Nose to Nose – A Horse’s Breath

What is it about a horse’s breath that smells so good? Even non-horse owners would agree if they ever touched noses with a pony. It this latent memory at work?

A horse’s muzzle is as soft as a baby’s bottom, well, if you discount the whiskers. Of course there’s the sweet smell of hay and green grass, and instinctively humans like that scent.

Is there something more here, something long forgotten by us city dwellers but which our genes recognize? Does it have something to do with why we like to pull our shoes off and walk barefoot on the beach or across a grassy lawn?

In fact, why, in this modern day and age, do we still value grass and flowers so much that we spend a fortune cultivating that last vestige of nature in a concrete world?

We could get all scientific here, but everyone knows horses prefer clean green grass and sweet alfalfa hay over steak. And then, well, let’s face it, they don’t lick their hind ends like dogs and cats.

Horses speak softly to the senses. It’s not just their soft, sweet muzzles we’re attracted to. A well-kept horse is a delight to touch and safer to approach than the blue light special at K-Mart.

If you’ve never run your hand over the neck of a show horse, you’ve missed a satiny sensory experience. Continue on to the shoulder and feel the steel of muscle beneath your hand.

Even the city-bred sophisticate must feel just a moment’s longing to sit astride such power—and be in control of it. That’s why your sports car is rated by horsepower…

Since we were little kids watching the big screen—Roy Rogers and Trigger prancing proudly down some wide-open trail, we have secretly relished the idea of getting away from it all on one of nature’s greatest gifts of speed and endurance. Imagine it. A fresh breeze wafting across uncluttered, unpolluted prairie grasses, clear blue sky overhead.

Maybe you’ll see no one today, it’s just you and your horse; him watching the trail ahead (he is a creature of flight after all and no matter how well schooled he is, he’s always alert) and you awed by the sight an eagle soaring on the wind. The jingle of the bit and soft blowing of a contented mount are sounds to soothe the soul.

You dismount at a tiny stream and feeling very natural, you and your horse sample the clear water together. He tossing his head at the pleasure you afforded him; you cupping your hands to sip from man’s first cup. Feels good doesn’t it? Forget the cell phone at your belt. If you are really into this ride, it’s turned off, not intruding on your solitude. For a few hours you can put the job and appointments aside and spend time with the memory of your ancestors.

The horse turns toward you, ears forward, inquiringly. You smile and like so many riders in the privacy of the moment, you stroke his neck. OK, you might even give him a kiss. Yeah, nose to nose. You breathe in the sweetness of his breath and imagine that you are a conquistador, a cowboy, an Olympic rider, or just a forty-year-old kid who found peace in the company of a four-footed friend.

If you don’t own a horse, you can rent one no matter where you live. Takes a little looking but depending on your experience, there are many options from vacation ranches to riding stables. Public stables welcome novice riders and are willing to teach people who have never been nearer to a horse than a television set. Who knows? You may discover something about yourself, when you go nose to nose with man’s historical mode of “transport”—second only to the invention of the wheel.

There are no more Saturday afternoon westerns to delight and educate your kids. Why did you love those Westerns and Nature shows? And why my friend, have you forgotten that you did?

You didn’t think about it then. You were after all, only a kid. Kids are born free, uncluttered with rules and schedules but they are chock-full of sensory perception, awareness, curiosity, and natural instinct. A child will reach out to a puppy and look up at a horse with awe, not fear. Well, unless he’s been born to a parent who has never been nose to nose with a horse…

Think about it. There is nothing better to spur a child to independence than the thrill of finally sitting astride an animal so swift, so magnificent, so awesome! Eurasian, Norseman, Spaniard or First American, you probably carry the “horse culture” genes that moved man into the world of concrete, manufacturing, skyscrapers, flight, science or medicine. As a dog owner or breeder, you have some knowledge of genetics or you wouldn’t be at

You are a curious intuitive person or you wouldn’t have read this far. So stay with me as we talk more about horse culture and what you may be missing in your psyche.

If you have never experienced a horse’s power, his calm acceptance of a human and the ease with which he elevates you into another sphere, I hope to inspire you. You may not go out and buy or rent a horse but hopefully you will want to… And most of all, you will have broadened your intellect and widened your horizon. Oh, yes, that is what sitting astride a horse did for the first man who achieved that elevated position. Man looked at his world from a whole new perspective and he owned it.

He became mobile with the means to be adventurous. He became a Conqueror.

So think about this. If you have a handicapped child or one who feels uncertain, is shy, repressed or emotionally damaged—put that child on a pony! Teenager out of touch with reality? Take him or her to a stable after you’ve called and set the stage. Then get out of the way and let magic happen.

You know about therapy dogs. You glance down at the dog snoozing by your feet. Yep. That’s what he is, now that you think about it.

So if you don’t feel inclined to rush out and jump on a horse, just imagine it. Feel the wind caress your cheeks, feel the power, his muscles flexing as you shift your weight. Marvel at his response as you think to change direction with the slight movement of the reins. Squeeze him with your legs or touch him with your heels (depending on your saddle) and thrill to his powerful gallop. You are a Conquistador! Or a Pony Express rider. Perhaps as in my blood, you are a First American and the horse will make you more powerful than the buffalo and sadly, transport you a dismal future.

I promise, when you have become comfortable in the saddle, the world awaits you because you are you and he are one. Let the magic happen.

If you can’t quite manage that, I understand. But the next time you meet a horse, ask the rider if you can pet him. Perhaps you can go nose-to-nose, inhale the sweet scent, marvel at the softness and the flare of his nostrils. Then look into his eyes and see history come alive.

  • Barbara “BJ” Andrews is the breeder of over 300 AKC Champions including over a dozen All-Time record holders. She is the author of 8 breed books and founder of 3 AKC Breed Clubs. In 1998 she launched the world’s first public website ( followed by and which, as part of the NetPlaces Network, serves all facets of dog ownership and exhibition. She and husband Bill pioneered the Akita, Miniature Bull Terrier, and Toy Fox Terrier to AKC recognition and BJ served on the board of each Parent Club. She has judged in England and AKC Specialty Sweeps. She was awarded UKC All Breeds approval but has never applied for an AKC judges license because it could interfere with objective reporting on the sport.

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