Do Horses Actually Enjoy Pats After a Winning Ride?

Our equitation science reporter shares why she doesn’t pat her horse for a job well done.
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Do Horses Actually Enjoy Pats After a Winning Ride?
Photo: Christa Lesté-Lasserre

Yes! A clear round! Not a single bar down! Woohoo! All right! Big high-five, buddy!

Uh, yeah, maybe not.

I’m every bit as excited as the next person when my favorite sports team make a great move, whether that’s a touchdown or a three-point basket or a home run or a clear show jumping round. And I know how it goes—the loudspeakers blare out the celebration theme, the crowds jump and roar, the sports announcers declare that it’s incredible, and everyone on the team, including the coach, high-fives the superstar. That’s part of sportsmanship; it’s an expression of thrill; and it’s usually a great honor to the “high-fivee

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Written by:

Passionate about horses and science from the time she was riding her first Shetland Pony in Texas, Christa Lesté-Lasserre writes about scientific research that contributes to a better understanding of all equids. After undergrad studies in science, journalism, and literature, she received a master’s degree in creative writing. Now based in France, she aims to present the most fascinating aspect of equine science: the story it creates. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

2 Responses

  1. “If reward is to be of any value it must immediately follow the exercise. Unfortunately there are many riders who are quick to punish but forget about rewards and take the good performance of their partner for granted. The simplest way for the rider to show his appreciation is by patting or speaking with a soothing voice. Patting does not mean slapping the horse with the open hand to make as much noise as possible, which is done to impress the onlookers; the horse’s neck should be caressed fondly and delicately.”

    Alois Podhajsky, 1967, p. 68
    The Complete Training of Horse and Rider.

  2. A nice scratch above the withers for me! Though I had to train myself to get out the patting habit.

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