Have you struggled to build a strong bond with a horse? When I first got my horse Poncho, I had the hardest time building a bond with him. He seemed uninterested in work and unaffectionate. On top of those things, he was hard to catch and buddy sour. At times, I wasn’t sure if he was the right horse for me, and I wondered if maybe he’d be better with someone else.
Those feelings ended up being unfounded. Neither one of us is perfect, but we’ve grown to love each other and know what to expect from each other. There is a bond and a certain amount of comfort level there that didn’t exist before. I think that in itself is really important in your relationship with your horse.
If you felt any of the above things mentioned, then examine how you spend time with your horse and what everyday interactions look like.
Spend Time With Your Horse
What does your time look like with your horse? I would say 90% of the time I’m feeding and hanging out with my horse more than working or riding him.
You dont’ have to be a master horseman to build a strong bond with your horse. Spending time with your horse with mutual respect and love builds a very strong foundation.
Often I’ll watch training videos hanging out in the barn with him. Or you can pop in ear buds and listen to your favorite podcast.
I’ll even lay on his back while he eats. It’s relaxing and I love simply just being in his presence and not asking anything of him. Being part of his herd.
How is your communication with your horse? Are your cues clear and your timing good?
That can make a big difference in your horse’s frustration level. When I’m trying to teach Poncho something new, he will get frustrated and paw the ground. But we learn together and improve together! Then things begin to flow.
Most horsemanship is done using negative reinforcement, and that’s okay because it’s the way horses communicate with each other, but developing good timing will make your horse learn even faster.
Do groundwork often. It’s such an overlooked requisite for excellent horsemanship. Regardless of breed or discipline, groundwork is indispensable.
Never stop trying to improve and learn, but also don’t hound stuff your horse already knows. Keep it interesting!
Learn New Things
Which brings me to my next point.
Learn things outside of your regular disciple, such as liberty or tricks. Which you can do before or after a ride. Horses love to learn new things and are so proud of themselves when they learn something new.
Poncho loves tricks! In fact, he offers tricks even when I’m not asking him, so I allow it and never tell him no. I just don’t give him a treat unless I’m asking for it.
Try something like having your horse pick you up from the mounting block or fence. This is a useful trick!
There are many liberty trainers to learn from online or you can find some on YouTube. Don’t limit yourself. Check out one of my previous posts, Virtual Options for Liberty.
Trust Building Through Obstacles
Do some things that get you and your horse out of your comfort zone. Obstacles or even bareback riding can be a great way to build trust between horse and rider. You can get creative with finding things around your house or barn that work as obstacles.
Anything new to your horse can be a learning and teaching opportunity. This forces you to be creative as well. Find ways to play with your horse without spending a lot of money.
You can do obstacles from the ground, so that might be a significant starting point with trust building.
Check out a previous post on trust building exercises.
Use Positive Reinforcement
Incorporate positive reinforcement in your training. Start with groundwork or new tricks you want to teach your horse. These can be pieces of carrots, treats, or alfalfa pellets. Figure out what your horse likes best.
Although, positive reinforcement doesn’t have to be food related. Taking a moment to scratch their favorite spot also counts as positive reinforcement. I recommend using clicker training to mark the exact time your horse did what you asked to make communication very clear. Instead of a hand clicker, I simply make a click with my tongue that is distinct from any other sound I make, so he knows immediately he did what I asked of him.
Be sure you know how to give treats properly. Never when your horse is asking or looking for a treat. You never want to reward that behavior. If you train horses with positive reinforcement improperly, they can become pushy or nippy.
Always feed them away from your body and towards their chest slightly, so they bend their neck in for a treat. Which is the opposite of reaching out towards you. The Willing Equine has great information on this subject. Check out her page, along with her podcast, and follow her on her social media accounts.
That’s it. I hope you found this article helpful and inspiring to help build a strong and lasting bond with your horse.
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