Is it OK to look a horse in the eye?

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By Rachel

Quick Peek:

To make eye contact or not to make eye contact with horses? That is the question. Some say it builds trust and respect, while others argue it’s a sign of aggression. But wait, there’s a middle ground! Soft eye contact, where you keep a wide field of view while looking at the horse, has gained popularity. However, some trainers prefer hard eye contact to establish dominance. Ultimately, it depends on the horse’s temperament and the situation at hand. Just remember, building a relationship of trust and respect is key.

Is it OK to look a horse in the eye?

When it comes to interacting with horses, there are a lot of conflicting opinions out there. Some people say you should always make eye contact with a horse to establish trust and respect, while others say that looking a horse in the eye is a sign of aggression and should be avoided at all costs.

The Soft Eye Contact Approach

One approach to horse-human interaction that has gained popularity in recent years is the idea of “soft eye contact.” This means that you look at the horse, but also keep a wide field of view, so you’re not staring directly at them. Proponents of this approach argue that it helps establish trust and respect with the horse, as you’re not coming across as threatening or aggressive.

There are a few things to keep in mind if you want to try using soft eye contact with your horse. First, it’s important to be aware of your body language. If you’re tense or nervous, your horse will pick up on that and may become anxious or skittish. Try to stay relaxed and calm, and focus on your breathing.

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Another key factor is timing. You want to make sure you’re making eye contact with your horse at the right moments. For example, when you’re approaching your horse in the field, it’s a good idea to make eye contact from a distance to let them know you’re coming. But once you’re up close, you can relax your gaze and use soft eye contact instead.

The Hard Eye Contact Approach

On the other end of the spectrum, some trainers advocate for using “hard eye contact” when interacting with horses. This means that you maintain direct eye contact with the horse, without blinking or looking away. The idea behind this approach is that it establishes your dominance over the herd, and lets the horse know that you’re in charge.

While some people swear by the hard eye contact approach, it’s important to use caution if you decide to try it. For one thing, staring directly at a horse can be intimidating and may cause them to become anxious or fearful. Additionally, if you’re not confident in your body language and timing, you may come across as aggressive rather than dominant.

So, which approach is best?

Ultimately, the best approach to horse-human interaction depends on a variety of factors, including the horse’s temperament, your own experience and skill level, and the situation at hand. Some horses may respond better to soft eye contact, while others may need a firmer hand.

One thing to keep in mind is that horses are incredibly perceptive animals, and they can pick up on even the subtlest cues from their human handlers. Whether you’re using soft eye contact or hard eye contact, it’s important to be aware of your body language, tone of voice, and overall demeanor.

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At the end of the day, the most important thing is to build a relationship of trust and respect with your horse. Whether you’re looking them in the eye or not, your horse will be able to tell if you’re approaching them with kindness and compassion, or with aggression and fear.

In conclusion

So, is it OK to look a horse in the eye? The answer is yes, but with some important caveats. Whether you choose to use soft eye contact or hard eye contact, it’s important to be aware of your body language, timing, and overall demeanor. By approaching your horse with kindness and respect, you’ll be able to build a strong and lasting bond that will benefit both you and your equine companion.

References for “Is it OK to look a horse in the eye?”

  • Equisearch – “Horses and Eye Contact”
  • Horse Channel – “The Importance of Eye Contact with Your Horse”
  • Horsetalk – “Horses can read human facial expressions, study shows”
  • PubMed Central – “Gaze Behavior and Facial Expression are Indicators of Attention and Affect in Riding Horses”
  • Applied Animal Behaviour Science – “Eye contact and facial expressions in horses: The effect of training”

A video on this subject that might interest you: