can  tell a huge amount from a long way off and even when they are close up they will stretch out their neck and their head and interact in this way before actually touching.

Knowing that this is how horses interact with each other it seems like a good idea to follow suit and say good-day to your four footed friend in the same way.

Whether they are in their stable or field when you come to bring them in or turn them out or simply just go to spend some hanging out time with them, perhaps you would like to try the horsemans handshake.

I have taken this exert from my home study theory certificate course.  The Horseman’s Handshake is one of the many subjects covered  in the program.

The Horseman’s Handshake

Horsemans handshakeThis is a good saying – “You can tell a lot about a horseman by the way he introduces himself to a horse (and to a human)”.

The journey of mutual understanding and respect comes about through observing these horse behaviours and utilising them as best we can, and the horseman’s handshake is a good example of putting this into practise.

Standing in front of your horse but slightly off to one side quietly and in a relaxed manner, stretch out your arm so that your hand stops around 1 metre away from your horses muzzle. Allow him the time to move his head towards you and stretch out his neck and smell your hand.

Remember to use the “prey animal” side of your hand (that’s the side that cannot catch, grab, restrain or pull, i.e. the back of your hand).

There are so many different responses that people get when they do this with their horse, here are some that I have encountered:

The horse stretches forward and take the scent for just one or two seconds.

The horse looks away but does not move his feet

The horse feels the need to smell for up to ten seconds.

The horse not only looks away but moves away

The horse goes from smelling to trying to nibble

The horse scents and relaxes and is happy to be haltered

It seems to me to just be a very polite way of connecting before touching.  I hope you think so to.

With regards to the horse that starts to nibble … or even may start to play, well that is just a horse being a horse.

The saying that I have discussed in one of the previous Pegasus articles:

Can It Eat Me – Can I eat it – Can I play with it

Fundamentally this is what horses do, especially the males.

It is up to us to learn when our horse has connected with us to then remove our hand and rub them and halter them before they get into the can I eat it or play with it phase of their hard-wiring.

I do hope you have found this article interesting and if you would like to learn more then please do contact me at applied equine behaviour on my website and facebook page, there are some short videos showing Horsemans Handshake.

For further information on lessons clinics and home study please feel free to visit or

Leave a Reply