A riding school client asked me a couple of weeks ago how often they needed to ride for the horses to know who they were.
I didn’t really have an answer to her question but have thought about since.
Horses get to know us if we are part of their routine and life. For example, when I was feeding a friends horse when he was away I was welcomed warmly after the second day. But then, I’m already a familiar face to this horse.
Otis recognises, whether he chooses to acknowledge them or not; me, my uncle, and field family. He usually looks out of his stable when our neighbour arrives. But I think that’s because he wants treats! He hears my car coming and whinnies loudly when he’s stabled in winter.
Back to my clients question. I think if you regularly interact with a horse in a similar manner, e.g. feeding them, then they will recognise you. It also depends on how many people they interact with daily, as to whether you become familiar or not.
I school a horse once a week and he definitely knows me by sight now. But he is cared for by one person every other day of the week. He may not canter across the field to me, but I’m happy with the fact I can call him and he looks up. Another client I teach only rides her friends horse once a week, but she says that he recognises her if she walks past his field. He also hears her footsteps as she approaches his stable.
A pony at my yard whinnies constantly when he sees his owner’s Mum on the yard until she gives him hay. He doesn’t make a sound when she’s not there, which proves what a clever little monkey he is!
I think the riding school horses are a completely different kettle of fish. For starters, they have four or five members of staff care for them daily, plus two or more clients that they see for a limited period once a week or fortnight. As a client, I think you need to be particularly memorable for them to remember you because there are very few constant individuals in their lives.
So I think horses do recognise you, or rather recognise an association that you bring; be it chief feeder, or the one who takes them on fun hacks, or even the one who drills them hard in the school (that’s when you can’t catch them in the field!), but the extent to which they will respond to you depends on how many people they see on a regular basis and how consistent your routine is with them.