Horses are complex, emotional creatures. Gaining respect and earning their trust can be a task, considering that they each come with very unique personalities. In order to achieve these things, horse owners need to be able to build a bond with their horse.
However, building this bond doesn’t all happen from the saddle – it starts from the ground, without the distraction of working under saddle.
Horses are prey animals – meaning they base their reactions on the fight or flight response. You want your horse to look to you for leadership versus the “fend for yourself” mentality.The ultimate goal is to help your horse work through that flight response calmly and look to you for leadership. By helping your horse work through moments of pressure in positive ways, you are building your bond and becoming a safety net for your horse, as their herd mate and leader.
Learn how to interact with your horse with equine body language and communication. There is a lot to be learned from equine communication. Pinned ears, tight jaw, wrinkled nostrils equals crabby horse (or a mare!). Soft eye, droopy lip, cocked leg equals calm horse. There is so much to learn about communication between horses, and horse owners can incorporate that same behavior to build a better bond with their own horse. Take some time, research equine body language, and simply watch how horses interact with each other.
Simply being around your horse in a calm and relaxed environment will help you build a better bond with him. If he is stalled, hang out with him in the stall during feeding time and just enjoy each other’s company. Don’t interact with him unless HE initiates – just grab a stool or a clean piece of stall shavings and hang out. If your horse is out to pasture, grab a lounge chair and a good book. Set yourself up in a shaded area where you know your horse will eventually come to hang out, and start reading, Curious by nature, he will come to investigate why you are lounging around. Once again, do not interact with your horse unless he initiates. Horses tend to be more relaxed and agreeable when interactions such as this are on their terms.
All Work and No Play
Don’t make every single interaction with your horse involve “work”. This is a sure fire way to make your horse high tail it to the back forty of the pasture at the sight of you coming with the halter. If you want to build a better bond with your horse, make him WANT to be with you. If he comes to meet you in the pasture, don’t just halter him up and truck to the barn. Hold out your hand, greet him, let him sniff you. Don’t go directly to his face – instead, walk to his shoulder and give him some loving scratches on his withers or his barrel. Once you have him haltered, resume his quiet and calm demeanor as you head to the barn. The majority of the time, horses will mimic our own actions – if you’re in a hurry, chances are your horse will pick up on that and hurry as well. Show your horse that just because you come with the halter, doesn’t mean he’s going to wind up working. Make your presence a positive association, and you will find your horse will be a lot more willing and receptive to you in the end.
Take extra time just to groom your horse. No riding or working. Just grooming.A good training lesson for ground tying or standing in general, and a relaxing task for the both of you. Use every single brush in your box (let’s be honest, who has just one curry, one stiff, and one soft dandy brush???). Throw some Cowboy Magic or ShowSheen in the mane and tail and work out all of those snarls and tangles and gypsy knots. If your horse is tolerant, practice your pleating or braiding skills on that now tangle-free mane and tail. Practice your polo wrapping skills. Give your horse a good rub down with some massaging and loving scratches. Simply loving up on your horse like you are seven years old again can strengthen your relationship with your horse.
Go For a Walk
Literally take your over-sized dog for a walk. Whether it’s around the pasture, down a trail, or even up and down the driveway – just go for a walk! make sure you have a well-fitted halter and a long enough lead road that allows for space between you and your horse. If on your own property, feel free to hand graze your horse and just let him relax with you, doing what horses do best. Work on leading, backing, and yielding exercises from the ground – the instant your horse does what you ask, walk some more as a reward. Keep in mind, this is not an “I have places to go and plastic bags to spook at” walk. Just amble along, relax, take in the scenery. However, make sure that you are the one initiating grazing time – don’t let your horse decide for you.
Monkey See, Monkey Do
Liberty sessions are always enjoyable. You get to watch your horse move at liberty, head high, tail raised, just having fun and being a horse. Did you know you can use this to your advantage in building a better bond with your horse? When you turn your horse into the arena, walk to the middle and begin to mimic his actions. Walk when he does, turn left or right when he turns, run when your horse runs. Get in the mindset of mirroring what your horse is doing. Horses tend to move in unison with herd mates they respect and trust, so consider this another building block to bonding. With your horse at liberty, you open up the opportunity for him to come and initiate contact with you. The ultimate goal here is to build that bond to the point that your horse will watch you and eventually follow suit with your actions. This mimicry is unlike round penning or free lunging – there’s no actual commitment or demand in this exercise. It is a low pressure situation that will make your horse more apt to want to be closer to you and consider you a herd mate.
Kick Up Your Heels
Learn some different games or tricks to do with your horse. This can include agility, obstacle courses, swimming – you name it. Trick training is another venture in playing with your horse and developing that bond. If you have some random materials lying around, make a fun obstacle course that you and your horse can maneuver. This is a dual-purpose exercise – good desensitization and trust-building. With you leading from the ground, your horse is more apt to be a willing participant in the craziness you’ve introduced him to (scary tarps, a torture pool of empty plastic bottles, horse-eating balloons). Same applies to agility training – coax your horse through different obstacles and show him that he shouldn’t be scared as long as he is with you.
To conclude, building a better bond with your horse ultimately takes time and patience. Remember, horses are emotional and complex creatures. If you want them to become your best friend and partner in crime, incorporate thes3 steps whenever you get the chance. If your horse starts getting tense or anxious, take a step back, follow this list and work on strengthening that bond – your horse will thank you for it in the end!