You can’t hug a racehorse?

by Laurie Berglie

Laurie Berglie is a frequent contributor to Retired Racehorse and also writes at her blog, The Sassy Grey.

After reading Natalie Keller Reinert’s article, “You Can’t Hug a Thoroughbred,” I had to laugh!  Of course I completely agreed with her that you could hug a racehorse, that you could, in fact, hug any horse.  But after reading this, I was reminded of my own OTTB mare, Misty, and how, at first, I couldn’t hug her.

Unlike Natalie, I didn’t grow up around Thoroughbreds.  My mom is a Western rider partial to Paints and Quarter Horses, so I spent most of my life riding those “safe” breeds.  She, for quite simply a lack of knowledge/first hand experience, always told me that Thoroughbreds were “crazy” and “on drugs.”

So I’m not sure if it was my mother’s disapproval or just the sheer, raw beauty of the Thoroughbred, but I wanted one.  (Also, it may have been Joanna Campbell’s Thoroughbred book series too – I was severely addicted to them as a child).

Interestingly, however, until Misty I had never ridden a Thoroughbred.  But then on a hot day in July of 2008, there was Misty, standing in a small paddock on my farm, having just been dropped off by her current trainer.  I stared at her; she stared at me.  What was I going to do with this horse?

Oh well, I thought – let’s just get started.  I began treating her like any other horse.  I gave her some time to adjust to her new surroundings before I rode her, but I was there every day, grooming her, getting to know her.

grey thoroughbred hug

Hugging the sassy grey!

But I’ll never forget that first night.  I was getting ready to leave and went into Misty’s stall one final time to say goodnight.  I went to her side and hugged her, threw my right arm over her withers, my left arm around her chest, and laid my head on her shoulder – and she…turned around and tried to bite me!  It wasn’t a serious effort – more of a “hands off lady!” nip at the air.

I was shocked!  So I leaned in to hug her again – same reaction!  By this time, my mom was laughing as both mine and Misty’s expressions must have been priceless.

“You know,” my mom suggested, “Maybe she’s never been hugged before.  She probably doesn’t know what you’re doing.”

Oh!  All of a sudden, I felt bad for my new horse.  Had she never been shown any real affection?  Was my hug the first she’d ever received?  (Or maybe she was just a touch-me-not kind of girl!)

I believe my response was something like, “Well I’m just going to force myself on her until she loves me.”

Very mature, I know.

But that’s what I did!  Every night before I’d leave, I’d hug my Thoroughbred.  She went from fake-biting at me to just tossing her head a little to full acceptance (or tolerance) of my affection.  She has even hugged me back a few times.

So can you hug a Thoroughbred?  Absolutely.  Can you hug a mare?  Sometimes.   



Filed under OTTB Stories, Stereotypes, Success Stories

14 responses to “You can’t hug a racehorse?

  1. Stephanie

    I was just given a “broken” thoroughbred, who I’m happy to say is already up to being a rather spunky walk trot horse. But he reacts the same way, like no one has ever shown him affection. I give him a hug and he just looks at me like I’m trying to kill him. He clearly hasn’t spoken to my other OTTB yet, or he’d know that I will continue to smother him until he accepts it 😀

  2. I got one last year that would snap at me if I so much as touched her with a brush, let alone hugged her. I think it’s usually a sign of being extremely body-sore. She is fine now…loves affection. A little chiropractic, rest, turnout, sometimes ulcer meds/supplement and daily cookies or peppermints, and I haven’t had any that didn’t wind up affectionate.

  3. If you can see my profile picture you will see that TBs can be hugged. This was how me and my wonderful OTTB Domino ended every meeting with each other. If I forgot his hug he would abandon his feed and follow me back to the gate. After I gave him his hug he would return to his feed.

  4. MY OTTB (Sirgun) loves to be hugged, my Appy mare – not so much!

  5. betsy

    4 thoroughbred mares, one who is an OTTB. I hug them all and they return the affection freely.

    Love me those thoroughbred mares MOST but love the thoroughbreds.

  6. Stephanie

    So glad to read this article! We adopted an OTTB mare last December and we have had the same issue. My 12 year old daughter will sometimes say she’s worried that the horse just doesn’t like us. Very reassuring to read that others have experienced it, and it is certainly getting better.

  7. My ottb gelding likes hugs, but on his terms. The droopier his bottom lip is, the more appropriate hugs are. 😉

    It’s magical when you get hugged back!

  8. haha I LOVE your insight on mares at the end! I have a Hanoverian mare whom I have owned and loved day in and day out for 11 years. Two nights I ago I ran down to the barn (on our property) at 10 pm to do a last check of the horses’ water and well-being (some fireworks had started over the weekend for the 4th of July). I gave her a couple cookies, breathed in her scent, told her I loved her, and…. went in for the quick hug. She pinned her ears as she munched her tasty treat. The girl is not a hugger, but despite her cantankerous exterior, I know inside she must have a soft spot for me 🙂