Do you know your horse’s love languages?
In relationship counseling, there is a concept about the five love languages (website inspired by the book by Gary Chapmans) where we see that if a couple has different love languages they can be telling each other just how much they love each other, and yet not receiving the love and going through life with an ever more depleted love tank.
In human terms the love languages Chapman delineates are:
- Physical touch
- Quality time
- Acts of service
- Words of Affirmation
And so if you’re a physical touch and quality time kind of guy married to an acts of service and words of affirmation woman you’re going to feel super uncared for when your wife is too busy trying to “do things” to help you and leaving you cute little notes to find in your car, lunch and briefcase and doesn’t stop to hug or touch you while she’s running out the door with the kids and doesn’t really have the time to sit down and hear all about your day while you do something fun together.
The problem isn’t that they don’t LOVE each other. The problem is they don’t know how to see the world from the other perspective and the communicate in the language the other can hear.
I’ve been thinking for a while about how this relates to my horse herd.
Do you know your horse’s love language?
Sure- just about everyone can answer: Of course… grain, carrots maybe or apples… peppermints… But is that all you’ve got? Is there more? How would you know? Something I’ve noticed is the tendency to assume that if you’re an acts of service girl that everyone would appreciate getting helped out… right? And gifts, that’s so materialistic! Why would someone want to get stuff to be shown love… I don’t need THINGS I just need you to come to the barn and move the hay with me, that’s real love right there…
However the gifts person is often trying to get the point across- it’s not the THING, it’s the fact that you thought of me, and you KNOW me and you choose that for me because it’s perfect for me. The gift person isn’t materialistic- they just want to feel known.
In the end it’s about trying to see the world from a different viewpoint. It can be a challenge to see it from your friend or spouse or teenager, but I think it’s ever more challenging and takes more time to see it from your equine’s eyes.
I have three horses in my current herd. Without question they have different love languages. I recently heard a challenge to see how many things you can list that your horse loves, and then I’d add- see if you can give them some kind of weight or rank.
Wyoming is wild. She is so easy. She has never really been shut down by humans so her voice is always close to the surface. Some of Wyoming’s favorite things are:
- Head scratches
- Inside leg scratches
- Outside leg scratches
- Neck scratches
- Side scratches
- Back scratches
- Chest scratches
- Butt scratches (you get the idea)
- Grooming (brushing specifically- this is kind of like being scratched)
- Learning something new
- Being very very close to you
- Resting her head on your shoulder
- Touching you
- Killing flies for her she can’t reach
- Underbelly Rubs (related to scratching)
- A good roll
- Being allowed to come on an adventure
Khaleesi was “feral” and she is pretty clear on her communication but she is domestic by breeding and she will tone it down a little more than Wyoming. She is also more “compliant” by nature so you have to listen more closely and be more observant to know her loves:
- Hay pellets
- Apple juice (in a syringe… this is jackpot)
- Killing flies for her
- Wild blackberries on the mountain (in season)
- Bonus if you pick the good wild blackberries so she doesn’t get thorns in her lips
- Grazing time
- Grazing time on the clover in the yard
- Space (love me at a distance)
- Reliable patterns
- Clear communication
- Underbelly scratches (not rub)
- Butt Scratches
- Being trusted with choices and responsibility
- Being told she has done a good job
- Being thanked
Hope is the most difficult for me. She spent many years in situations that appear to have been hard on her. Since she was returned to rescue twice and then failed out of being a lesson horse (also twice) she came pretty shut down and dull. It seems likely she was in situations where no one really cared what her thoughts and feelings were- they expected her to perform a job without much communication that would slow down the process. So it takes significantly more effort to coax her out of her shell to trust a human with any communication. Here are a few things I’ve figured out that Hope likes:
- Hay Pellets
- Gentle rubs
- Being told she’s a good girl (gentle soft tones, not high energy)
- Grazing on the clover in the yard
- Being near the herd
- Those cornflower blue weeds that come up in August
You may notice I did not add grazing to Wyoming’s list. Wyoming does graze of course, but she will 80-90% choose human interaction over grazing. Khaleesi will only choose the human over grazing if they human is interesting her with something she likes better than grazing (a sweeter food or a fascinating activity where she is learning something new). Hope will almost never choose anything above grazing except if you offer her a food and then when she’s finished eating she will go back to grazing- the exception for her is the herd, she would stop grazing to follow the herd. She doesn’t yet believe that human interaction could be as good as eating grass. And in an opposite nature both Wyoming and Khaleesi are clearly appreciative of killing especially the biting flies. Hope is still on the side of dullness that she is basically tolerant of the flies and if you take care of one for you, she may be grateful but she does not show any evidence of even acknowledging (the other two clearly do).
Additionally, Hope is the newest horse which means I’ve had the least amount of time to get to know her. She is also the most subtle about showing her likes. Here is what I look for- spend time with your horse in her environment without any halter or lead rope or tool for control, ask questions:
- what do they do if I’m not controlling them?
- what distance do they prefer me at?
- do they have a side they prefer me on?
- do they ask me to scratch or help with flies?
- if I offer something (to brush, or scratch, or help with flies etc) how do they respond?
If you aren’t sure what you’re looking for, here are some things to notice (when you try something different):
- Does my horse move (even slightly, like a weight shift) away from me or more toward me?
- Does my horse pin her ears?
- Does my horse tense any part of her body?
- How is my horse breathing (regular? Deep/shallow? Watch for holding breath!)
- How are the lips? Tight? pinched? Relaxed?
- How are the eyes? Soft? Worried? Wide? Alert?
- Is the horse blinking normally (not breathing or blinking is a sign of being frozen!)
- What about the tail? Swishing? Relaxed? Held to one side or other?
How observant are you? What are their “favorite” things? Then check and make sure! Or you could end up being the guy who comes home to your “acts of service” wife with chocolates for valentines day and is confused in counseling the next month when she says: I don’t even like chocolates— but if you’d pick up your underwear I’d be over the moon!
Knowing what your horse’s love languages are could be a great start in improving your relationship in small but foundational ways!
I’d love to hear your comments on what you found or what you thought and found wasn’t really true!