Creating any kind of bond with a horse takes time, patience, understanding and love. I remember when I first got Tofino, it took me a while to get create a certain bond. So, I decided to write this post in order to help others get closer to their horse/s.
The following includes techniques that I personally use/d, and since I was not able to ride, these tips are mainly off saddle.
“You don’t break these animals, you come to an understanding with them” – Phil West
We tend to forget that these beautiful creatures can hurt us at any second! Horses, whether green or “broken in” need to constantly feel safe as they are naturally prey animals. Thus, developing techniques in order to communicate and listen to horses is crucial whether you are an owner, rider, trainer, groom etc.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind:
1. Body Language: Horses can read you very easily as they communicate with one another through body language too. The way you stand, the way you hold yourself, the way you walk, your seating position on them. Therefore, standing straight and upright is a sign of power. They will learn to respect you. That being said, if you come aggressively towards a horse, they will most likely try to fight or flee. Take the time to also identify with your horse’s body language, from their ears, to their eyes, nostrils and tensions in their body.
2. Energy: After having gone through my operations, I remember the first time I could see Tofino again he could tell that I was injured, that I was hurt. He was so careful and gentle with me. Especially when I started to ride again. This proves that horses can really sense your inner energy, whether you are happy, sad, hurt, angry. So always try to approach your horse in a positive manner, which should keep him feeling safe, and visa versa.
3. Quality time: Many equestrians, unfortunately, simply hop on a horse, and hop off without taking the time to thank or care for them. Spending time with your horse is crucial if you wish to succeed together. Taking the time to groom, tack up and even sit in their stall or paddock is a good way to get them to trust and create a bond. This will also help you in understanding your horse and their behavior better.
4. Voice Lunging: I started with using a lunge rein only and no whip as he was terrified from them. Using my voice and my body, I would as him to walk. With a little more enthusiasm in my voice, I would then click twice and ask him to trot. Then, with a different voice tone, I would ask for canter, and at the same time half lift my arm up to encourage the forwardness. This differs with every horse. Tofino learnt with the tone of the words. Some horses may only need you to make some gestures and click.
The purpose of voice lunging is to work with your horse strictly on voice and body language, thus, increasing communication skills between one another. You can simply practice and train them to listen to your voice commands no matter what age your horse is at.
5. Gentle Gestures: When you halter your horse ask him to walk with you by clucking. Don’t ever pull on your horses head. Always ride with soft hands, use your legs and seat to steer your horse, the reins and bit are simply tools to keep your horse between your aids and for subtleness. Always treat your horse as you want to be treated. If you horse does something that requires discipline then get after him quickly and be done with it. Allow him to recreate the situation to do it correctly and then praise him.
6. Changing Routine: Expose your horse to different situations rather than only riding in an arena. Go on hacks/trail rides to not only maintian a healthy mentalty for your horse, but also allow them to trust you in unknown places. If you do not have access to hacking grounds, then perhaps load the trailer and take your horse to a different yard to ride in their arena or use alternative facilities (cross country, hacking grounds..).
7. Leading obstacle courses: You can try to create an obstacle course and lead your horse through it. This could include water ponds, small logs, carpet/rug on the floor, maneuvering through cones etc. Be creative! For spooky horses they may need you to go through it in-front of them so they follow rather than by their side. Eventually however, you should be able to do it side by side.
8. Bareback/Tackless rides: Only do this when you are experienced and balanced enough and with a safe horse. Riding bareback is an amazing sensation as you get to feel the horses movements inch by inch. Horses are born free, they were not meant to have saddles on their backs, or bits in their mouth, so tackless riding takes both courage and trust from the horse and the rider. Always remember to wear your helmet, no matter what stage of riding you are at.
9. Horse Tricks: Training your horse to master tricks does not only break boredom but it also teaches them to act before they think, and to also strengthens the bond between you two as they look at you for direction and leadership. There are many tricks that a horse can do from bowing, smiling, giving a kiss, picking up objects, standing on pedestals, rearing on command, laying down on command etc.
An important reminder though would be to teach them to break the trick and make sure they do not do these tricks without your command as it can turn into a bad habit and could end up being dangerous (especially rearing and laying down).
I have taught Tofino to stay laying still so i hop on him. And he also lifts his leg whenever he begs for treats. The leg he lifts is always the one that I’m on the side of.
You can click here to learn a few tricks for you and your horse.
Note: I am NOT encouraging you to be super soft with your horse. Be demanding in a GENTLE manner. If your horse misbehaves then reassure him that whatever he did is wrong by simply waving your hand, a gentle smack, a demanding “No” etc. but NEVER beating or starving them.
Happy bonding 🙂 !