If you have recently bought or started riding a new horse, you may be contemplating the best way to go about building a relationship and bond with this horse. The great news is that there are many ways to do this.
Ways to Bond with a Horse
Developing a bond with your horse is crucial to building a healthy relationship based on trust and knowing each other well. Bonding with a horse doesn’t have to only happen when you are in the saddle, but takes place through every interaction.
Horses, just like humans, thrive off positive relationships and being familiar with those in their environment. As a rider, it is important that you prioritize spending time with your horse outside ‘work’ times and make time to also play and just be in each other’s company.
From talking your horse for a walk on foot or spending additional time just grooming them and being in their stall or paddock, this type of quality time goes a long way in developing your own horsemanship and also your bond with your horse.
How to bond with your horse
When it comes to bonding with your horse, there are certain behaviors which are important to establish and maintain. These include:
- Be consistent and fair: in your relationship with your horse, it is important to establish your role as the leader. In this role, it is important that you always respond and behave around your horse in the same way, always correcting undesired behavior.
When it comes to being fair, never ask your horse to do something it has not been trained to do or which is physically impossible for them to do. Use the same aids and cues that the horse knows and is used to.
- Make the time to bond: only showing up to tack up, ride and leave again will not likely develop an in depth bond with your horse. It is important to make time to spend quality time with your horse when you are not in the saddle. This will allow you to really get to know your horse and develop a stronger connection.
- Learn about body language: horses have a number of ways to communicate via their body language which are crucial for a rider to know in terms of understanding what a horse likes and dislikes. Get to know and understand when your horse puts their ears back or when they kick out. These are signs that they are uncomfortable or do not like something. Similarly, get to know what makes your horse prick their ears up or gets their attention.
- Control your emotional state: horses are very receptive to the emotions and energy of those in their environment. Be sure that when you are around your horse that you are aware of the mood and emotional state you are in as horses will often mirror this.
- Create positive associations: horses naturally enjoy some environments more than others so use this to your advantage when bonding with them. If they are happiest in the field, spend time with them in the field. This will create a positive association for your horse with your presence and time spent together.
Ways to bond with a horse
As we have established, bonding with your horse doesn’t just happen in the saddle. It happens with every interaction you have with your horse.
If you would like to take proactive steps to bond with your horse, this is what I recommend:
- Go for a walk on foot — this is a simple and easy way to build a better bond with your horse. By walking with them in the field while they graze, observing them and possibly comforting them if they come across anything that scares them, will aid in laying the foundations for a stronger bond with your horse.
- Practice some groundwork — here I am referring to how you and your horse interact when they are on the lead rein and in your space. Teaching your horse to respond to basic commands on foot and to respect your personal space is important in the bonding process.
- Groom your horse — grooming your horse requires being in close contact with your horse and gives you the opportunity to assess how comfortable your horse is with being touched. The more comfortable a horse becomes with being handled by you, having their feet picked out, their tail brushed, etc., the better their bond with you will be.
- Talk to your horse — as you talk to your horse, they get to know your voice and your mood each day through your tone and pitch. This will allow you to start to use your voice as a tool to not only calm your horse when needed but also as another way to create familiarity for your horse.
- Play with your horse — horses are naturally playful and will often display this part of their nature with humans. One way to begin playing with your horse is to spend time with them in the field mimicking what they do. This will draw interest from your horse as they watch you and observe you and become used to engaging in a pressure-free environment.
Horse bonding — do’s and don’ts
Even with good intentions, there could be some valuable tips and tricks you could be overlooking. This is a list of my do’s and don’ts when it comes to bonding with your horse.
- Start every transaction with your horse on a positive note.
- End every transaction with your horse on a positive note.
- Use your hands to create a connection to scratch your horse or itchy spots or massage any tight muscles after riding.
- Use treats to reinforce good behaviour.
- Pay attention to your horse’s feedback and what their reactions may be telling you.
- Take it slow and allow your horse to bond at their own pace.
- Spend time with your horse in a number of different environments: the field, their stable and in the ring.
- Introduce your horse to things and environments they might find a bit scary and use these opportunities to comfort and reassure your horse.
- Have patience. Horses, much like humans, need time to build and maintain strong bonds based on authentic interactions and trust.
- Allow a bad day that you have had to spill over into your interactions with your horse.
- Push your horse too hard to bond quickly. Let them interact and bond at their own pace.
- Rush into your riding sessions. Ease into them allowing you and your horse time to get into the right headspace.
- Overreact when your horse doesn’t respond to you in the way you expect.
- Ask your horse to do anything they are not physically capable of doing. This can erode your horse’s trust and confidence.
- Be inconsistent. Always behave around your horse in the same way to build trust.
- Make every interaction you have with your horse about riding and working hard. Allow time for playing and quality time.
How long does it take to bond with a horse
How long it takes for you and your horse to truly build a strong bond depends on how much time you invest in building this relationship each week. The more frequently your horse sees you and is used to being in your company, the quicker it will take them to trust you and enjoy your time together.
Respect is a crucial element of the relationship and bond you build with your horse. A few sessions of productive groundwork will undoubtedly have an impact in improving your bond with your horse. This will especially be the case if you are consistent in these sessions as the rider and ‘leader’ in your relationship with your horse.
It is important to note that a horse’s personality and their history can also have an impact on how long it takes them to trust you and start building a relationship. A horse that has been mistreated will take longer to relax and remain calm in your company. Similarly, a horse who is naturally stubborn or has a tendency to avoid human contact will take longer to bond with.
With that being said, don’t underestimate how much progress you can make in a single session with your horse. A few hours of being assertive, kind and being calm in your horse’s presence can do wonders for how they feel about you and being around you.
Bonding With a New Horse
Getting a new horse can be one of the most exciting times in a horse rider’s life. As you and your horse have a new relationship, it is important to use this crucial time to bond as much as possible. These are the steps I recommend:
- Give Reassurance: Should your horse be in a new environment or have moved stables, they will be getting used to their new surroundings. With a lot to get used to, you have the opportunity to be present as much as possible to interact and give constant reassurance to your horse.
- Take it slow: Give your horse all the time they need to get to know you and start to feel comfortable. Taking your horse for regular walks on foot is a great way to do this without pressure and gives you the opportunity to assess how they react generally in your interactions with them.
- Spend time in their stable: Spending time in a horse’s stable gives you and your new horse the chance to get to know each other in a confined space. This allows you to set boundaries on how you interact and respect personal space and gives them an opportunity to learn.
- Do some footwork: Not all horses feel comfortable having their feet lifted and cleaned out. It requires that they are comfortable having their legs touched and also balanced on 3 legs. It requires trust. Doing this regularly will slowly build your horse’s comfortability around you and being handled by you.
- Desensitize your horse: Gather a number of foreign items which your horse may find scary such as plastic bags, brooms and some colorful objects. Show them to your horse until it is no longer something new to them. This activity not only builds trust between you and your horse but also gives them greater confidence around new objects.
- Do Halter Work: there is a lot you and your horse can learn from each other when interacting on foot with just a halter on. You can start to establish your role as the leader by asking for simple commands such as to ‘walk on’ or ‘halt’. Be sure to reward your horse when they respond to your commands.
- Lunge your horse: Spending time in the ring while you are on foot and your horse is responding to your aids, is a great way to work on responsiveness. Use positive reinforcement each time they listen to your commands. This team work will aid in the building of the bond between you and your horse.
- Go on outrides: Taking your new horse for relaxing walks around their environment will not only give them familiarity with their new surroundings but also give you the opportunity to do this with them. Reassure them when they come across anything they are unsure of and talk to them as you ride.
I hope that these tips will help you in building and maintaining a strong bond with your horse. An important thing to remember is to take your time and pay attention to your horse’s reaction as you introduce new activities or ‘play time’. Follow each of these tips one at a time and not all at once.
Allow the bonding to take place at your horse’s pace and try not to be disheartened if this feels slower than you expected. Horses, just like people, need time to build meaningful and trusting relationships. Take comfort in the fact that if this process takes time, by the time your bond with your horse, it will be a long lasting partnership.