I don’t have many ‘rules’ in my working with horses….but there is one that I am always particular about. Whether its meeting my own horses for the first time that day, whether its other people meeting my horses, or whether its me meeting student’s horses I always start with the Horseman’s Handshake.
To me it is very impolite not to. I offer them the back of my hand with an extended arm, and I wait for them to touch it with their nose. If they don’t touch then I don’t have permission to touch them. When I do have permission to touch them then I try to feel where they would like me to touch them. If they offer me a part of their body – great. If no obvious invitation to a particular place then I will usually give a scratch to the wither.
Now this might not sound like much – but in my experience a horse opens up a lot quicker to you when you make this friendly gesture. It sets the scene that you are going to do things for them not to them. You will ask permission, you will take time to figure out what a reward might be for them, because every horse is different. Some horses love a good old rub on their forehead, to others that is too intimate. So if you want to use that as a reward for your horse, you better be sure that the horse sees it as that! Otherwise what you are using as a reward they are seeing it as toleration for something they are not fond of – no reward in that!