Help your horse TRUST you
Updated: Jan 22
Want your horse to do as you ask;
Want to solve issues you have with your horse?
First you must help your horse to TRUST you.
I like to say that; “Every successful partnership begins with TRUST & communication.”
In my opinion, the ideal horse/human partnership requires both of the following elements:
·Your horse almost appears to sense what you want to do and reacts with the lightest of aids.
And, conversely you understand what your horse is feeling or needs and you react accordingly.
The first component in any good relationship is trust. So to develop that successful partnership, we have to work towards creating trust with our horses. To find trust, we must honor our horses and their sensitivities and in turn our horses need to learn our boundaries thereby developing mutual respect for each other ... which will ultimately lead to TRUST.
With regard to respect, most traditional horsemanship practices, from what I’ve seen, seem to focus on the our horse respecting us. However, respect really needs to go both ways … not only should the horse respect us, but we also must honor the nature of our horse.
We first must take a look at what motivates the horse and what their needs are. The horse’s primary concern is safety which is understandable since they are prey animals. Secondly, they’re most happy when they’re relaxed…because if they’re relaxed, they feel good but that can only happen when they feel safe.
Helping horses feel safe involves honoring their fears. It stands to reason that if we honor our horses' fears and concerns, that that’s the first step towards gaining their respect. To do so, we should pay attention when they’re concerned about something and not make light of it. Horses are way more aware of their surroundings than we are. I have read that they have almost a kind of photographic memory. They notice any changes in the environment and so any one of those changes could be a predator….and in our horses’ world the horse is afraid of being killed/eaten! Even though we don’t understand why a garbage pail, or mailbox, or a piece of plastic on the ground or a deer, etc. might frighten our horse…..we still must respect that our horse is worried or frightened.
So how can you help your horse to understand that you’re looking out for him/her and respecting his/her priority in life which is to be safe? First, when riding or when on the ground leading your horse, keep your eyes up pretending to look for predators. (This has a two-fold benefit when riding in that “eyes up” will also help keep you ON the horse.) Don't focus on anything in particular; use your peripheral vision.
Although I say keep your eyes up, still be aware of their eyes and ears. Keep checking to see if they’re worried about something. If they are, be supportive in your mind and depending on where you are in your training process, consider:
using approach and retreat strategies
if it’s a stationary object that your horse is concerned about, ask your horse using approach and retreat to touch the object(s)
if your horse's worried, head is high with non-blinking eyes, and super-focused in one direction and you don't know what he/she is looking at that's ok. Honor that there is something there but probably very far away and might actually not be a threat but your horse is figuring that out. As a prey animal, they must always be wary, particularly if they think they don't have a benevolent leader to watch out for them. So, be that leader for your horse; gaze in the same direction (maybe even with a pointed finger) in essence communicating: "yes I see it (whether you do or don't) and I've got your back".
if it’s a moving object or being like a dog, a bicycle, deer, a truck, etc.…consider chasing it. This requires practice for your horse to trust you in order to get the idea. You might have cue words like “let’s go get it”. The idea of chasing something will help you communicate that it’s ok and the horse will learn that since the object or being moves away, it’s not a threat. However, with this “chasing” strategy….BE SAFE! If this is above your skill level or your horse’s, please DON’T try this or get guidance from a natural horsemanship instructor. If it goes wrong, it will ruin your and your horse’s confidence.
With regard to chasing a dog, this will generally help the dog to not chase horses anymore and it helps the horse’s confidence around moving and barking dogs. Sometimes this is your only strategy if a dog is running at you … as otherwise your horse feels he/she needs to spin and run for his/her life. Be aware though, that this is a BIG RISK…mostly a dog will eventually turn and run the other way, but if you come across a mentally unbalanced dog, he/she might stand their ground. In that case, there’s really no good options for which I’m aware 😫
When you're on the ground and reaching towards some part of your horse's body and your horse turns away, back off for a moment. Let your horse know you honor their concerns. The more you do this and take the time necessary for your horse to get comfortable, the more your horse will trust you.
Respecting your horse also means being totally in the moment and aware of your horse at all times and not just when you’re “officially” training or riding. In other words, we must totally have a plan and be present when leading our horse, taking our horse out of a stall as well as bringing our horse into or out of an enclosed area (like a paddock or coral) where there are other horses.
It’s important to be aware of where your horse is in the hierarchy of the herd (even if it’s just one other horse in the paddock). While paying attention to the horse that you’re bringing into or out of the paddock, be aware of where the other horses are with your peripheral vision. Know who is higher up in the hierarchy than your horse and know when another horse is going to try and move or push your horse. Then make sure to protect your horse's and your personal space by using methods mentioned below (i.e. teaching boundaries). By the way, this awareness of herd dynamics will also keep YOU safe.
Now let’s talk about teaching your horse to honor your personal boundaries. In the horse world, a horse that’s higher up in the herd always is given space. So, you need to create a personal space/bubble around yourself when leading and when entering your horse's paddock or stall.
You can begin to do this by: First...THINKING and having a clear picture in your mind how far out your bubble goes...and picture your horse moving away to stay out of that bubble
Secondly, create some rhythm (while maintaining your mental picture) around yourself with your arms, a stick, or rope depending on your relationship with your horse. Start with the movement very, very, small....then escalate only if necessary. Don't wait 'til the last minute to begin. Begin your communications when you still have a lot of space between the two of you. To be safe, be sure your horse is familiar with respecting space before you communicate with just your body.
If your horse hasn’t heeded your warnings, tagging him/her is the last option … or I like to say biting 😉 your horse (just as another horse 🐎 would) … with your stick, stick string, or rope. BUT just prior to this, create a mental picture of yourself tagging him/her in whatever way you plan to tag. IF your horse then moves, DON'T TAG them!
One final note: as you develop your relationship, try NOT to use your stick. However if you end up needing to use it, try to make it appear as an extension of your body. Also when everything is going well, it’s important to keep your stick in a neutral position. Neutral should be down and dragging on the ground. It should only be lifted as part of your escalation and warnings.
Without experience and help you might find it difficult building mutual understanding or respect ... and ultimately trust with your equine partner. It’s not always easy reading your horse’s feelings in order to honor him/her and it can be challenging to get your timing and escalation right when asking your horse to respect your boundaries. In my opinion and experience, the best way to gain these skills is to find a good natural horsemanship instructor. If you’d like to contact me for help, you can reach me HERE.
Kyle Van Splinter