How to Bond with Your Horse
3 Do’s and Dont’s for a Better Relationship
After many successful rehab experiences with horses that had ‘people problems’, and 7 years of working with ‘airs above the grounds’ performer turned equine behaviorist Anita Kush, I realize that a large range of problems in the human – horse interaction can be traced back to a small set of unhelpful behaviors on part of the human.
Let’s get one thing clear: It is NEVER the horse’s fault. If we can agree on this, you may read on and may find something helpful here.
Bonding with our horse – what a wonderful and noble intention.
Not only do we want to get on, get along and understand each other, we want to forge a relationship that will be strong enough to carry us through the unavoidable moment of crisis – big or small. We want to have ‘something in the bank’ – on the trust level. This topic is rich enough to fill a book. But it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Let’s start somewhere…
Here 3 common mistakes and what to do instead:
Mistake: Constantly feed snack as reward.
Do this instead: In general (exception below) let ‘virtue be its own reward’. The exercise went well? The horse stood calmly for the farrier or while mounting? Praise in a soft voice, gently stroke the favorite spot, be a relaxing and reassuring presence for your horse. Then feed snacks out of that context of reward, for no reason at all, just to socialize.
Exception: Feeding ‘high-value’ treats (I use brown sugar cubes) to establish a certain behavior can get you ‘over the hump’ and leave more time for higher-value activities. Example: Horse learns to line himself up at the mounting block. That said, the horse should not get into the habit of constantly expecting treats after you praise him.
Mistake: Letting your horse fend for himself
Do this instead: A dominant horse is crowding your horse when you fetch her from the pasture? Your horse’s more assertive friend grabs for his feed bowl? A fellow boarder is loud and encroaches on your space in front of your horse? These and other types of situations require you to take charge. Give your horse the feeling that you are “in charge of everything” and will create a safe environment where your horse’s needs (for instance for space) are met. Be your horse’s ‘Joan of Arc’ or ‘Sir Lancelot’! This will strengthen the bond with your horse.
Mistake: Expect obedience at all cost (i.e. “don’t let him get away with it”)
Do this instead: Look at every interaction with your horse as a conversation. E.g. you want to turn left, your horse turns right. Diffuse, deflect, re-channel – never argue with your horse. In this case: Good idea, but let’s do that my way (turning right, circling around, coming at it again, repeat until desired outcome is achieved – without confrontation!). The way to bond with your horse is building obedience as a habit that is willingly built on trust – never enforced!
Exception: Dangerous behavior. Example: The horse runs over you or other humans without regard. This must stop immediately without discussion. Be decisive!
Follow this ‘recipe’ for 30 days, then let me know how you and your horse are doing.
Enjoy your horse!