Establishing a bond with your horse is a lengthy and complex process. Here are some exercises and activities that can help you do just that.
Exercises to establish respect and discipline
1. When you walk they walk. When you stop they stop.
2. Backing up
3. Inviting them in and sending them away
4. Moving away from pressure – forward, sideways, backwards
5. Giving to pressure - flexing
6. Sending them away from their food when you feed them
These exercises (except the feeding) are the first things I will do with an unknown horse and commonly called groundwork. Before I hop on a horse I want to know how the horse reacts to pressure, how far the horse can be pushed before he/she reacts, how the horse reacts, how the horse shows his/her discomfort before he/she has a hissy fit and how to settle him/her from there. I want to see how he/she moves, if there is any stiffness, irregularity or strain in the movement and if me sitting on them is going to antagonise this. I want to know how well he/she takes to being bossed around and what he/she will do when they are. This can generally give me a fairly good idea of their personality within the first half hour of working with them. It also gives me a good idea of where to start with the exercises.
These exercises are also the basis of a good horse that shows discipline and manners, similar to a child saying please and thank. A mindful horse should follow when you walk, not walk over the top of you when you stop, back away from you and out of your space when asked and step into your space when invited. They should give to pressure and react to a cue when asked. If these qualities are established on the ground it is a lot easier to create them under saddle.
Exercises to establish a rapport
7. Take them for lead line walks.
9. Appreciate your horses individuality and its little behavioural quirks it uses to communicate.
10. Wander around the paddock with them while they are grazing. Leave little treats around the paddock for them to find. Take a book and a chair out and sit with them while they graze.
11. Show affection toward your horse and feel affection toward your horse. This may sound strange but our horses work best if we are present with them. If we are thinking about other things going on outside that environment or at home or other aspects of our life we lose that connection with our horse. Stay present with them, breath them in, feel them and let your heart expand.
12. Be grateful for each and every moment you have with your horse.
Exercises to calm and relax
13. Breathing. Breath in for 7 hold for 7 out for 5. Reset your heart rate and breathing rate.
Take responsibility for your energetic state. It can be helpful to do some meditation tutorials. Your energy feeds your horses energy. If your energy raises out of fear or excitement your horses will as well. Horses work in a herd mentality ready to run at a moments notice. As soon as they feel the horses around them become more alert and less relaxed they will be ready to run. This is what they feel from you when you are tense and alert. They don’t realise its their behavior making you nervous, they are ready for the predator to jump out of the bushes and eat them. If you want your horse to be relaxed, you need to channel your inner grazing horse. A horse with its head down eating is a relaxed horse, it is not threatened and feels safe.
14. Give your horse a massage with a tennis ball. Horses love a good massage and using a tennis ball is the easiest way for anyone who has no particular training in massage. It can loosen and soften the tension out of their body and help them feel calm and relaxed and enjoy your company.
Some final notes
15. Work together through the learning phase:
- trying everything other than what you want
16. Communication is a 2 way street
If you want your horse to be kind and appreciative, you need to be kind and appreciative. When your horse reaches out to you appreciate and reciprocate. Touching their nose to you, physical contact, other ways your horse tries to connect with you. Show that you are aware, or they will stop.
17. But above all be fair, be firm and be consistent.