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Bonding With Your Horse

March 26, 2012 12:25:30 PM

I must admit to feeling a certain degree of bewilderment when I hear from equestrians, including some of the more experienced out there, complaining they don’t have a special connection with their horse. What these people don’t seem to understand is that, much like human relationships, building a relationship with a horse is hard work, and is not obtained by simple feeding and grooming. It is of course a deep and meaningful, dare I say it a humanistic connection that is built on trust and confidence. This is no mean feat, and cannot be achieved over night. On a side note, I believe it’s important to state that the love of a horse, much like that of humans should be an unconditional emotion, and similarly, it shouldn’t be dependent on reciprocation. 

Of course, in order to build a meaningful relationship with your horse, one must fully understand its behaviour. One behavioural aspect that is commonly misunderstood with the horse is licking. Please remember that a horse is not a dog. This sounds simple enough, however people often mistake licking as a sign of affection from a horse, which it is not. People offer various explanations for why horses may do this, some believe it simply trying to appease you, however it is most likely trying to obtain salt. Sometimes this can be followed by a little bite or nip, and it is this which is the actual show of affection. You need to exercise caution when your horse’s mouth enters your personal space, despite possible kind affectionate intentions, nips and bites can extremely painful. In this situation I would advise waving the horses mouth away, and giving a sharp “No.” It is important to teach the horse personal space boundaries. If you do this, your horse will respect you for it and be much more compliant and affectionate towards you. Just remember that horse’s actions reflect their emotions, be it fear or defensiveness for example. You wouldn’t punish a child for being scared, and neither should you a horse. If it does bite you, there will be a reason for it. And if you hit it, how could it ever form trust or a subsequent bond with you?

It’s important to really do your homework before you can expect a close relationship. Learning to understand a horse’s body language, and knowing how to shape your own body language, will allow you to interact with your horse on a much deeper level. Look at its eyes, ears, tail and movements to gauge how it’s feeling, and react accordingly.

There are of course the basics to consider when forming a bond. Small and simple yet effective methods to build respect between you are often great starting points for new horses. For example, feeding helps to bond. In a horse heard, much like in the majority of the animal kingdom, it is the dominant horse which gets to eat first. Teach your horse that you are the dominant one by preventing it from reaching its food until you have moved away. If it is tries to barge you out of the way, then take control and show it you are the boss.

Similarly, it is important the horse feels safe, and ideally will be you that will provide this feeling of safety. Again, this will help form respect for you on their part. This is a basic instinct for a horse, relating the fact they are preyed on in the wild, and are protected by the leader of the herd.

With our modern day busy lives it’s easy to spend your spare time relaxing and socialising, and as a result just visiting your horse when riding time comes around. However if you are able to get to the stables more frequently it will help your horse view you in another light. Take her hand grazing to some lush grass, find her itching points and give her a massage. All of these things are non-labor intensive ways to bond with your horse.    

I sincerely hope this provides a decent starting point for those of you aiming to build up relationships with a new horse, or indeed those who are currently unable to connect with horses you have been riding for a while.

One last point of note worth mentioning is that, no matter close a bond you have with a horse, accidents happen regardless. Therefore always wear sufficient protective gear.

About the author: Ariana Wilkinson works for HorseClicks, a US based site with a huge range of Horses For Sale.

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