Hollywood would have us believe that all horses instinctively love people and that the bond between a horse and their rider is immediate and unshakeable. Anyone who’s actually spent time around horses understands that this isn’t the case, however.
Some horses won’t take to people right away, and it can take quite a bit of effort to soften them up and lower their defenses—and that’s only if you go about it the right way. If you approach the bonding process incorrectly, you could do more harm than good, causing your horse to actually lose trust in you.
This list features a few ways to increase the connection between you and your horse, backed by concrete science. We can’t guarantee that your horse will come around to you if you implement these suggestions, but they’re definitely a great place to start! Let’s jump into our tips on how to bond with a horse:
The 5 Tips on How to Bond With Your Horse
1. Understand Your Unique Communication Style
Humans and horses communicate in a way that’s completely unique. While other animals have been domesticated, none have developed the same method of interaction that horses have with humans.
This communication style is a combination of touch, emotional connection, and understanding one another’s movements and body language. Horse bonding doesn’t involve mimicking one another’s behaviors or using physical threats or dominance. At its best, it’s more of a melding of two personalities into one.
So, don’t try to communicate with your horse the same way that you would your dog, cat, or even another human. Instead, figure out your unique communication style and sharpen it.
2. Spend Time Together
“Honing your unique communication style” may sound well and good, but how do you go about doing that, exactly? You need to spend time with your horse—tons of time. Just how long does it take to bond with a horse?
It takes hours and hours of quality time together for you and your horse to begin to understand each other. The problem is that while all horses and humans have unique communication styles, so do individual horses and humans. You can’t automatically assume that what works with one horse will work with another.
This doesn’t just mean riding either. Simply being around them, feeding them, grooming them, and petting them all count. In fact, the more your horse sees you being loving and attentive without expecting a ride in return, the more they’ll trust you.
The good news is that the more time you spend with your horse, the better you’ll understand them and the closer your bond will be. Besides, what could be more fun than spending time with your horse?
3. Let Them Come to You
There’s research that indicates that forcing your horse to interact with you can be counterproductive. If anything, it may cause resentment to form.
Instead, it’s essential to let them warm up to you at their own pace. The good news is that it doesn’t necessarily take that long; you can earn their approval in as little as half an hour, if you don’t press your luck.
It’s important to understand that your horse is always watching, even if it doesn’t look that way. If you act unpredictably or aggressively, even when you’re not directly interacting with your horse, it will set back your relationship.
Understand that the speed at which your horse warms up to you will depend in large part on their previous experience with people. If they’ve been abused in the past, it will take much longer for them to come around, whereas a horse that’s never had negative experiences with humans could take to you in no time at all.
4. Use Positive Reinforcement
While horses are truly unique animals, they have one thing in common with other pets: they thrive on positive reinforcement. If you use punishment in your training, you’ll likely find that the results you get are less than ideal, to say the least.
That doesn’t necessarily mean relying on food, though giving treats can work. Find something that your horse likes—being groomed a certain way, being scratched in a certain spot, etc.—and do it as often as you can.
Once your horse sees you as someone who brings positive things into their life, they’ll be more excited to have you around, and that’s the cornerstone of any healthy relationship.
5. Don’t Hide Your Feelings
There’s plenty of research that indicates that horses can pick up on our emotional states, but surprisingly enough, there’s also science showing that horses are calmer around people who are nervous.
This is likely due to the intensely close relationships that humans and horses have developed over the years. A stressed human can be dangerous for a horse and vice versa, so it behooves both sides to be able to calm their counterpart when necessary.
We’re not suggesting that you stress yourself out on purpose before working with your horse, but if you’re having a bad day, don’t try to hide it from them. They may just enjoy helping you leave your stress behind. Horse bonding can be therapeutic!
These tips can help you learn how to bond with your horse, but that doesn’t mean you should follow them at the expense of listening to your gut. Like humans, horses have good days and bad days, and what works today might fall flat tomorrow.
Expect the process to take time, and pay attention to the signals that your horse is giving you. If you do something and your horse reacts by biting you or bucking you off, don’t do that thing again.
The better you are at reading your horse’s unique cues, the better you’ll be at responding to them in a way that deepens the bond between the both of you. Bonding with your horse is not an instant process.
Featured image credit: langll, Pixabay