Horse owners feel the need to bond as much as horses themselves. Bonding is an important part of all companionships but we can all agree that this is a little different. A good bonding would mean that your horse understands your movements and cues. Additionally, your horse will be comfortable in your company and enjoy being in the field with you.
Several bonding exercises have proved that a good bond with the owner results in better performance and behavior. Connecting with your horse results in confidence between the two parties in unfamiliar surroundings. Horses need to feel safe around you and therefore, some horses will bond quickly while others will take their time.
How to Bond with your Horse
Since all horses have different personalities, no one strategy works every time and for everyone. Nervous horses will take time to bond with you, while a jolly horse will bond instantly. Here are eight ways that have proved to be highly effective when it comes to creating an unbreakable bond with your horse.
1. Mutual Grooming
You will notice that in a herd, horses are always grooming each other. This instinct helps them stay clean and bond with one another. Consider how your horse grooms himself or how other horses groom him. While some horses like gentle grooming, others prefer using their teeth.
If your horse likes gentle grooming, simply scratch your horse’s withers. Find the sweet spot and your horse will come to you for more. Alternatively, if your horse prefers using his teeth, make a cut on a tennis ball and gently squeeze the cut part along your horse’s back while holding the uncut part of the ball in your palm. This will mimic a nibble and your horse is likely to really enjoy it.
This is a great way to bond with your horse since grooming is a time of leisure that your horse will enjoy with you.
2. Positive Reinforcement
Instead of telling your horse off when he does something wrong, positive reinforcement focuses on encouraging good behavior. This technique is effective when it comes to bonding with your horse. It adds a positive element to the equation and allows your horse to trust you. Clicker training is a relatively new method for horses but is highly effective for bonding exercises.
Start with a click when the horse turns his head in the direction you want. Then, click again when his body turns as well followed by a treat or grooming on his sweet spot. This does not point to any negative behavior and keeps the horse happy. In addition to using a clicker for positive reinforcement, rewarding with a treat is also great.
3. Spending Quality Time Together
Spending quality time with your horse means just being present in each other’s company for no particular reason. Simply stay in the stall and complete chores while you talk to him. Usually, horse owners talk to their horses while giving instructions. It is a good idea to talk about general stuff in a calming tone. The chances are that your horse will feel comfortable and relaxed by your voice alone.
Another idea for spending quality time is going to a picnic. Pack some food and go to a field nearby, while you relax, let your horse wander and graze. Pack a few treats for your horse as well and enjoy this time together. You can talk to your horse about your day or the plans for the weekend; everything works!
4. Walking with Your Horse
Although, walking with your horse is an uncommon notion, it is not new. While owners prefer either riding or training, walking with your horse can prove to be therapeutic while strengthening the bond between you two. You can choose to go to a new field for a walk or far away from the yard. What matters is that you two are together, which will result in creating a stronger bond.
A reassuring chat during the walk will ensure your horse trusts you. If you come across something your horse gets nervous about, gently lead your horse and allow him to explore on his own. It can be an insect or a strange-looking plant; reassure your horse that it is safe.
5. Groundwork Exercises
Groundwork does wonders for horses as it helps in building confidence, strengthening your bond, and improving suppleness. It is also a great way to spend quality time together while training your horse to follow your cue and respect your personal space.
A great start to groundwork exercises is to train your horse to stand still on its own. Start by facing him and holding the lead rope in your hand. Do not restrain but simply let it fall by holding the end of the rope. If he starts coming towards you, give a gentle nudge to the rope so he knows he needs to stand still. Gradually, increase the time he needs to stand still and then continue to other groundwork exercises.
6. Treating Your Horse
Eating food is the love language of all horses. When a horse eats, endorphin hormones are released in the brain making the horse feel happy, loved and relaxed. Treating your horse is a great way to bond and gain his trust. Consider offering his favorite treats on good behavior or at the end of a long, tiring day.
7. Creating Positive Association
Since horses are sensitive creatures, they gauge the emotions in their surroundings to assess safety. Next time you go to your horse, take a minute for yourself to relax. Do some breathing exercises and once you have calmed down, go to your horse. When he sees a relaxed and calm exterior, he in turn will become relaxed.
Once you become his trusted owner, he will come to you when anxious and thus associate with you positively. It is easy to lose patience during training, but ensure that you do not use punishment for bad behavior. This would lead to a negative connotation, which may result in your horse trying to hide when he sees you.
8. Staying Consistent
A herd of horses has a leader – called the alpha that protects the rest of the herd. Due to this ability, horses know their place in the hierarchy and know who to follow. When you are the horse owner, you will have to be the alpha. However, horses are intelligent creatures. Your horse will first test your leadership abilities by throwing challenges at you.
Do not take these challenges as bad behavior on the horse’s part, simply stay consistent and be assertive. Your horse will test your authority and place you in the pecking order. Avoid being harsh with him but also never let him get away with mediocre performance. Once your horse recognizes you are the alpha, he will depend on you for instructions and safety. Thus, consistency and assertiveness result in creating a strong bond between you and your horse.
People Also Asked
How long does it take to bond with your horse?
While some horses take just a few weeks to bond with their owners, some can take months. It depends on the horse’s personality, past experiences and the consistency of training of the owner. Using effective bonding exercises can lead to building a quicker bond.
What is the fastest way to bond with your horse?
There is no time limit to how quickly you can bond with your horse. However, several tricks can help, and feeding your horse with his favorite treats is number one. Training every day or simply spending quality time together can also lead to bonding faster. Make sure you create a positive and relaxed environment around your horse so he can quickly trust you.
Is it possible to bond with a horse?
While some equine experts believe that horses emotionally attach themselves to humans, the research is not out yet. However, horses do consider their owners and other humans they trust as their ‘safe havens’. This is as close to a bond as possible. Horses feel safe, happy, and confident around their safe-havens. Additionally, when the bond becomes strong, they will have the need to protect their owners as well.
How do you tell if your horse has bonded with you?
When a horse has bonded with you, he will follow you around and consider you a trusted friend. He will lean into you for grooming and enjoy his time around you. You may be given a grooming session from your horse as a reward. When you give your horse an instruction, he will quickly follow it and abide by your cues.
Horses are sensitive and intelligent creatures who prioritize their safety above all else. There are many signs that a horse trusts you, which can be a starting point for building a strong bond. Notice the horse’s body language in your presence since that alone can answer many questions.
Moreover, regularly practicing horse bonding exercises can help build a trusted relationship that would stand the test of time. Bonding with your horse can be easy but challenging at the same time. You need patience and consistency to achieve the goal. Nevertheless, it is an achievable task!