When everyone else seems to be in raptures about the wonderful bond they have with their horse it can be upsetting to realise that perhaps your horse is a little disinterested, or doesn’t respond to you as positively as you’d like. Well, never fear, here are my 5 fail-safe tips to help you and your horse build trust, respect and a life-long bond.
• Spend quality time with your horse. As horse owner’s with jobs and busy lives away from the yard, its sometimes easy to spend time with your horse only when you want him to work. Instead of turning up to the yard for a quick ride, lunge or groom, spend some quality time with your equine friend. Go and visit your horse with no agenda, or expectations. Ideally just relax, and be in the moment, using it as a meditative experience but you can also sit there reading a book or listen to some music. Simply sit with them in the field, or in the stable, talk to them or be quiet and allow your horse to do their own thing while you do yours.
• Take them for in-hand walks. Take your horse for a little stroll, with no riding. Explore some countryside together, allow him to plod along without any expectation of working. You could pass through streams or small ditches, even jump a little log. Also, take a little break together and let him splash, roll or graze the hedgerows, allowing him to pick at herbs and plants he doesn't get access to in his field. Don't underestimate a horses ability to self-medicate. This will strengthen a sense of partnership between you and your horse, as you will demonstrate a sense of equality and respect as opposed to simple leadership alone.
• Give them time. Don't always bulldoze into your horse's space. When you go to fetch him from the field or stable, allow him to approach you in his own time, stand still with your open hand stretched out, and let him sniff you, registering your scent. Gently put the head collar on as you usually would, and ask him to walk with you by taking hold of the cheek-piece and encouraging him forward. Always walk next to rather than in front of you horse. The consistent contact whilst leading will help establish a sense of unison and togetherness. A little bit like holding hands with a loved one, you will walk together, instead of pulling him and storming ahead, which creates more of a disconnection.
• Use your hands. Instead of a quick brush before you jump on, set aside some time to give your horse some hands on attention. Stroke your hands slowly but firmly over his body noting any hot and cold areas that may need a gentle massage, whilst checking for any bumps or cuts that could easily go unnoticed. Find out where he likes to be scratched and note where his more sensitive areas are. Taking the time to get to know your horse in this way can help you understand certain behaviours and will further build a connection as your horse will associate your touch with relaxation and relief.
• Give lots of praise. Whenever your horse has done something well, or at least tried really hard, make sure you give them lots of vocal praise and a good scritch on the withers and allow them to relax for a moment. Positive reinforcement will encourage willingness, and your horse will be more inclined to listen effectively once he knows he’s pleased you. A little treat such as a peppermint or a carrot baton will always go down well too. After all, everyone, both human and animal needs to know when they’ve done something right and their efforts have been appreciated!
Let’s face it, mutual trust and respect are key elements in any relationship, so if you want to achieve a bond with your horse you've always dreamt of then committing to these 5 steps is a good way to start.