Something I witnessed this morning compelled me to write this post about one very specific example of the ridiculous, illogical expectations we are told to put on our horses, it is also a great example of how much we misinterpret behaviour and don’t question what we’ve been told.
You’re riding along, you come to a stop and your horse immediately tries to rub his face on his leg. A few possible reasons for this:
1) His leg is itchy
2) His face is itchy
3) His nose is irritated
4) His face is uncomfortable from a badly fitting bridle/tight noseband/discomfort in his mouth
5) He’s trying to disrespect you and if you let him rub on his leg it will be a slippery slope from there until he is completely feral and unrideable because you let him get away with it
It goes without saying number 5 is just ridiculous, what surprised me is number 4 is actually the most common scenario. Now I am not saying your horse can’t just be itchy, but it is so common to see horses almost frantically go to rub their heads as soon as they’re allowed or as soon as the bridle comes off. I saw it constantly when working with competition horses who were ridden in incredibly tight nosebands and with heavy contact. They were not having a nice scratch, they were trying to relieve the discomfort on their face.
So considering this, why on earth would we prevent, or worse punish, a horse for wanting to find a bit of relief? Imagine going to scratch an itch and having someone yank and shout at you. All of this talk about partnership and we aren’t even allowing them to perform the most basic of natural behaviours because someone told us its disrespectful?
Horses with allergies can also want to rub their faces a lot but I find they focus more on the nose rather than rubbing the whole head. If your horse seems desperate to rub his face after you’ve ridden or when you take his bridle off have another look at your tack and your riding, bridles should not be causing uncomfortable pressure on the face and your horse should be able to open his mouth easily.
Here’s a photo of my horse Dan having a different kind of scratch. He stopped while I was leading him and chose to do it, because he feels comfortable doing so and knows I’m not going to hassle him about it, it’s no big deal I just wait for him to be finished then we carry on.🐴