George Thanks Me

George is one of my clients. He’s developed a skin condition on his legs. It’s very itchy.

itchy horse


George thanks me for my care.

thankful horse


Animals do express gratitude, but we humans are often dull to what they are telling us. One reason that my animals talk to me is that I stay focused on them. I often see people at the barn talking with their friends while grooming their horses. I prefer to socialize only with my horse. (Later I’ll chat with my human friends.) Maybe it comes from those years of not being able to hear very well. I had to listen hard to the one being that I was trying to communicate with. Horses are not verbal, they’re all about touch and nuances of movement. I could “hear” them. Pay close attention. There’s a lot they’re telling you by a shift in weight and the flick of an ear.

The inside of George’s legs itch. I rub with a sisal mitt and I can feel him slightly press against my hand. His head drops. His lip relaxes. He looks at me with a soft eye. He’s told me Yes, there. He reaches around and blows on me, eyes relaxed, ears to the sides. George says Thank you.

Many people believe that you create a relationship via training. I agree that you can open lines of communication and build trust, especially if you train using a marker and food rewards. (Often called clicker training.) But, if you don’t listen, even that training can be stressful, ineffective or anxiety-provoking. Don’t even begin until you know how your horse says thank you.


  1. Horses have always made me nervous. I have ridden alot of horses, mostly on trails in the woods. I am not afraid of them, but they can tell I am nervous. I always wanted to have a horse when I was a kid, My father was a practical man, a farmer and saw animals as only as a means of survival, income, and food:).He called horses hay burners.You asked us what we wanted to learn or read about, and in these few paragraphs was alot of knowledge. I like to read about your interactions with animals, thank you..

  2. about connies comment – i have always felt as she describes – nervous, not scared. interested, but- in my case – clueless later, i lived with them in my family – my daughter’s responsibility, not mine. now i wish i had taken the opportunity to know them better – liz still has horses, forty years later, and watches your site. i’m in wisc., she’s in wyoming. when i visit! now i visit the horses too but i visit over the fence, still a little nervous – but interested in them and they seem to know it.thanks to both teri and connie!

    • Horses are scary – I’m always aware of the danger. They’re also often inscrutable. Sometimes it’s something as small as how they’re breathing that clues you in.

  3. My horse loves to have the inside of his ears gently scratched. He will rest his forehead on my chest and just totally relax! I am always careful to stay back enough should that head go flying up in a startle. As you mentioned, it is so important to always be aware of the size and strength of a horse.

    • And some horses like only a certain part of their ears scratched – go to the wrong place and the head flies up – so good for you to be aware of that.

  4. I always loved finding that one ‘good’ spot that had them going all loose and soft, and, if it was a -really- good spot, moaning as well. Relaxing and enjoyable. I miss it.

  5. I completely understand your thought about people not paying attention to their animal companions. It always makes me a little sad when I see someone walking a dog and talking on the cell at the same time (especially when they carelessly tug the dog along and don’t let him or her sniff around and enjoy themselves).

    • I see that with people and their children, too. It’s okay not to pay attention, but then you can’t expect them to pay attention to you…

      • This truth should be pasted on the forehead of every parent! In fact, it is true of every human being, but after childhood, things get disguised a bit. Certainly true for animals.
        We all of us, all beings, want the full attention of our fellows, don’t we?

  6. The way I see it, every interaction with your horse is training. When I trained professionally I always preferred to groom and tack up my own horses rather than have a groom do it. So much is gained from those quiet, intimate interactions. Training is about communicating – both ways – and half of communicating is listening!

    • I agree – all of these quiet interactions lay the basis for the training sessions that follow. Also, everything we do affects behavior. All the time. That said, it’s important (especially with clicker training) to have distinct work sessions, and at other times to let the horse relax and not worry about how to “operate on the environment” (why it’s called operant behavior) to get the trainer to hand over a reward. I’ve seen too many horses anxious or angry because the trainer is no longer in the game, but that hasn’t been communicated to the horse.

  7. Hear! Hear! I’m sure you already know my feelings on this whole topic from past comments. As a teenager, an old Irish groom once taught me how to make wet straw ‘twists’ and –pardon my poor description– holding one in each hand essentially use a fast repetitive slapping type motion to massage a horse on any fleshy part of their body. (I know I’m making this sound like equine abuse and it does look quite violent if done properly.). He used to do it on a matched pair of Percherons. It looked like he was whipping them the way twelve year old girls “windmill slap” each other. I was agast the first time I witnessed this, but he was such a capable and kind guy, I kept my mouth shut and just watched. After about 10 minutes, he was drenched in sweat, but the horse had completely relaxed into it, standing totally square, head hanging down, lower lip limp, like George’s. These were working horses, and the groom explained if was like deep tissue massage after a hard day of work. They absolutely loved it. I asked the groom how he knew how much force to apply, when to move on to another area, when to stop, etc. He looked at me pityingly and said they’d “been having a conversation the entire time”, didn’t I notice? Ear flicks, leaning in, leaning away, subtle shifts of weight, head and neck position, lax lips, even tail position, he explained it all. He also used to wash the horses in quite hot water after their heavy harnesses were removed and literally “buff them dry” using old burlap grain sacks and a lot of fast circles and heavy leaning into it. He rarely used a lead rope and the horses just followed him from the wash stall to their stalls. I loved him madly, and so did those wonderful Percherons.

    • By your description, I’m in love with him, too. BTW, I went to riding school in England when I was 16 (too young to get my BHS, I got my B pony club.) We used braided straw to whisk the horses, too. Perhaps not as vigorously as you describe!

  8. I just adore that bottom photo. The picture says it all. That horse is so happy and content and trusting and communicative to you. It must be a lovely feeling when you get that level of trust from such a powerful animal. just beautiful.

  9. I too love that bottom photo. Sadly, I have nearly zero personal experience with horses. Mostly I’ve watched from the sidelines of life. I have promised myself that in my next lifetime I will have horses. For now, I mostly have and adore cats. One of my current cats, the one with a personality as big as all outdoors, is a leaner. He puts up his ‘arms’ as far as he can reach up our legs, asking to be picked up and snuggled. And no matter how hungry he might be, he always rubs his head against my hand as I set down his food dish before he starts eating, in what I can only see as a gesture of thanks.