Horses are a lot of things; playful, majestic, strong, curious, gentle, dependable. But they are also loving and loyal – once you bond with a horse, they will be your friend for life. However, developing that kind of relationship takes dedication and effort. You will need to devote hours of time to your horse and show him that you’re someone he can trust. Once you’ve earned that trust, you’ll have the truest friend anyone could ever ask for. This article will help you get started.
Wait until the horse comes to you.
When you meet a horse for the first time, it’s important that you give him the space and time he needs to adjust to your presence. You shouldn’t just walk up to a horse and start petting and rubbing him or begin riding straight away. The horse needs time to understand that you are not a threat before he begins to trust you and see you as a friend and leader. You can begin this process by:
Simply spending time with the horse in his stall, in the arena, or in the pasture. Pull up a chair and just sit with him, or walk around slowly – not getting too close – letting him get used to having you around. Soon you will see him beginning to follow your movements with his eyes and head, watching you curiously.
Do this everyday, without putting any pressure on the horse to interact with you. In time, he will walk up to you of his own accord and start to investigate more closely. Allow him to smell you, nuzzle you and lick you, without attempting any contact in return.
Once trust has been established, the horse may walk over to you as you approach, whinny in greeting or start following you as you move around. That’s when you know you’ve made friends!
Talk to the horse
. One essential way of bonding with a horse is to let him get used to the sound of your voice. Talk to him about the weather, about share prices, about a new lasagna recipe you’ve been dying to try – anything at all! As long as you use a soothing, yet confident tone of voice, the horse will be happy to listen.
Some people even like to read to their horses. This is particularly great for cold winter evenings, when it’s too dark or too icy to ride. Pull up a chair in the horse’s stall and whip out a book. Experiment with different genres and styles to see whether your horse is more of a Dr.Seuss or Tolstoy kinda guy.
Others sing to their horses. This can be a nice way to bond with the horse as you groom him or bring him for a walk. Again, stick to a soothing tone of voice. No death metal please.
Horses are naturally protective about their personal space, so try to read the horse’s body language before getting too close. If the horse flinches or leans away when you reach out to touch it, you know you are moving too quickly. Approach the horse from the side, rather than head on, and touch his back or shoulder rather than his face.
Try gradually moving towards the horse, step by step, before reaching out a hand to touch him. Place a hand on the horse’s shoulders or back. Only do this for a few seconds, then remove your hand and back away. This is very non-threatening behavior and will help the horse to feel safe.
Most horses have a “sweet spot” on their withers, which is located at the base of the mane, between the shoulder blades. A quick scratch on this spot can instantly cause the horse to relax.
People unfamiliar with horses will usually reach straight for a horse’s face or nose, but this is a mistake. A horse’s nose is a very sensitive and private spot, and should only be touched when the horse allows it.
If you ever watch how horses interact when they’re alone, you’ll notice that they greet each other by sniffing and blowing around each other’s nostrils. This allows them to recognize each other’s scent.
You can do the same by gently blowing in your horse’s nostrils to say hello.
If you suck a peppermint beforehand, he’ll probably like you even more!
Breathe in the horse’s nostrils.
As you are probably already aware, horses love treats. Therefore, being the provider of treats is a great way to endear yourself to any friends of the equine variety.
Things like raisins, sugar cubes, apple slices, carrots, sunflower seeds, hay cubes and peppermints are usually popular, though you should experiment with different foods to find out what your particular horse is partial to.
Only give treats in moderation, as the horse’s health is a priority. They should be given as a reward for good behavior after training or grooming. Make sure the horse has no medical conditions that could cause him to react badly to a particular type of food.
Avoid keeping treats in your pocket or feeding the treats by hand. Over time, a horse can come to associate these places with certain tasty morsels and may begin to nip at fingers or nuzzle at pockets. Do not encourage this behavior; place treats in a feeder or bucket instead.
Give a treat.
The amount of time it takes to befriend a horse will vary from animal to animal. It will depend on the age of the horse, the treatment he received at the hands of previous owners, as well as the horse’s individual personality.
Young, well-cared for horses may quickly imprint on a new owner, trusting them completely within a matter of weeks.
Older horses, who may have been mistreated in the past, will be slower to adjust to a new person and their trust will need to be earned slowly over several months, or even years.
It is important to have patience with the horse and avoid pushing him to do things he’s not comfortable with. Like human friendships, a relationship with a horse takes time to build. But once trust is established, you will have a friend for life.
You should do some groundwork with your horse before you attempt to ride him. This establishes you as the leader and teaches the horse to follow your command, while also reinforcing his trust in you.
Begin by taking your horse for a walk, as you would a dog. Use a halter and lead and go on a small expedition, walking beneath trees, through water or over bridges, side by side. This will plant you firmly within your horse’s comfort zone.
Always walk beside the horse, never in front of it, and avoid dragging or tugging on the lead. Walk beside his head or place your hand on his shoulders, stroking him and talking to him as you walk. Think of it like holding hands!
Do some groundwork.
Horses are herd animals and like to follow a leader. Once you’ve gained your horse’s trust and established yourself as a leader he will follow you anywhere.
Train him to turn left and right, stop and and back up in response to slight movements of the lead or bridle.
Training the horse to respond to such requests on the ground will benefit you hugely in the saddle.
Be a leader.
Try to be firm and consistent in your handling of the horse. Just because you want the horse to like you, doesn’t mean you should let him get away with bad behaviors. If he nips or bites, give him one firm smack on the shoulder to show him that it’s not okay. If he performs an action incorrectly, make him do it again.
However, it is important to understand the difference between a horse who’s behaving badly and a horse that’s confused or frightened. Don’t expect him to perform actions he hasn’t been trained to do, or to respond to conflicting requests.
Make sure to be fair and consistent in your training — use the exact same cues every time you make a request, without variation. Horses are creatures of habit and will only respond to familiar requests.
Be firm and consistent.
. Like any good relationship, befriending a horse is all about communication. With the notable exception of Mr.Ed, members of the equine species are not particularly verbose, so having an open discussion with your horse is not a viable option. Therefore, you will have to rely on body language instead.
Learn to read your horses facial expressions and body movements, however subtle. These will help you to interpret how a horse is feeling, and may even allow you to head off an accident when the horse is frightened or upset.
For instance, if a horse’s ears are forward he is paying attention and interested in what’s going on, if they’re splayed to the side he’s relaxed or asleep and if they’re pinned back he is angry or frightened. Other body parts to pay attention to include the tail, the muzzle, the eyes and the legs.
Learn to read the horse’s body language
Once you have progressed to riding, the object is to become one with the horse, almost to the point where he intuitively senses which direction you want to go in. You shouldn’t need to rely on tugging the reins or furiously prodding him with your heels, he should respond to the slightest nudge or shift in your seat. Aim to become like the mythical centaur; half human, half horse.
This process will take time, as the horse learns to read your cues and you his. It will require patience, perseverance and, of course, frequent riding. You can’t expect to become one with a horse you only ride once a week.
Put time and effort into achieving oneness with your horse and the results will pay dividends.
Grooming your horse is an important bonding experience, as it shows the horse that your relationship is not all about riding and work, it’s also about spending time together and finding things that make him happy.
Thoroughly grooming your horse with a curry comb is a good place to start, just make sure to get all those spots that he can’t reach himself, like his chest and belly.
Loosen the reins.
When it comes to bath time, make the experience as pleasant as possible for your horse by washing him with warm water — not too hot, not too cold.
Work a specialized horse shampoo into his coat with a soft sponge, but be sure to thoroughly rinse it out afterwards, to avoid irritation.
Remove any excess water with a sweat scraper.
Rub and scratch hard-to-reach spots.
. A horses legs are very sensitive, so by allowing you to pick up his feet, a horse is displaying great trust. Let him grow accustomed to your touch by gently running your hands along his foreleg, starting above his knee and slowly working your way down towards the fetlock. If he grows skittish, stop and start again from the top.
Once he allows you to touch his fetlock, lightly squeeze a few inches above it with your thumb and forefinger. This is his cue to lift his foot.
Once he allows you to lift his foot, check that the shoe is intact and that there is nothing lodged in his hoof. Gently place his foot back on the ground and reward him with a pat.
Wash with warm water.
. Giving your horse a massage is a great way to relax him and encourage trust. By working on any knots or sore spots, you will also be relieving pain and tension, which may also enhance his performance.
Learn to recognize the feel of your horse’s muscles, and be able identify which areas need the most work. In time, he will learn to lean into the massage, showing you where he needs work.
Sometimes a quick mouth massage is all that’s needed, other times you will really need to dig in deep, working hard to loosen his hips or shoulder muscles.
Pick up the feet
Essential oils (designed especially for horses) can work wonders for relaxing and calming your horse while you work on grooming.
Rub a couple of drops of your chosen oil under his nostrils and around his muzzle and he will happily oblige your every request.
As an added bonus, essential oils also work as an insect deterrent, which can be helpful during summertime treks.
Learn some basic horse massage techniques