When you get a new horse it is natural that you want to bond with it. Hopefully, your new horse means the start of a new and exciting relationship. Here are ways to help create a bond between you and your new horse
Firm, Fair and Consistent
I first heard ‘firm, fair and consistent’ from a pediatrician a long time ago. I think it applies to horses as well as children. At all times, you should be firm in your leadership. Communicate clearly and firmly your expectations regarding your horse’s manners and behavior. If you ask your horse to step over five steps, and he knows how to do that, don’t let him away with five steps over and three steps back.
But be fair. Don’t expect a horse to do anything it is not trained… or physically able to do. And be consistent. When you ask your horse to back up, do it in the exact same way every time. Feed it at the same times. Use the same aids and cues each time you work with your horse. Horses are creatures of habit and like predictability.
Don’t Just Show Up for ‘Work Times’
Showing up just for riding or driving time can be a temptation given the busy schedule most of us have. But try to take time just to visit. Simple things like hand grazing in a bit of lush grass they normally can’t get to, scratching bellies or necks and just hanging out together is a relaxing way to bond.
There are horse people out there who are against feeding treats. But horses exist solely for our pleasure, and most of us, including myself, like to see our horses enjoy a treat. The key to feeding treats is to be sure you are consistent in feeding your treats safely.
Understand Body Language
Understanding your horse’s body language and shaping your own body language will help you communicate with your horse and create a closer bond. This has to be done with consistency, however. Something like ‘join up’ or other behaviors you have taught won’t be permanent if your horse never knows what to expect next from you. Learn to understand what your horse is thinking by observing its facial expressions (yes, horses do have them), ears, tail and posture.
Allogrooming is a common behavior seen in horses. Allogrooming is when two horses nibble along each other’s crest and back, mutually ‘grooming’ and scratching each other. (Humans allogroom too–like when two girls do each other’s hair.) Grooming your horse is a pleasant way to bond. Your horse will appreciate it when you are able to brush areas it can’t get to, like its chest, belly and between the legs.
Respect that your horse is a horse, not a human or a big dog. While your horse will learn to enjoy spending time with you, it will also need the companionship of other horses. Horses don’t care about the same things we do–color coordinated gear, winning prizes, or perfectly kept stalls. They want shelter from bad weather, good pasture and water and companionship and leadership from someone they can trust.
Massage and Other Comforts
Learning the basics of equine massage, Ttouch or other therapeutic touches can help you bond with your horse. If your horse knows he can rely on you for relaxation, he will enjoy his time with you. Not only will your horse enjoy it, but it may also enhance his or her performance. Many horses learn to lean into the pressure of massage or even chiropractic work, indicating where they need work.
Experience Things Together
Just like a shared experience between people can bring them closer together, so can sharing experiences with your horse. The more you train, ride or drive your horse, the more you and your horse will learn to understand each other. I’ve often heard competitors claim their horse looked after them during a competition, even though they themselves didn’t feel at the top of their game. Their bond with their horse developed based on mutual trust in sometimes difficult conditions.