Are you trying to improve your relationship with your horse but don’t know where to start?
A bond with a horse is as intricate and fickle as a relationship with any other person in your life. There are many aspects to take into consideration. You need to take responsibility for your role in the relationship and not allow your emotions and hang ups to dictate your behaviour.
A certain amount of education is required to be able to read the horses’ body language and communicate effectively with yours. As a beginner around horses you are in grade 1, learning the alphabet and how to construct a sentence so the horse understands what you are saying. As you develop your skills you start to read what the horse means when it stomps its feet, swishes its tail, tosses its head and flickers its ears. This is how horses communicate. They use their body language similar to sign language because they cannot verbalise their thoughts.
It is our job to interpret what these signs mean and give the appropriate responses. The horse will watch us and how we respond to their behaviour. They are much better at picking up these signals than we can ever hope to be. The clever ones will even test our consistency in our own behaviour.
“Ginger is a 16 month old filly I recently introduced myself to. She had just started testing her boundaries and establishing her independence. When people approached her she would snake her head and swing her hindquarters to you. Not knowing this was inappropriate behaviour, the owners hadn’t picked up on in it and weren’t correcting it. These were the first 2 things I wanted to address. I wanted to be able to invite her in to me but also send her away if need be and create some space between us. When I approached her, or even if she approached me out of curiosity she’d snake her head at me. During our first lesson together we were just getting to know each other and test boundaries. I wanted to see how deeply this behaviour was established and she wanted me to leave her alone so she could go back to the other horses. Once she established that I wanted her to come in to me, she started testing the cue that I was giving her to ask her in. She would deliberately turn her head away from me and run around me acting out and then turn in to me, testing how I responded to each thing she did. I had to be careful to read her body and position myself safely around her, make sure the timing and the application of my cues were perfect but more importantly there was the release of pressure and positive reinforcement at the appropriate times. She walked out of this lesson quietly, confidently and calmly at my side. She had worked me through my paces and was happy for me to take the lead.”
A bond is dynamic, and continues to evolve over a lifetime
If we don’t acknowledge these signals the horse starts to feel confused, frustrated and misunderstood. The horses’ signals get louder, as if shouting, and can escalate to inappropriate behaviour such as biting or kicking.
There are many reasons why a relationship can turn sour.
There’s no connection between you and the horse
The horse feels misunderstand or unappreciated
The horse doesn’t enjoy the time it spends with you
The horse has no respect for you
The horse lacks education.
Educated horses are a catch 22. Green horses still exhibit more horsey behaviour because they haven’t had the years of handling to understand what is expected of them. They only know how to behave like a horse, however they can be more interested learning process. An educated horse that has decided it is smarter and more cunning than its owner can be more dangerous than a green broken horse. It knows the tricks of the trade, understands how to bluff its way out of work and can manipulate the rider’s behaviour to get what it wants, which in most cases is to finish riding and get turned out and fed.
As with any relationship there’s a fine line between establishing clear boundaries and behavioural expectations and being able to relax and be yourself around them:
You need to listen to their communication and make them feel like you are trying to understand.
You need to prove yourself as a good leader if you want them to take direction from you.
You need to spend time with them where there is no expectations and enjoy each others presence.
You need to share yourself with your horse, let it feel you as you feel it, be happy in its presence and in the moment, feel love, gratitude and appreciation for them and allow them to show it in return.
A bond isn’t something that’s developed in a day, a week, a month or even a year. It is dynamic and continues to evolve over a lifetime. Each experience, each training session, each feed, each groom, each show, each trail, each moment of utter defeat and every epiphany shapes and develops the bond between you and your horse. What you have today won’t be the same in a month, in a year, in 3 years. You need to experience the depths of your existence and who you are as a person with your horse as your guide if you are truly looking for a meaningful bond.
PS Stay tuned for our upcoming blog: Developing a Bond with Your Horse - 17 Easy Daily Exercises