How to Greet a Horse

Life lessons learned from the greeting ceremony the first time you meet a horse (or any animal for that matter). Here’s how it goes:

  • Blow on the horse’s nose until he turns his head.
  • Then scratch the horse from the withers to the flank.
  • Never give the horse the back of your hand to sniff.
  • Never pet the horse’s face.
  • Never baby talk with a horse.

Here’s why:

  • When the horse turns his head, he is submitting to you. I’ve tried this greeting ceremony with horses and dogs—even a pig. Sure enough, every time they turn their head they are giving me respect and authority, acknowledging that they are the submissive one. I’ve also watched dogs meet for the first time and noted this interaction. I think that the way it works with people is that they give a firm handshake and look each other in the eye. The one who maintains eye contact longest is the dominant. I know that among the Japanese, when they meet, they bow. The subordinate person, or the one of lower rank, remains in the bowed position longer than the superior.
  • By scratching the horse from the withers to the back quarters you are telling him that you will take care of his whole body; he is safe with you; you will not harm him. I wonder if that is what we do by looking at a person. Of course we don’t physically touch another from shoulder to hip when first meeting, but we do see the person. Possibly the look in our eye or the tone in our voice reveals the emotions within our heart that may be understood by the other person, especially if he/she is sensitive. Certainly, when I’m even just slightly irritable, Nathan can pick up on it and often calls it out. Lately, Nathan has been commenting on my lack of validating his feelings. This is not good; for it is from our feelings/emotions we make our choices.
  • When you give the horse the back of your hand to sniff you are telling the horse that he is dominant. Of course this sets you up for all kinds of trouble. OK, so the Farm is all about building up kids and families. We are there as grandparents leading and guiding the family God has put into our life (Izabella’s family). Janet is my friend but it is important to lead and guide her into raising healthy, emotionally well-adjusted children. I messed up yesterday. You see, Mrs. Athena, Mr. Dave’s wife, called asking where Izabella and Jazmin were. I told her that Izabella just didn’t want to go and Janet was thinking up excuses for not going to the Farm. (Janet is a big-time “Rescuer”.) I told Athena that we should be thankful for the progress this family has made in just 3 weeks already. In short, I was covering for Janet’s choices, being a “Rescuer” in my own rite. Mrs. Athena was not impressed. She immediately warned of the trouble both of those girls would face when they turn 30. She was right. I have much to learn.
  • We don’t pet a person’s face and in the same way we should never touch a horse’s face (except when cleaning the eyes or other facial feature). I think this could easily apply to the 10th rule in the “Code of the West”, “Know where to draw the line.” The horse’s face is his personal property and it is not my right to invade that space.At Tuesday’s parenting class Mr. Dave told a story about one of the first horses he trained. When the horse was young, its owner coddled it and let it “kiss” her on the cheek. It was cute and delightful for both horse and owner. Well, when the horse was about a year old, the owner was victim in a terrible accident and had to stay in the hospital for 6 months. Finally, the day came when some people were given permission to take her in her wheelchair to visit her beloved horse. When her horse realized it was her he ran up to her, knocked her over, and “kissed” her by taking out a chunk of her cheek clear down to her gums. She had to spend the rest of her days lying in bed for she could no longer even sit in a wheelchair. We have been given many lessons on personal space in the 3 weeks we have been involved with the Farm.
  • When we make baby noises to communicate with an animal we are telling the animal that it is dominate. A cowboy must always be alpha to his horse. Be tough, but fair. I’ve tried to raise my boys this way. You know, Jazmin is a very spoiled little girl. I thought it would be a miracle if she ever went to the Farm without her mommy to turn to. Her second visit to the Farm was with only her sister. I was stunned. It was a miracle. At the end of the day, she wanted to go back the next day. I believe that Jazmin, like a horse, really appreciates the structure, the firmness, knowing the boundaries. At home she is the dominant one (even though she is only 4 years old). At the Farm others are in charge, giving her the freedom to rest within the established framework. I watched this happen with you boys when you understood the boundaries. It also proved to be true in the classroom when the kids were about to get the best of me by my allowing them to dominate. Once I became tough, but fair, their respect for me greatly increased and order ruled.

Hope you have learned something from the 5 rules for greeting a horse. Certainly, you would never expect something like this from home. But, God’s ways are not our ways and our thoughts are not His. To see Tomo gain such insight and pleasure working with troubled little children, scooping horse manure, and gaining an understanding of the ways of God from an old cowboy in his barn is quite an adventure. This is just too good not to share.

With love,



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