December 17, 2012
brown horse

Photo by Audrey Pavia

Teddy, my friend’s horse, like to kiss me.

Today was cold and cloudy with a bit of a drizzle — the closest thing we get to Christmas weather in the lowlands of Southern California. So, my friend Michelle and I decided to take it in by going for a trail ride.

We tacked up our boys and away we rode. We admired the Christmas decorations in front yards, and waved hello to fellow equestrians we met along the bridle path. Despite the cool weather, our horses were calm and well-behaved. It was a great ride.

When we got back home, we tied Teddy and Milagro next to each other at the hitching post in my backyard. I stood in between the horses as I removed Milagro’s bridle, and Michelle took off Teddy’s saddle.

As I unsnapped the biothane headstall from Milagro’s halter, he reached for my hand with his lips. Milagro likes to rub his lips on my hand sometimes, so I put my hand under his muzzle, expecting to feel his nose wiggle against my palm. Instead, what I felt was a slippery wet tongue. Milagro was licking my hand like a dog.

“Michelle!” I said. “Look at this.”

Milagro slurped his tongue on my hand over and over again, for several minutes. As Michelle and I looked on, we speculated about this behavior. Was I wearing hand lotion that smelled like apples? Was my hand salty? I pondered the condition of my hand pre-slurp and came to the conclusion that there was no taste or olfactory reason for this bevy of equine kisses I was getting from my horse.

At that moment, I felt a nuzzle from Teddy, who was standing on the other side of me. With Milagro still licking my left hand, I reached my right hand out to Teddy to pet his nose. But instead of standing there and letting me rub his muzzle, he started to lick my hand!

Michelle and I stood in disbelief watching as these two horses simultaneously smooching my hands. We then laughed about the time a few months ago when Teddy licked my face — from my chin all the way to my forehead — with one big slurp.

Stumped over this behavior, I looked on the Internet to get opinions on why horses lick people. Some suggested it was a show of dominance, others a demonstration of submission. Some folks said it was a sign of contentment.

After briefly considering all three, I decided it was contentment. I got the sense that both Teddy and Milagro were happy at that moment, enjoying our human company and the proximity of each other. We’d just had a nice trail ride, and love was in the air. They were simply expressing their sentiments. And I was lucky enough to be the recipient.

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