You’re Gonna Think I’m Crazy but… Have you ever smelled your horse? Really!

Monday, August 24th, 2020 | Filed under Handy Tips


They all smell different from each other!  Really!

OK, maybe this is TMI but its true!  They all have their own scent, just like we do.  Not only do they all have their own scent, they are just like us when it comes to scent choices.  They like what they like and they don’t like what they don’t like.

Here is what I’m getting at in this post.  Not only do horses all have different, individual scents, they also have different scent preferences.

So, let’s break this down.  First, horses all have their own , unique frangrance.  Now, I know what you are thinking… a horse smells like a horse.  Yup.  Just like all dogs smell like dogs and all cats smell like cats.  But, I bet you know your dog’s scent, right?  And I bet other dogs smell more “doggy” to you, right?  Same with horses.  Heck, our kids smell great to us and they smell like kids to everyone else… can you see where I’m going with this part?  And to stretch it a bit here, I think one of the subliminal reasons we pick our horses is according to how they smell to us.  I think that we think we don’t really “like” a horse but we don’t know why. And, perhaps that innate thing we don’t like is how they smell to us.

After all, we pick our mates according to scent… subliminally, at least.

So, let’s get back to the idea here.  Scent is important to us and to our horses.  I have 12 horses.  If you blindfolded me, I would be able to tell which was which just by their scent.  That is how different they are.  And, so could you.  But, you have to think about it and compare.  The only reason I can do this is because I’ve been thinking about this for a while.  I noticed a few years ago that my Icy has a really musky, horsey scent.  She is a very dark grey.  Hmmmm.  Then, when Aladdin got sick, I had to give his meds twice a day and I always kissed his forehead.  His scent was so sweet to me.  I often wondered if the BOUNCE dryer strip that I used to dry his flymask had made his forehead smell so nice.  But, he smelled that way all through winter and every day of his life until the end.  Hmmmm.  And, after he died, I thought I would never remember his scent… which then got me to understand that they all do smell different.  They may smell like horses but they all have their own scent.

Why is this even important?  Well, for a few reasons.  First, it makes them individuals.  And secondly, it opens the door to their preferences.  Many of us don’t even consider how we smell to them…  Horses have opinions just like we do.  I mean, you know they hate the smell of certain sprays and lotions.  You know they hate the smells of certain foods (could be poisonous) and you know they identify their saddle and tack by the smell.  They sniff every stall and every inch of new surroundings.  And, of course, they smell any new pile of manure they come across.  They don’t smell it because they like to smell manure, they smell it because the scents tell them the story.  Their sense of smell is much more acute than ours.   They can whiff the manure pile and learn about the owner.  For example, when one horse smells another’s excrement, they learn what that horse ate, what gender and their age.  They also know whether the pooper was stressed or OK, too.  That is important when you are following along on the same trail…

So, now that we have established that they all have different scents and that scent is important to them, I wanted to tell a few anecdotes.

I knew of a Morgan stallion who would never breed mares who were lighter in color than bay.  He would only fall in love with black, brown or bay mares.  He actually would not do his job on lighter colored mares.  Now, you could say that he had a color preference.  And, maybe he did.  But I say he had a scent issue.  In my opinion, darker horses smell more horsey than lighter horses.  So, I’m thinking that he just preferred that scent.  Or, maybe he just like the color, dunno.  But, when I thought about this stallion, I thought that I might go around and actually smell test my darker vs lighter horses.  And, in my humble opinion, the darker horses smell more horsey, whatever that is.

My next story is about a stallion I knew that got loose and broke into the tack room at his barn.  He made a B-line for the saddle of a gelding he hated.  He ripped that saddle apart.  He also grabbed the gelding’s blanket off of the opposing wall and took the gelding’s bridle off of its hook and flung it.  Nothing else was touched.  I think he made his point…  How did he identify his nemesis?  Scent.

And in my own personal testing lab, I know that my horses totally prefer certain shampoos and soaps that I may use.  I have actually had some of my horses turn away when I use rosemary shampoo.  I know that several of my horses hate perfumes on me.  But, they kinda like certain essential oils or fragrances from Hawaii (for some reason).  I’ve noticed several of them will bury their noses in my hair if I use Herbal Essence Shampoo.  That is preferred over citrus scents in my household, even though many of them like oranges.  They like Aveda but don’t really like Fructise.  It really bums me out when I purchase a huge, cheapo gallon of some shampoo from Costco and they hate it…

I’ve even had better training sessions when I let the horse inhale his/her favorite scent.  Huh?  I bet you think I’m really off my rocker now… Well, here’s what I mean.  I have taken bars of fragrant soap out and let them sniff.  I usually only present three at a time.  I do this over a few days and figure out what they like.  Then I wear that or wash with that and let them smell me.  Sometimes I get it wrong, but usually, it sets their mind at ease.  They think better when things smell good to them.  Try it.  It works…  I also wipe them down with fragrances they like.  I think the scent then becomes a good thing and a way to set the mood or something.  Its like when I light my favorite candle.  No matter how I am feeling, when I smell that fragrance, things just get a little bit better.  My sense of smell isn’t nearly as heightened as a horse’s.  And, since horses are flight animals and use their sense of smell to survive, I’m guessing a pleasant scent to them is way more important and soothing than it is to us.

I wonder what a horse communicator would say about all this.  I’d sure love to know if I’m smokin’ dope or if this is true.  But, what I know for sure to be true is that horses all have their own scent and I’m pretty sure they all have their own opinions about how we smell.  So, why not try to set up a ride or training session with some horsey aromatherapy, eh?

But, that’s just me…

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19 comments have been posted...

  1. N. R. Williams

    Thank you for this. I’m a published author and most of my stories have horses in them. My current hero is very close to his horse and I needed a new way to describe this closeness. Sniff, sniff. LOL

  2. Poppy

    Beautiful! All I can say is that smelling my mare is much better than any antidepressant, it lifts me up instantly. Interestng story: I had her in agistment for 2 years before having enough land to bring her over. Everytime I would return from my visits to her, my dog would sniff me like crazy. When they finally met it was an encounter: it was like they knew each other forever, like old friends. To this date, whenever I feel down I go and smell her, have a hug and things turn good again :)

  3. Dylan Wight

    Aye, I know what you mean.
    My brumby Yarra has a sharp citrus smell about her due to her favourite place to sleep being under a wild lemon tree. It’s actually strong enough that if she lingers in a closed-in stable for too long, the place starts to smell a bit like lemon. It’s subtle, but it’s certainly noticeable enough.
    Though as for a horse’s natural scent, I can’t say I’ve ever noticed the difference between them. Some might have a sharper, more acidic aroma while others are a bit musty, but I can’t pick out the peculiarities between them.

  4. Gwen

    My three horses all prefer me not to wear perfume and will ignore me if I forget. I have two chestnuts (one of each sex) and one bay gelding. But I’d like to know if anyone else has noticed a slight citrus/orange smell from just above the horse’s nostrils? I kiss my horses goodbye and love that scent! All three of them have it, so it isn’t linked to color, although my bay does have a stronger orange smell than the chestnuts.

  5. Seabiscute

    Dawn, this was very interesting. I will have to keep these ideas in mind when I go to the barn this weekend. I think that my present horse, a flaxen chestnut, does not have a very strong scent…but my bay horses did.

    I’d like to share one experience — my first horse was a bay Morgan-QH cross, the best horse that ever looked through a bridle IMO. He came off a killer truck in the 1970s and after enjoying him as a lesson horse for a couple of years, I was lucky enough to buy him for my own, named him Gabriel, and I had him for the next 18 years — till he was 33.

    Well, after he died, on February 14, 1995, I took his blankets home to wash. I filled up the tub in the laundry room and plunged them into the warm water — and the scent of him arose and filled my head, and it seemed as if he were present with me! It was so evocative of his physical being that I burst into tears.

    Of course, we know that the smell facility of our brain is in one of the oldest parts — the so-called reptilian brain — so it makes sense that olfactory stimulation reaches us in such a visceral way. But often we don’t pay enough attention. I thank you for raising this enriching idea.

  6. Alexis

    My forever heart-horse (now sadly living on the other side of the Rainbow Bridge) hated the smell of garlic so much that if I myself had been eating a garlicky meal he would do the “triangle eyelids” worry wrinkle thing, shake his head and ears and back away from me. One time I had ordered an equine supplement for another of my horses from a well-known company and it was so heavily scented with garlic that you could smell it before the outer shipping packaging was even opened. I set it on the table in my feed room which was right next door to the garlic-hating horse’s stall and he refused to even go into his stall when brought in from pasture (the smell was that strong). I ended up returning the package without even opening it – the manufacturer told me that my horse was “nuts.” BTW his own coat smell was heavenly and if I myself get to heaven I will know him by his own unique scent!

  7. Annette

    I was so glad to read this blog! As a child my brother had a paint Shetland pony and he was the first and only horse I spent any time around. His scent was what I equated with horses. As an adult I started volunteering for a horse therapy ranch, imagine my surprise that none of these horses smelled like what I thought a horse smelled like. Not a paint in the bunch. Now I live with two mares, a paint and a chestnut. The paint has a much stronger horse smell then the chestnut. On occasion the chestnut has nibbled on my hair, mint scented shampoo probably should not be the shampoo of choice around horses.

  8. William L Pace SR

    I know one thing when ever I meet a new horse ..the first thing I do
    is let the horse smell my hat and from then on that horse will never forget that
    smell and will know who you are !!

  9. Anita

    My daughter mentioned this to me a couple of years ago. She always says how she loves the smell of my horse Prince and that he smells diff erent than her horse. I never really noticed so I guess I’ll have to check this out.

  10. Kathy

    There is a fantasy book I read a number of years ago called “Blue Roan Girl” that is out of print now, but in it, the horses and the main character shar stories of where they’ve been or what they intend to do through scent. The mare breaths into the girl’s face, and the girl gets visions of where the mare has been (rolling green hills and then being captured by thieves, etc.) Later, the girl sort of imagines what she plans to do to rescue the mare’s foal, breathes into the mare’s nose and the mare seems to understand how to help her.

    Really excellent book if you can handle fantasies.

  11. Millie

    I am actually glad to see this! I noticed years ago that the horses we have had in our barn have unique smells….and I love them! We had chestnuts up until I got my bay, and yes, their smell was ‘lighter’ than my bay’s… the difference between Dial and a scented handmade soap. We have a buckskin now and his smell is even more different. So I think your thoughts/conclusions are correct.
    As for what scents our horses like on us, I don’t wear perfume often, but do use lavender scented soap and I’ve noticed that my bay seems more ‘sniffy’ when I do, even more so if I use a lavender scented oil that I use if I have a subject headache.
    Going out to feed and turn out the horses….I’ll smell them before they go out! lol!

  12. Tamar

    Nahh, you’re not crazy… I noticed this year that certain horses had stronger, different scents. There’s this one hack horse at the barn I work at that smells ridiculously good and people give me strange looks when I walk up to him and just sniff him… My horse has a particular smell, as do my friend’s horses.

  13. dawndi Post author

    Great thoughts, Rosemary! Thank you!
    Gosh, I should ask Hubby about my “after barn” perfume…

  14. Rosemary

    Nicole… another interesting observation in regard to “racist” as a descriptive word .
    I think that the coat color and lack of perhaps pigment/melatonin probably does change the odor/scent of each horse. While I think horses just like people have individual likes and dislikes as to who they choose to bond with within their groups I don’t think they have quite the same response/reaction often associated with racism. In regards to your observation that it takes a true horseperson to understand the pleasure in burying your nose into your horses coat I think you are 100% accurate there!! I and I’m sure most all of us will readily admit to loving the smell not only of our horse but all the smells associated with them….like the smell of them sweaty,the smell of clean,soft tack, the smell of good hay,the smell of clean and dirty stalls. If you think of how you feel about those smells take a moment next time to observe if your horses react in a similar way. Having alot of experience with breeding stallions and mares I can absolutely tell you that their urine smells quite different at different times and I’m not just referring to when mares are in season.

    Now I’m wondering how different a paint horse might smell or an Appie? I wonder if those folks who have them may share what they smell like to those of us who don’t have them? Also, how many of us don’t think we smell when we return from the barn or doing barn chores? My one sister is a non animal person and you would think I raise skunks according to her LOL!!

  15. Nicole

    I noticed recently that my cremello mare’s scent made me think of a very light gray arab gelding I used to know. And that my blood bay mare’s scent reminds me of several blood bay horses I have known (and loved!) I wonder if the horse scent we prefer has anything to do with the horses we meet when we’re young, or at least when we’re first introduced to horses. Most everyone has a favorite at some point; mine was a bay gelding, and I’ve had a soft spot for bay horses since.

    I’ve also noticed that my bay mare, whose scent I prefer, and I fell in love with each other at first sight (while, smell!) and I always think that she and I mirror each other perfectly. My cremello mare is adorable and I love her to bits, too, but there’s less of the instinctual connexion. I could imagine myself leasing or selling her to someone who really had that deep, deep connection with her that I have with bay mare, whereas bay mare will be with me until the end, no question about that.

    I also noticed something in the pasture: my girls are turned out with elderly draught geldings, one a very dark bay (almost black, really) and the other a lighter bay with lots of white speckled in (it looks like someone got carried away sloshing a paint brush around while painting a ceiling, and he happened to be standing underneath… very cute!) Well, bay mare and almost black gelding seem to get along pretty well, although almost black gelding often stays to himself. And lighter bay gelding, although he really seems to love my bay mare, I think is kind of my cremello mare’s boyfriend. Hmmm… I don’t know if racist would be the right word, but I think there’s something to this.

    In any case, very interesting topic, thank you for writing about it! Not always easy to admit to activities such as horse sniffing… it takes a true horseperson to understand the pleasure in burying your nose in your horse’s coat!

  16. nowthatsatrot

    I’ve known for a while that my horse smells different (and yes, “better!”) than other horses… But lately I met some horses that were very related (think 1/2 and 3/4 siblings) to my horse’s BFF. All the horses from that bloodline smell the same! (Most are the same shade of bay, but one is chestnut.) The sire they share is known for stamping his foals in a very particular way, so maybe they inherit more than just looks and personality traits.

  17. Rosemary

    No…you have not been smoking to much dope!!! You are very correct in your observations about scent and what horses derive from it. They are herd animals and identify and use scents of their herd members as part of their “language” if you will.
    It’s how a foal knows which mom is his, and very much part of their imprinting process. It’s also how a mare will protect and educate her baby….ever notice how some mares are like the babysitters to foals that are not theirs? Ever notice that those mares sometimes have more than one foal w/them and that the “moms ” are off taking a much needed break? It also applies to stallions and their breeding likes,dislikes and behaviors towards others. Your description of the stallion trashing the one horses saddle and bridle was very accurate. I can tell you from my own experience w/ horses over 40 yrs. that they are alot like elephants in the term that they “never forget” old herd members or old friends in the human form or old surroundings. They are very intuitive and aware on a level I wish we all could reach.
    Very cool post….thanks for sharing!

  18. Adria

    Several years ago I was improving my riding with a young lady’s older gelding, Dom. He was a gentle soul and helped me a lot. She was into more alternative things and had an animal communicator speak with him one time. At the time, I had been away and so had not had lessons. When she asked him if there was anything he wanted to know, he asked, “Where is the woman who always gives me my favorite treat and who’s hair smells so good?” As I was the ONLY student who gave him a treat after my lesson, I had to be the one he was asking about, and add to that, he ALWAYS would wuffle my hair before and after the lesson! I did then, and still do, use an organic lavender shampoo, btw! As to my horses, yes they all smell different, and I do believe that their color affects their smell as well. Interesting topic, thanks!

  19. Suzanne

    Hmmm, very interesting. I didn’t do any testing or experimenting but I actually stopped wearing perfume when I got back into horses (after being a horse crazy litle girl) 12 years ago because I felt it was too overpowering to them and I didn’t want to confuse them. I haven’t worn perfume since, it smells too heavy and artiifical to me now!

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