Horses may not love each other in the same capacity as a human loving another human. But a horse can undoubtedly feel and give affection.
Horses show affection for one another through vocalizations as well as by actions. For example, they nickel to show happiness when greeting other horses, scratch to show affection and love, mutually groom one another as a sign of care and attention, and rest their heads over the necks of their pasture mates. And they can also remember another horse and recognize it when meeting it again, like in our video.
Horses are a demonstrative species and use many nonverbal signals to show their emotions. Understanding how horses signal affection for one another offers insight into how they show love for their human friends and helps you understand how to better communicate with your equine friend.
Nickering is a soft sound made when horses greet one another. They make it by keeping their lips pressed together while simultaneously using their vocal cords. It’s a sound that means, “Hello! I’m happy to see you!” When horses nicker with happiness, they have an alert expression on their faces. Their ears are pricked forward-facing the other horses, and the head is often slightly raised. Nickering horses sometimes touch noses and share breath, breathing into each other’s nostrils. This affectionate gesture ends the greeting.
Another way horses show affection for one another is by scratching the itch of a friend. Horses often reach over and use their teeth to scratch the back, neck, and rump of a friend. The friend returns the gesture. It’s similar to asking a close friend to scratch your own back; it’s a hard-to-reach place and a friendly gesture that the one with the itch much appreciates.
And like scratching one another, mutual grooming is another way horses can touch each other to show affection. Horses may stand nose to tail, side by side, using their tails to flick flies off a friend’s face. They use their teeth to rub burrs and weed seeds off one another’s mane and remove them from the coat, often picking at the debris until it’s thoroughly removed. Social grooming is a trait horses share with many other animal species who use grooming to signal comfort and affection for others in their herd.