Knowing how to bond with your horse is an essential skill for any rider. It takes time and patience to create a bond with someone, either human or animal. The relationship between a person and his or her horse must be based on mutual trust. This can be especially challenging if you didn’t have the horse since he or she was a foal.
Some horses may have had a traumatic experience with their previous owners. You need to be able to win their trust without rushing them to obedience. Remember that your horse is your partner on the road, not your servant.
For me, bonding with a horse is such an important topic that I wanted to offer you something special. So I’ve partnered up with Minuca Elena and together we researched and reached out to our favorite equestrian bloggers. We asked them the following questions:
What You'll Learn Today
- 1 1. How do you bond with your horse so that you can get him/her to trust you?
- 2 2. What is your best tip for bonding with a new horse?
- 2.1 Leslie Wylie – Eventing Nation
- 2.2 Samantha Hobden – Haynet
- 2.3 Callie King – CRK Training
- 2.4 Christine Churchill – Five Star Ranch
- 2.5 Ivy Schexnayder – Ivy’s Horses
- 2.6 Karine Vandenborre – Horsefulness Training
- 2.7 Johanna Dunn – Natural Bridges
- 2.8 Lindsey Rains – Alta Mira Horsemanship
- 2.9 Orla & Darielle – No Bucking Way
- 2.10 Sara Shelley – Giddy Up And Write
- 2.11 Linnea Aarflot – The Equestrian
- 2.12 Ashley Cline Cagle – Equestrian Stylist
- 2.13 Raquel Lynn – Horses & Heels
- 2.14 Maria Lauzon – I Love Horse Riding
- 2.15 Sally Morgan
- 2.16 Franklin Levinson – A Course In Horse
- 2.17 Melanie Eberhardt – Women of Age Riding Horses
- 2.18 Joanne Verikios – Winning Horsemanship
- 2.19 Douglas O. Thal – Horse Side Vet Guide Horse Side Vet
- 2.20 Stephanie L. Taylor
- 2.21 Anna Clay – All About Mustangs
- 2.22 Kim Krause Berg – Work to Ride
- 2.23 Matt Davison – Tack and Tuck
- 2.24 Aj Saunders – My Equine Life
- 2.25 Clare Barfoot – SPILLERS Feeds
- 2.26 Carol Darlington – Classical Foundation Horsemanship
- 2.27 Amanda Lester – Virtual Horse Help
- 2.28 Maria – That Grumpy Horse
- 2.29 Fiona – The Scotish Equestrian
- 2.30 Catherine Louise Birmingham
- 2.31 Kelly Meister-Yetter – Crazy Critter Lady
- 2.32 Leah Sweeney – The Mama Equestrian
- 2.33 Hope Ellis-Ashburn – Red Horse on a Red Hill
- 2.34 Poppy Blandford
- 2.35 Kip Mistral
1. How do you bond with your horse so that you can get him/her to trust you?
2. What is your best tip for bonding with a new horse?
We receive some amazing answers that I am sure they are going to be very useful for you. Read below to find out more about how to bond with your horse.
Leslie Wylie – Eventing Nation
1. My horses and I go on lots of long, lazy trail rides together to break up the monotony of training and just have fun together! It keeps everybody fresh and happy with a good work ethic, and spending time together on the trails gives me a lot of valuable information about my horse’s personality.
When a deer jumps out in front of us, what’s his or her response? How do I react? The more I know about what makes my horse tick, the better partner I can be, and it helps me keep tabs on my own instincts. Good partnership and understanding is the foundation of trust.
2. Spend lots of time out of the saddle together — grooming, hand grazing, just hanging out. You’ll gather important information about your horse’s character, likes and dislikes, and they’ll start to associate you as their “person.”
Samantha Hobden – Haynet
The character of the horse and how they have been treated in the past is also a big factor. Take tiny gentle steps with them and then before you know it, you are taking huge jumps and strides together!
2. Make groundwork with your horse a priority together with gently hacking them out. Most horses need some time to adapt to their new surroundings and routine.
There is no rush and if you take time slowly then in most cases you will reap rewards and get results with a horse that trusts you with what you are asking of them.
Callie King – CRK Training
The connection with a horse is something special. Perhaps because they are such a large, yet sensitive animal. While we have used horses for sport and work for centuries, lately horse owners and enthusiasts have found more desire to bond with them and create relationships of partnership and trust instead of domination.
But how to you bond with your horse and earn that trust?
I would be working at each of the following three strategies for creating a stronger bond:
Touch – Physical touch is a large part of bonding for all social species. For people, there is much research on how touch affects our interactions with others and the role it plays in developing attachment and bonding.
When touching your horse, observe them closely to see what kind of touch they enjoy. While you may like to stroke their nose or face, this could be barely tolerable or even irritating for your horse. Try touching your horse as another horse would, scratching their withers or along the top of their neck. From there, move along their body, try adjusting your amount of pressure, and the type of touch from scratching to stroking, for example, to find what your horse enjoys most.
Good Associations – What does your horse enjoy, where are they calm and relaxed, and how can you be with your horse in these times to create better associations with you? If your horse only associates you with hard work, or with punishment, any bond will be weakened. Two examples of creating good associations would be spending time with your horse in their pasture, just hanging out as they graze, or doing some fun positive reinforcement training.
Consistency – a large part of creating trust is being consistent. This begins with being consistent in your emotional state and extends to being consistent in how you work with your horse, what you expect, what you allow, and how you behave.
Being calm and quiet one day and then full of manic energy the next will not help your horse develop any sense of trust. Being consistent in your requests, rewards, or even corrections will increase your horse’s ability to trust you.
Christine Churchill – Five Star Ranch
1. One of the most important ingredients to bonding and getting a horse to trust you is devoting time to develop a relationship with the horse and being consistent and fair in your actions around him.
Require the horse to respect you but remember it is the try that counts so be quick to praise the horse when it does something right. Your voice and a soft stroke of your hand on his neck can go a long way to quieting and soothing the horse.
Horses are very intuitive and can tell your emotional state the moment they see you. Horses communicate through body language. If you project calmness and are non-threatening they relax and learn to enjoy your company. Anger has no place around horses and is destructive to developing a bond. If you are having a bad day and feel like you are about to “lose it” with your horse, it is better to walk away, take some deep breaths, and then come back in a better state of mind.
Stepping back from situation also allows you to see that it may be something we are doing that is confusing the horse. With horses, slowing down and taking things in small steps is most effective. If you hurry the horse, you often go backward.
Learn to watch the horse’s body language when you are around him. If the horse is licking and chewing, the horse is relaxed and processing information. If he is wide-eyed and has all his muscles tense, that is a signal you need to slow down and back off the pressure because he is moving into flight or fight mode which isn’t conducive to relationship-building.
Relationships with horses take time to develop but are worth the investment. A horse who trusts you will give you more. Whether you show or ride trail, a good partnership with your horse will make everything better.
2. If you have a new horse, plan to devote time with that horse. Be the person who feeds the horse. Be the person who grooms and cares for the horse. Strive to be a source of comfort to the horse. Find the horse’s favorite spot to be scratched. Many horses love their ears stroked.
Learn what your horse likes and dislikes in working around him. The horse may be new to the barn and feel frightened. Your consistent but gentle presence will set the stage for the horse to look to you as a partner.
If you think you won’t set aside that time on your own, sign up for a weekend clinic where you know you will spend hours of focused time with the horse. Being at a clinic will ensure you will put in uninterrupted time with your horse and has the added benefit of being near a professional should you run into trouble.
At clinics, you learn quickly how your horse reacts to new things and allows you to be the source of comfort and support to the horse. The concentrated time and clinic environment put the two of you together which is conducive to developing a bond fast.
Ivy Schexnayder – Ivy’s Horses
1. It does depend on where the horse is at, wild vs. just needing time bonding. I find it often helps to take a chair and book out to the pasture and just sit with the horse, allowing him liberty to eat and explore with me nearby. Last year I had the privilege of spending 2 weeks with a horse who was VERY standoffish to people.
Little movements would have him running away and he had very little interest in interacting with any human, but he was not aggressive at all. I started in the round pen and started using repetitive movements. I would gently move my empty hand in a circle as I walked back and forth across the round pen, always close to his personal bubble, but never pushing him away.
If he paid attention, I would stop and take a breath, then continue, gradually getting closer, always allowing him to move, but never pushing him or running him.
If he started ignoring me, I made my self more interesting by picking up the tarp that was on the ground and continuing the repetitive motion with my hand with the tarp in it, so basically moving the tarp in circles as I walked back and forth. Please note I was not chasing him at all with this item, simply strolling back and forth.
As soon as I had his attention again, I would drop the tarp and continue. After just a week of this, it was amazing the change!!! He thought people were interesting and were way less reactive to movements and noises! This was a very low-stress way to become interesting to the horse!
2. I believe that for any new horse, you need to become interesting while staying safe. I love clicker training and positive reinforcement, but that might mean feeding from a bucket, rather than your hand. Again, STAY SAFE. With a new horse, don’t try to earn RESPECT, instead, try to be interesting and fun.
Spend time with the horse, while not asking for anything and not focusing at all on them (read a book). Always be calm and be aware of how much you move. Practice staying completely still, listening to the world around you. Make sure you are using “soft eyes” to look at your horse.
Karine Vandenborre – Horsefulness Training
1. To have a strong bond with your horse, a true connection, you need to be connected to yourself in the first place. Being connected to is being fully present. Being fully present means you are in contact with your breath and body, your body and mind are soft and you feel grounded and calm. At the same time you are aware of your surroundings, that is nature and/or everything around you and of course: your horse.
So that’s where it all starts. From that place, it is easy to connect with a horse, because horses are magnetically drawn to people who are in this connected and present state. Then a horse will naturally trust you.
So when being with a horse, training a horse, this is always the first step and it’s also something you return to when things get difficult: Am I connected? Am I present? I teach a very simple yet effective technique to be able to become present in a few seconds, this is the Here & Now
Technique and you can apply it whenever and wherever you want.
Next, to that, it’s important to know that horses bond best the way they also bond and communicate in nature with each other. That is: in liberty. For horses that is the most natural way to bond and therefore the easiest and understandable way. So being and communicating with your horse in liberty will build a strong foundation of trust and understanding between horse and human.
2. With a new horse, I advise to always start with being with your horse in liberty, without doing something. I call this “Bonding Time”. This is what horses also do a lot: just being together, grazing together, resting together, walking together.
You are giving your new horse the message that you don’t “want” something from it, and this is very important as a lot of horses have the idea that humans always “want” something from them. This can give a horse a negative feeling. Because horses first need to be able to be curious about their human, about who that person is, how he smells, how he looks like, how he moves, how his energy feel.
So while doing “bonding time” you wait until your horse takes the first step for contact. When you let a new horse take the first steps, then you know this horse is ready for more, and then you proceed with the next connection exercises in liberty. I call them the “connection exercises”, but actually it’s communicating with your horse like horses also communicate with each other and with this you will develop a true bond and clear communication.
So my best tip regarding how to bond with your horse: wait for your new horse to take the first step for contact! This will really set the right tone for all further things you want to do in the future. If you already start “doing” things with your horse / to your horse when the horse hasn’t had the change to take this first step, this can have a negative influence on your being with your horse.
Johanna Dunn – Natural Bridges
1. This is a very good question and one I don’t think many owners take into consideration. Horses in a herd situation have a very strong bond with one another. They have to, as many times their very lives depend on it. Complete trust without question. But how can a horse owner gain this same implicit trust with their horse?
There can be many layers to developing a deep and meaningful bond with a horse. A bond that equates to complete trust from both sides. This does not happen overnight, yet builds little by little over time. It all starts with understanding what makes your horse feel safe and comfortable. What do they enjoy? What do they dislike? I was once introduced to the idea of “money in the bank”. The more you deposit into your “bond account” the more you can “withdrawal” when things go wrong. You want to work towards always having “money in the bank”.
But how do you put “money in the bank”? This can be something as simple as a long and relaxing grooming session, always itching your horse’s favorite spot upon arrival, allowing them to eat the tastiest grass outside the paddock. But this also takes into account larger events, such as avoiding over facing your horse while jumping, being sympathetic of fearful or stressful moments the horse may be experiencing, knowing your horse’s limits and being careful of approaching and overcoming these limits with time and patience.
With the “money in the bank” scenario, on those few occasions, you miss judge a situation and your horse is put into “stress”, he is less likely to go backward in his training, as you have plenty of good to offset the occasional bad.
2. First off, I would read and understand the first answer! But of course all owners will eventually be faced with the arrival of a new partner, so where do you start? I like to sit for a while with a new horse, in their new surrounding, with no expectations what so ever. This quiet time can give you an incredible amount of insight into your horse’s natural tendencies. Are they curious? Nervous? Aggressive? Disinterested? All of this information will help you develop a plan for going forward with your new horse.
Balance their natural tendencies with things that will enhance your bond with them. A nervous horse will more likely enjoy your company close to the barn and other horses. Being aware that moving away from the others will likely create stress, and possibly chip away at the bond. But if you have found the things your horse likes, scratches, grooming, nice grass, perhaps you can take advantage of time away from the barn and turn it into something positive.
A curious horse will appreciate a varied routine, a disinterested horse may appreciate a treat now and again. As a natural horsemanship trainer, I also use a large amount of ground and liberty work to create a natural bond, but I find for many owners, this is not something they have access to, and that is ok.
Bonding with a horse can be fairly simple, as long as you remember to balance difficult and stressful tasks with things your horse enjoys. And trying to be sympathetic in your training. Never pushing more than is necessary, but not drilling into boredom.
Lindsey Rains – Alta Mira Horsemanship
1. Bonding results from a firm balance between boundaries and kindness. This is what is commonly referred to as Partnership in the equestrian world, and rightly so. Kind leadership is the basis from which your horse can learn to trust you.
Each horse is unique in how long it takes to trust a human. But one of the ways to accelerate the bonding process is to set your intentions from the beginning to always treat your horse with patience, understanding, and thoughtfulness. Spend time to just “be” with your horse.
Remember that this is a living creature that craves safety and peace. Since horses are so intuitive, they can sense your approach to them when you touch them. So spend time grooming, talking to them, and rewarding good behavior under saddle.
Where people deviate from kindness in horse handling is when they misunderstand pain, confusion, or fear with “naughty” behavior. Without realizing it, they will punish their horse for trying to express something really crucial. By setting your mind to ask why your horse might not be behaving “correctly,” you will be less likely to miss the stress signals and will more quickly reinforce to your horse that you are on their side.
While it is important to take time with your horse to bond, it is equally important to set boundaries from the very beginning. Boundaries (like not allowing a horse to rush past you, push through you, bite or kick, move erratically under saddle, etc.) are incredibly important for your safety first and foremost. So for all of the horsemanship basics, do not be afraid to correct the horse in the beginning stages of these behaviors.
Just remember to keep the correction appropriate. A good example is a horse who will rush past you the second they walk out of their stall. At the very beginning of your session, they are clearly establishing their leadership. But if you take a few moments to back them up into their stall and retry walking out right behind you and stopping when you stop, they will eventually get it. No whips needed, just persistence. Boundaries are not only helpful to you as the rider, but also to your horse.
Believe it or not, most horses don’t ultimately want to be in charge. With domestication came breeding more passive genes into the gene pool. That means that most horses today want to be subject to a leader who will protect them. They don’t want to call the shots. So when you allow them to have their way, they will assume they need to be the leader, and thus increasing their anxiety.
There has to be a balance between boundaries and kindness, because if you go too far one way or the other, you risk going backward in your bonding with your horse. You are the leader that has your horse’s best interest at heart. By taking ownership of that role, your horse will learn quickly that he can indeed trust you. And bonding, by extension, will quickly follow.
2. When you first get a new horse, the best thing you can do is take the extra time to find out who that horse is. If you have been in the horse world for longer than a month, you know that each has their own personality, communication pattern, strengths, preferred touch, and learning style.
Spend extra time grooming and talking to your horse. Allow time to just exist together in peace. Take a walk together around the property.
Have walk-only riding time where you both learn each other’s simple cues. The more time you have together in a relaxed setting, the more your horse will associate you with the rest. Rest doesn’t have to mean “not working”. Rest just means a release of pressure, where they know they are safe. Safety and rest lead to contentment. And there is no bond stronger than a horse who knows that their rider is their safe place.
Orla & Darielle – No Bucking Way
1. Keep everything simple, don’t go in and expect your horse to just click with you straight away, getting your horse to trust you takes time.
Start off with your groundwork and start to build your foundations from there using your voice and your movements, this will all translate when you ride your horse for a better bond in the saddle.
2. Get in and get grooming! You will find out what your horse likes, you will also get to know their personalities that bit better, body language is a massive thing, from you & from them!
Spend time with your horse, watching them in the paddock or sitting with them in the stable will quickly give you a feel for their unique personalities.
Sara Shelley – Giddy Up And Write
1. In my experience, finding “The Horse” that you’ve been looking for…the one that checks all- or let’s face it, most- of those boxes on our list of “must-haves,”- that feeling of- “this is the one,” is usually a pretty authentic source of connection that can be built on as the journey unfolds.
It’s easy to become discouraged when training goals aren’t realized, or injuries create setbacks- but when it comes to building a relationship with my horses, that amazing initial excitement can always be relied upon to inspire and reconnect if I’m feeling like progress is slow.
We tend to give our best attention to those things we are most excited about, so it’s been easy for me to spend a ton of time with my new horses, whether grooming, hand grazing, trail-riding, or training. I guess my answer all boils down to one thing… time.
There isn’t likely a program, trainer or gadget that will ever really be able to compete with what time can do for the horse/human bond…
2. I think it’s important to remember that horses are individuals with specific preferences and dislikes…
For my dog, treats say “I love you” much better than a belly scratch, but my cat would choose a rub down over a snack any day. Horses are no different.
Take the time to figure out what communicates affection in a way that your new horse responds to best.
It’s time for some observation…if you notice your new horse likes to rub on the fence post, maybe he’d adore a good scratching. If he’s always searching for the last tidbit of grain, perhaps you have a treat-hound on your hands. (and yes, I’m aware there are pros and cons to feeding the cookie monster…)
My last horse, Vienna, was thrilled to have her ears scratched on the inside. When I had to sell her, I told her new owner about her preference. She got in touch with me weeks later and said she’d forgotten my advice initially, but as soon as she started scratching her ears, Vienna calmed down and they were really able to bond.
Small things really- but it doesn’t take long for a new horse to pick up on the fact that his human wants him to be happy and comfortable, and that goes such a long way towards building a solid foundation of trust.
Linnea Aarflot – The Equestrian
I’m very close to my main horse Caruso and I normally notice straight away if something is bothering him. He tells me with his body language and I can read how his energy is.
To make a horse trust you, you need to make the horse feel that you’ve got his back, no matter what, so he can relax. Horses like to have a leader (it makes them waste less energy then if they have to be the leader) but they are picky and only wants good leaders.
To get a horse to trust you is something that happens over time, when you’re in the arena helping him to get stronger and supple up tensions, and when you’re hacking out on a new track being the positive leader of what you’re up to. The horse will trust you if you’re always thinking ahead of him, catching him before he falls.
Another important thing is the intention. A horse can sense it very clearly. So if you’re confident in what you’re asking from the horse the horse will be confident doing it, but if you feel uncomfortable or insecure in what you wish your horse to do then he will feel the same. Then it’s time to ask a trainer for clear directions.
When you’re comfortable being your horse’s positive leader he will happily trust you, so try to find what you need to be comfortable as his positive leader.
2. There are two main topics here. The first is experience and knowledge. The more of those you have the easier it is to be the positive leader he can trust, and show him you know what he needs.
The second one is to know yourself. Make sure you leave any stress, worries or outside life negative energy that easily comes in between bonding. I use meditation to increase my awareness, and it has helped me and many others enormously. Any horse will trust a human who’s calm and has good intentions from the horses perspective.
Ashley Cline Cagle – Equestrian Stylist
1. Bonding with a horse is similar to bonding with humans, the biggest piece is spending time. Building trust comes from being kind and present. If my horse does something well, I reward him/her with a treat, and the bond will grow into a positive relationship from there.
Physical touch is also a big part of building the bond. Petting the horse’s neck on the ground and while riding is one of my favorite gestures to reinforcing good behavior and building the bond.
2. When I meet a new horse, I love bringing them a peppermint or a treat. Looking them in their eyes and petting their neck is another way I start building the initial bond, too. By letting the horse smell my hands, this will create a memory for them so they can remember me the next time, too.
Raquel Lynn – Horses & Heels
1. I make sure that I spend time working with a horse in the arena and stall. It’s important to establish trust in all areas.
Time and patience is something you can build over time.
2. Simple tasks like grooming and going for walks to get the horse use to your presence.
Your horse will quickly learn to love the human who feeds them – sit quietly in the stall with them during their mealtime.
Maria Lauzon – I Love Horse Riding
1. Grooming and general lots of physical contact (besides riding) is number one.
I also really love walking with my horse as I feel that gives both him and me some shared experience that isn’t just about me riding him.
2. For me, grooming is number one, however also spending time outside with the horse so that it’s not always stuck in the stable and it learn to be around me in a different environment.
One of the first things people can do to bond with a horse is to spend time with that horse. This means sitting quietly in the pasture and observing the horse, watching him eat hay, or turning him loose in the ring and sitting quietly with him. People are often so task oriented with their horses that they lose sight of the pleasure of simply being with their horses.
Instead of rushing through a grooming and saddling routine and then going right into a lesson or training session, change the routine. Your horse will be surprised by your presence in his life in a new way. Spending quiet time with your horse, noticing what he likes and does not like, is one of the best ways to bond with your horse.
Engaging a horse’s trust requires a knowledge of horse body language and watching closely as you approach or work with the horse. If your horse is annoyed or irritated with something you are doing, for instance brushing too hard or in a sensitive area, and you pay attention to his language to “back off” he will start to know that you are a person who can be trusted. Listening to the whispers of your horse is a critical skill to acquire if you want your horse to bond with you.
I also suggest simply taking a walk with your horse, not riding and not grazing, but simply walking with him. Pay attention to your breathing and slowly breath in through your nose and out through your mouth. As your body quiets, you will be able to come into what is called “heart coherence” with your horse, which means that your body rhythms and his will come into synchronicity. This is a very powerful way to connect with an animal. (more information on heart coherence at the HeartMath Institute website).
Franklin Levinson – A Course In Horse
I believe trust happens via shared, mutually successful experiences over time. As a clinician, I often did not have much time to establish a bond with some trust.
I find if I set and maintain a simple boundary initially and also begin to direct basic movement (come forward, stop, turn and or backup) a few steps at a time, and I am consistent, a horse will begin to trust and bond with me rather quickly.
Of course, the bond and trust will be deeper if allowed to develop over time. I also keep in mind that with horses, less is often more.
I know this sounds rather simplistic. But this is how I go about it and it has worked well for me for over 50 years. I need to be precise in what I ask for and how I make requests. The requests must be fair and initially simple. Maintaining a calm demeanor helps tremendously as well.
Melanie Eberhardt – Women of Age Riding Horses
1. I am fostering two rescue horses that came very an abusive situation. I spend a lot of time simply being around them. I always speak softly to them and never move quickly.
Every time I approach them I hold out my hand until they reach out and touch it with their muzzle. I spend a lot of time grooming or just walking around them touching and scratching. At first, they were wary, I expected that considering their background.
Within just a few weeks, their guarded demeanors changed. Their eyes became soft instead of worried, they breathed deeply and signed instead of holding their breath while I groomed them and then they started nickering to me. Now we are riding and they are learning that riding is not painful but fun.
Instead of just surviving each day, they seem to enjoy it. They are the first to greet visitors preferring to stand amongst my friends to being in the pasture. I attribute our bond to trust.
2. Simply spend time with your new horse. That doesn’t necessarily mean working them, that’s good but you should also just be with them. Grooming, hand grazing them, talking to them so they learn your voice. I have a friend who takes a chair out in the pasture and reads to her horse. You don’t have to be directly interacting with them either.
If you are cleaning stalls, peek in their stall when you pass by and say their name. Your horse is in a new space, probably a bit nervous and seeking a “herd” for direction. Devote extra time initially to help your new horse acclimate and learn that you will make certain he is safe and fed. I have learned that once they identify you as their reliable person you’re gold and ready for anything.
Joanne Verikios – Winning Horsemanship
1. Horses are naturally gregarious and inquisitive. They also respond best when they feel calm and confident. We can use these characteristics to make the bonding process as fast and as durable as possible.
To bond with a new horse and get him/her to trust me, I would ideally keep them in a small yard, to begin with. This is also a sound idea for quarantine purposes before you introduce a new horse to an existing community.
The yard situation gives me the opportunity to provide everything the horse requires: water, food, and companionship. I spend time just watching the horse and hanging out inside or outside the fence, making no demands. Depending on the horse, I may also do some grooming, scratching, cleaning out feet etc.
Once the horse is comfortable with approaching me, I introduce a catch, reward and release routine for no particular reason. If the horse is already friendly and well-handled, the bonding can be achieved quite quickly. If the horse is unhandled or fearful, the process can take a little longer. When the horse greets you with a smile and a whinny, you know you have the beginnings of a successful relationship.
2. My best tip leverages two elements: time and pleasure. By giving the horse your time in a quiet and undemanding manner – just observing them as I like to do, or sitting and reading a book, or meditating, you show them that you pose no threat, you are a friend and that they can relax and simply enjoy your company.
This is an intangible gift to the horse and very, very powerful. Do whatever it takes so that you can hang out with them for as long and as often as possible. A few minutes once or twice a day will be enough for some horses; others with major trust issues will need longer.
Once the horse accepts you, you make the connection pleasurable by providing more tangible things the horse will enjoy, such as grooming, exercise, mental stimulation (ie, teaching new things) and the occasional earned treat.
Quick story: Some of the visiting broodmares sent to my Warmblood stallion, Highborn Powerlifter, was not very well handled. I remember one couple dropping their mare off with the instructions to never remove her head collar and never let her go in a big paddock.
When they came to pick up their now in-foal mare about six weeks later, they saw to their dismay that she was grazing down the far end of a large paddock and furthermore, was not wearing her head collar!
I could see them exchange panicky glances which clearly said, “Oh no! How long is this going to take?” Their expressions changed to relieved amazement when all the horses cantered up the hill when I whistled and I was easily able to catch their previously elusive mare.
How did I do it? They were keen to know. Apart from the steps outlined above, I would also catch and release her once or twice while she was eating or just for fun. No big deal and she soon came to consider it a pleasant part of life.
Douglas O. Thal – Horse Side Vet Guide Horse Side Vet
1. Bonding may not be the best term. When I interact with a horse, I am sure that I first understand their personality/issues, and that I have their attention. I do this by just interacting with them. I set myself up for success (Ray Hunt) by being in a safe location (for horse and me).
Then I ask more of them, and I see what they bring to the relationship. How are they reacting to me? I am in the moment.
I learn a lot from those first few moments. Have they been handled properly in the past? Or not? Do they understand my cues? Do they pay attention to me? Then I adapt my approach going forward.
They trust me because they recognize that I am communicating with them. Not simply throwing myself at them like people often do.
2. Interact with the horse and see what that interaction is like. Have a properly fitting halter and lead rope and a safe place to work in. How does the horse interact with you? Does it seem afraid? Does it lack respect? Does it simply ignore you?
Ask the horse to move away from pressure with a lead and instantly reward with slack. What happened? Ask the horse to drop away from pressure on the poll. Does it do that? Make contact with the shoulders, go down the limbs, ask to raise the left forefoot. What happens?
1. You need to work on the horse’s level and speak their language. Since horses are herd animals you have to work to be a part of their herd. Sit in the pasture for an hour or two. Notice how the horse interacts with the other horses. Is there a specific place it likes to be scratched? Is their specific horses it prefers to be around. Learn to understand their body language and quirks.
You can use the Monty Roberts Join-Up method to get the horse to start to see you as a herd mate and leader. It teaches the horse that it is more enjoyable to be with you in the center of the round pen instead of away from you and it creates a connection between the horse and human.
2. Find out what the horse likes. We have a lot of stereotypes about horses and we don’t honor the individual horse. Not all horses like carrots and apples. Some horses are more independent and others are more social. Just like people, horses have preferred areas to be touched. Some horses love face scratches and others hate it.
Spend time with them doing what they enjoy. That might be just grazing in the pasture or going on a relaxing trail ride. Spend time brushing them as well. If you only go see them to work then spending time with you won’t be as enjoyable to them.
Anna Clay – All About Mustangs
2. When I take a new horse in, I spend several days just walking and being around it. I talk, absolutely, to let the horse know I’m there, aware of my cadence and my tone – without raising my voice and being loud.
I walk around the horse, with any tools I use without raising them over my head and without flapping my arms or hands. I’m simply quietly letting them know I’m there. Over several days they learn this person is here – I’ll do that for weeks, depending on what they need. I won’t push them, though I keep nudging them forward.
I never – especially since dealing with wild horse – don’t set the terms of when I’m going to break that barrier; the horse does. When I behave calmly, every time I get a little closer; make eye contact, retreat, eye contact, retreat, so the horse knows I want to communicate but I won’t hurt it. In a matter of time, the horse will set the tone of where the relationship moves forward.
Keeping in mind an abused or neglected animal is not your standard animal; those rules don’t apply here. When creating a bond with a horse that doesn’t have a bond with anybody, the most important thing is to not create a time schedule. Do not make the horse adhere to your time schedule; yes, you have to push forward but not so much that you’re alarming it.
Kim Krause Berg – Work to Ride
1. I am a level II Reiki healer for people but realized I enjoyed working with horses more. The racehorses need the healing and calming from it.
Horses have a 6th sense with humans. They are better at energy fields than we are. They are used as therapy horses for that reason. One of my racehorses that I worked with went out west to work with autistic girls.
2. Be patient. It’s like any new relationship, where each has to learn trust and respect. Horses like to play, so when Manny came here, I went and got his favorite toys, like the big balls and stuff to chew on.
A routine helps too, so they learn to know when to expect what and whom. Brushing always helps. They love the attention.
Horses are social animals and so are we, so I feel that our time with them is valuable to them. I’ve gone out and played soccer with Manny and we work on word signals and hand signals. He now whines as soon as he hears me come to the barn.
Matt Davison – Tack and Tuck
1. Love and affection. We take on a lot of abused horses so they are normally pretty skittish and some don’t even want to come to humans.
I think just spending time with them works best for me, showing that you care. Horses are very intelligent animals and pick up on human behaviors and emotions pretty quickly. Once they comfortable with me I try to feed them carrots or apples so they trust and come to me.
2. Time, you can’t expect to form a bond with a horse in an hour, or week or even a month.
I think that the more they get to know you, the more they trust you. I speed that up with carrots though 🙂 Everyone has a weakness and that’s normally most horses.
So my biggest top to bond with a new horse is to always have some food or a sweet snack and spend time with the horse.
Aj Saunders – My Equine Life
1. Horses are very much like people. So in order to bond with a new horse, I’ll take my time to get to know her personality and likes/dislikes.
Treats do help to start the process but you need to invest time like you would with a new relationship.
2. Take time to just go and play in the stable with your horse. Don’t always be seen to turn up to muck out and then leave. Instead, invest your time. Be kind and caring (but firm when you need to be).
Plus like you would with a friend, bring a gift once in a while!
Clare Barfoot – SPILLERS Feeds
1. Typically, we’ll try to establish trust with our horses long before anyone puts any riding equipment on them and tries to climb on top. Think of it like meeting someone for the first time and they suggest moving in together. Creepy, right?
Spending an extended amount of time with your horse and getting involved in their day to day activities like walking and feeding is essential here. There’s no predetermined amount of time this takes for trust to build, it could be one month or four depending on your horse’s temperament or history. Just be patient and when they’re ready to trust you, you’ll know.
2. We think getting involved in their feeding is the most beneficial way of building a bond – everyone loves their feeder, not just horses! This will help build a bond as they’re relying on you to bring ‘the good stuff’, so to speak.
Carol Darlington – Classical Foundation Horsemanship
1. I bond with my horse by rubbing her face gently with a towel every morning, talking to her while I lightly massage her, tapping, and grooming. I also feel our bond has been developed over time by her trusting that I will never overwork her and that I will always be fair to her and only ask for what she can do well.
2. If you have a new horse, I would spend lots of time grooming and talking to your horse. Let them feel your energy. I would stay calm and quiet. Leading your horse all around the facility and giving her a chance to become acclimated with you at her side will show her she is safe. I would take everything very slowly and not rush.
Amanda Lester – Virtual Horse Help
1. My horse and I do groundwork exercises, such as lunging, flexing at the poll and her neck. I then look for one percent improvement in either my confidence or my horse’s confidence each day.
For instance, once she gets something right (like stopping by saying whoa) and can do it at each gait, we quit for the day. I try to ride her at least an hour a day.
2. Spending time with a new horse would be my best advice for how to bond with your horse. Whether it’s giving treats, brushing or just being in the vicinity. Horses are prey animals, so their first instincts are to flee, but they are also curious.
Just being out there, possibly working or looking at other things, will allow the new horse to come to you. It will take some time, but it will happen.
Maria – That Grumpy Horse
1. I spend a lot of time with him, brushing, walking, lunging, even just cuddling him in the box. My horse can be a hothead and is not a very trusty one if he feels insecure, so it was extremely important for me to learn to relax around him when he needed it.
We had a case last year where he got mud fever and wouldn’t let anyone near his legs. For three weeks I had two hours of fights with him every night to put some cream on it. Until one night where I decided to take a deep breath, slow down and do everything while talking to him and he finally realized that I wasn’t there to hurt him. From that point on he always trusts me and lets me do anything I need to do.
2. If the horse has been moved to your stable I would first let it settle in slowly. Then I would start taking the horse for walks, give nice treats, brushing and overall just spending as much time as you can with him/her. They say that it takes two years for you to learn your horse and vice versa. So don’t get discouraged in the beginning if you feel your horse doesn’t bond with you.
Fiona – The Scotish Equestrian
1. I was once told it takes two years to really be able to know your horse. Having owned my mare for four years, I believe it.
When I first bought Eva she was a very mistrusting horse, and I knew that it would take some time to get her to trust me. Eva is still a very mistrusting horse but, as she now trusts me, she will watch my body language to check if the new person is ok, in fact, several people, including vets and osteopaths, have commented on it.
To bond with her, I spend time grooming her and finding those good itches, as every horse has them. Spending the time to brush out her mane and tail, pick out her hooves and ensure her legs are clean builds a level of understanding and over time I have picked up her behaviors.
I know when she is enjoying having a groom and I know when she has had enough. I believe understanding those types of differences in your horse helps to build that bond.
2. My best tip for bonding with a new horse is to spend time on the ground with them.
That can be done in a variety of ways such as lunging, grooming or bathing. Doing these activities allows you to get to know your horse’s behavior what they like and don’t like and helps to establish a relationship between you.
Finally, don’t rush and expect you to have a strong bond within six months or expect the bond with one horse to be the same as the bond you have with another horse.
1. Firstly bond with yourself. In other words, be connected to how you are feeling. Even if there is fear or uncertainty present make sure you are aware of it and ‘hold it in your heart’. A horse will trust you if you are in control of yourself and this means what you are thinking and how you are feeling.
If you are somewhere else in your thoughts – thinking about the next horse, what you are doing after riding, what you are making for dinner that night etc. Or not aware of any fear present – tension, stress, worry. The horse feels immediately untrusting of you and your energy as a leader in what they are about to do with you.
So for me when riding a new horse for the first time, riding a young horse or helping a student with fears or concerns about their own new horse, the most important first step is to stop, breathe, connect with how you are feeling – own that. This is most important. When the horse feel s you connected with yourself he trusts you, yes even if you are afraid of him!
Secondly talk to him, if he is young or afraid. Tell him who you are, how you are feeling, what you are going to be doing with him/her.
Finally, trust yourself. Trust the feelings or sudden thoughts you may have about them, they are communicating on many levels! Be open to what they may be needing or wanting. Trust is given when it is received. They can’t trust you if you don’t trust yourself.
2. Trust them. Keep your boundaries so they get to understand you and know you but allow them to show you who they are. Give them clarity, give them love-based leadership. Help them understand what it is that you want from them. They understand more about you than you do of yourself so respect that and be open to what they have to show you and teach you in your relationship as well.
Kelly Meister-Yetter – Crazy Critter Lady
I started leasing Little Bit of Beau six years ago. He was a skittish horse, and he was also an Alpha horse, so his mind was on his herd, not this human who kept asking him to do things he didn’t want to do, like walk through puddles. I didn’t feel safe riding an unfamiliar horse, so I spent the first year of our relationship on the ground, taking him outside his comfort zone (anywhere outside the pasture fence) and letting him graze. While he nibbled away at the grass, I held on to my end of the lead rope, talked to him, and sang him songs I’d made up about him. In this way, he got used to being around me.
It was important that he be able to trust me, but he didn’t, initially – my not being afraid of the wind, or a shadow, was suspect in his mind. He was sure that I didn’t know what posed a danger to him and his herd. Over time, however, when he demanded that I do the thing I wanted him to do before he would actually do it, and when he saw that the puddle wasn’t full of horse- or Kelly-eating monsters, he started to trust me a little. When he saw that a plastic grocery bag flapping in the wind didn’t attack me, then he became willing to walk up to it and give it a sniff. My being calm in such stressful situations taught him to be calm as well.
These small steps were actually very big: no one else had asked – let alone gotten – Bit to do these things before. And the more we did them together, the braver he became. Eventually, we were able to trail ride off-property (which had been my goal all along). He was always a bit nervous on those rides, but he gained confidence as we did them over and over again.
He’ll never be completely bomb-proof, but in taking as much time as he needed to build a relationship, and create a bond, he’s come a long way from where he started, and so have I. It’s safe to say that we both learned a lot about ourselves, and each other. Last Christmas, I had “Best Horse Ever” embroidered on his turnout blanket, and I’ve got loads of blue ribbons tacked to his stall door. Being an EPM horse, we’ll never be able to compete, but he’s turned into such a great horse, over the years, that I feel he’s earned those First Place ribbons anyway!
Leah Sweeney – The Mama Equestrian
1. Building a good relationship with a horse can be difficult and challenging but time and patience can get you a long way. Your horse needs to have trust in you as an individual on the ground throughout into ridden work.
Time spent with your horse and consistency in seeing your horse will contribute towards building up trust but the largest factor in my opinion for building up trust is patience and lots of it.
Being patient with your horse on the ground and taking the time to understand your horse’s body language and letting your horse understand your own body language will help you and your horse build up a mutual respect for each other which contributes towards the horse trusting you.
Again in ridden work, patience and correcting your horse rather than punishing them for the mistake, time and practice without harsh punishment and taking small steps will give the horse more confidence in you as a rider due to a positive experience and willingness to trust your aids as a rider.
Giving the horse lots of positive reinforcements will give the horse more respect for you. Also making sure that you are not asking the horse to work beyond his ability as this will cause confusion and may ruin your trust.
2. My best tip for bonding with a horse is to not just attend the yard to ride your horse, there are lots of other ways to bond with your horse before riding and your horse needs to know that you do not just visit just to ride them but that you also care for him/her and that other duties are just as important than riding.
With my boy who was originally unbacked, I visited him daily and did lots of other tasks before attempting to back. I spent time just being with him and took things slowly. Even now I will visit him and just sit in the field with him and let him go about his business with the option to come over to me should he wish.
The bond we have now formed has resulted in a horse that will follow me at liberty and will run to greet me at the gate, never have I had to chase him around the field to catch him.
Our time together is special both ridden and on the ground, he loves a good groom and I see this as a time to maintain this bond rather than just a task.
Hope Ellis-Ashburn – Red Horse on a Red Hill
1. I like to spend time with my horse outside of the time we train, etc. I think it’s important to not just be the person who brings the feed and works her so I schedule in time to just be or hang out with her. I also like to do activities with her that I know she enjoys.
Toward that end, it’s just as important to me to work a trail ride into her training schedule as it is to have a session in our arena.
2. I feel that it’s very important to get to know a new horse on a personal level. For example, does he or she have a favorite spot during grooming where they like to be scratched? Find out what they enjoy most and try to incorporate that into your time together.
The key to being a successful rider is having a partnership of trust with your horse, ask any of the worlds most successful riders like Laura Kraut or Scott Brash and they will all tell you that developing a bond with your horse is the key to success.
For me, this bond is most important when you’re in the saddle, this is where your horse can feel you most and you will be most connected. A horse is always listening to you, waiting for you to give clear instructions and to guide them, it’s your job to make sure that you are 100% committed to this task.
When you are on a horse there should be no distractions, your mind should be focused on listening to whats underneath you, you should be present with your horse.
For me, the biggest mistake riders make is carrying too much tension in their bodies. If you want a calm horse you need to have a calm rider. The tension in your shoulders, arms, and hips will instantly transfer to your horse. If your horse can feel a fly landing on his back he will for sure sense the tension in the reins. Every time you get on a horse you should take a moment to drop the tension or stress of the day away.
Take your feet out of the stirrups, drop the weight around your horse, loose out your jaw, shoulders, and hands and take a few good deep breaths. This will be like taking a sigh of relief for your horse and open up the communications lines. If he can feel you soft on his back, he can relax and listen to you.
2. Listen. To get to know a new horse you must listen to them. No horse is the same and every horse will require different needs and instructions. When you’re riding your horse imagine blowing a big imaginary bubble around the two of you and try and focus all of your attention on listening to what you are sensing and picking up from your horse.
There should be no distractions from phones or other people. Find the muscles that are stiff and stretch them kindly, work on both sides evenly. If your horse isn’t understanding something, ask yourself how you can communicate it better to them. Often we blame the horse for not understanding but we rarely look at our own riding and how we can communicate better to them.
Make sure your aids are clear and repetitive, you are training an animal not a genius. You should respect your horse, warm them up properly and cool them down properly. Respect their energy levels, they are not machines. Be kind, always.
For me, the answer to both questions is the same…Take Time. Give Respect. Show Appreciation. Create Partnership. I love this quotation…
“…and I whispered to the horse;
trust no man in whose eye
you don’t see yourself reflected
as an equal.”
Don Vincenzo Giobbe
A natural life for a horse is to walk along slowly in or near a group of other horses, browsing and grazing for many of the 24 hours in a day. Studies have estimated that horses in a natural setting travel between 12-20 hours a day in this casual way. The majority of humans, unfortunately, must take that natural lifestyle away from horses, confine them in small living spaces, and put them “to work” doing “a job.” Different individuals and even breeds of horses, by their innate physical, mental and emotional characteristics, may accommodate or tolerate these expectations of ours, but if you were to ask them if they would prefer to “go to work” rather than “go graze with my friends”, I think they would give the same answer as you or I would. Who wouldn’t rather do something relaxing and pleasant rather than “go to work” and face the pressure and even unpleasantness that concept connotes?
On the other hand, I have seen many horses enjoy their partnerships with their humans–even if their “work” is truly demanding–if they feel that they are respected and appreciated for their contribution to the partnership and their common purpose, whatever it is. My long experience with horses has proven to me unquestionably how extremely intelligent, sensitive, generous and gracious horses are in general. They give so much, and so beautifully, that it is easy for humans to take advantage of them, even accidentally.
In the case of horses, we so often expect them to mold themselves to our world and do as they’re told unquestioningly. Some horses are unbelievably smart and are great problem solvers. This type of horse will get great satisfaction out of being of service to his partner and that common purpose of theirs. Depriving the partnership of their contribution is very demoralizing to these horses and they can get very checked out, or even resentful and angry. Understanding what is important to your horse, believing in him, and acting on both those principles, will go a long way to giving him the feeling of being understood.
And what is important to horses? The same things that are important to us in our human relationships.
Consistency: A good partner does what they say they are going to do and can be depended on to always do that, or “renegotiate.” We can more easily trust someone who has values that they consistently uphold.
Justice: A good partner knows their partner’s limits and treats him/her with fairness. [And a good horseman always takes “the blame.” Because if horses trust you, they will try for you. If they fail, it was not their fault.]
Community: A good partner is observant and nurturing, as they say, “slow to anger and quick to forgive”, and doesn’t hold grudges. Horses live in the present moment. If they have to set boundaries with another member of the herd, they do it swiftly and with real intention, they speak their mind, they take their space, and then it’s over and everyone goes back to eating.
And what to “do” while you are practicing how to be a human “being” instead of being a human “doing” with your in-the-present horse? Take off your watch; don’t think about the time. Take him for long walks and figure out how he sees the world. Without letting him forget his manners and drag you around, let him pick out interesting things to eat along the way to give variety to the typical domestic horse’s very static and boring diet. Giving them even this little bit of freedom of choice can give them a real feeling of gratitude to you…”You understand me!” Scratch him/her in the places that he/she can’t reach. You see horses in pasture together all the time exchanging these services. It’s a friendly thing to do.
Some horses like being groomed, but others don’t. If yours does, you can use it as a reward. If he doesn’t, then keep grooming to a minimum and find something else that he likes. Find out from spending time on the ground and watching your horse’s reactions how he thinks and what he worries about. Be polite and considerate; don’t offend your horse in the same ways that you would like to not be offended. The lighter aids you use, the more the typical horse will listen, if you have taken the time to create a partnership of equality.
The horse will be just as invested in the outcome as you are, if you take the time, make the time, to become partners.
Thank you so much to all the bloggers that contributed to this roundup! Dear readers, now you know how to bond with your horse. Nurture and grow this special relationship.
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