DEVELOPING A RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR HORSE
Please feel free to print off and take into the paddock with you
LESSON 1-LEARNING TO SPEAK HORSE
It sounds so obvious doesn't it for me to tell you that you need to respect your horse, but sadly we see humans doing things to horses every day with the best intentions that still makes me cringe. It's almost as if some of us think the horse is a machine rather than a living, breathing and more importantly-FEELING being in his own right.
So this lesson is to make you
aware that your horse has unique feelings, needs and requirements that we need to be careful to understand from the horses point of view, and this in turn will help to build a better relationship with the horse, who I will guarantee will like you a lot more as his handler if you can show him understanding and empathy to his equine needs instead of trying to humanize his actions.
So I guess what I'm asking of you, is that you learn to speak horse, instead of asking your horse to speak human.
Now all horses, regardless of breed, gender or spirit etc....are highly intelligent animals, that are very sensitive to the tiniest little change in behaviour due to their highly sensitised social structure, which works from body language and energy within interactions of being with other horses, and therefore they take this behaviour with them when it comes to interacting with people. Therefore if we can utilise what we know about this behaviour in order to better understand the horses needs from the horses point of view, and if implemented correctly, your horse will like you more for it, and enjoy being with a person who understand his language much more you due to this.
So in order to build the relationship with your horse, we should take their needs in account.....and that starts with your approach to the horse, from the very first sight of your horse, even from a few hundred meters away...
Therefore we should be aware of our body language and energy levels on approach to meeting our horse, as if we are too fast with too much energy, this can be translated into the hunt for him and he will want to flee as we are a predator and he is a prey animal.
But if you are too slow and dull with your energy that this will come across as sneaky and he won't like that either....
So approach steady without eye contact as below....
EXERCISE 1A- PERMISSION TO APPROACH
When approaching your horse, if
he looks at you with both ears forward (like my grey horse Gandalf-click any photo to enlarge) he is telling
you that he is happy for you to continue to approach him in horse language as well as that he is happy for you to enter his personal
bubble of body space, which is hugely important to horses. However if he flicks
an ear to the side (like our bay rescue horse ) or turns his head away he is
asking you to back off and this is shown by him planning his escape from you by where he is looking, so you should stop immediately at that point, and retreat a step or two backwards until his ears or head return to looking at you again.
You should also be very aware of your body
language and levels of energy, as 99% of all equine communication is through body movements, gestures
and expressions including something some horse trainers call energy.........so eye contact would not be good at this stage, so look at his legs of chest rather that at his eyes with a soft energy.
Energy works like this with horses......You project a forcefield
of energy radiating from your belly-button, eyes and frontal approach when facing your horse which horses read to be like a loud horn blasting at them when you
are pointing your torso and eyes towards them........ therefore try to turn slightly sideways with your waist once you have retreated
to direct this irritating and overpowering loud energy away from your horse along with
having a soft and non staring eye.
When you back off this "energy" along with
your eyes at the exact moment your horse responds well to you and your
approach-this is called "retreat" or "comfort", or some clinicians call it "the release
of pressure" or another term for this is "relief" or "quitting" and
it's a big reward for
your horse so get used to using this now as it's the foundation for a lot of
your communications with your horse and let’s face it -it's so easy to do too.
Another tip is once you have reached
your horse with his permission to approach PLEASE DO NOT "pat" or "slap" him, as horses don't like to be appraoched like that, plus this is a form of
violence and would never be used by another horse unless as an act of aggression.
They much prefer to be "stroked" rhythmically just like their mothers used to do
to them by licking them or grooming them when they were foals, as well as be scratched and groomed by you too as this is also a form of bonding that most horses enjoy with their human partners.
Now I understand that it can take a
while to stop this "patting" habit
as it took me ages to stop doing it too but it's well worth it as again your
horse will like you for taking his wants into account rather than patting him like
a dog which you are hopefully understanding has completely different needs to
These basic steps will cause your
horse look at you differently and this is the start of a partnership rather
than a dictatorship with your horse.
This exercise can be accomplished in
anything from a few minutes to a few hours but do not quit as once you've
started it's important to finish or the lesson will be worthless to your horse.
Now rate your approach out of 10. 10
is when you can run up to your horse-1 being you can't even take a step without
him turning away including his ears and chart this somewhere so you can look
back at your progress in the days, weeks and months to come.
1B-SPENDING QUALITY TIME TOGETHER
Normally humans only interact with horses
when they want to "do" something to them-muck out, catch the horse
for grooming, riding, farrier etc.
I would advise never to just halter a horse from his private space (field, stable etc..) and just take them away for our pleasure. It is not fair on this highly sensitive prey animal to treat him like the exercises mentioned above are to introduce you to asking for his permission before you do things with him and to take into consideration that he has feelings, along with an intelligent mind, as well as opinion about you, your approach and how you treat him all of his own.
So we ask that in order to improve your relationship with him that you try to take his feeling into account by putting yourself in his place....and being polite by asking his permission before you to do things with him rather than just forcing him to be groomed, ridden etc..
How about you go outside into your horse’s
space just to hang out with him and do nothing but spend quality
time with him?
So I would like you to grab a
book or a magazine and go and sit with your horse and do nothing but read or
just relax for as long as your time allows-preferably for at least 30 minutes
per session and 3-4 sessions a week. Sit in a small paddock or tape an
area off for this exercise-please don't sit in a confined space like a stable
as this is dangerous and if you doubt your safety with your horse in any way
sit on the outside of the fence for now as you can move in closer later on when
the relationship has improved.
As discussed earlier about eyes, try not stare at him as this is "predatory behaviour" and can be uncomfortable for your horse as I'm sure you
don't like being stared at either plus your eyes can be perceived as ”pressure"
from your horses point of view. So try to look at him out of the corner of your
eye in a smiling, friendly way and don't be tempted to try to reach out to
touch him either-just let him be-so no talking to him or clucking, kissing etc.. Just
quiet time. Only touch him if he touches you first. You can stoke him or
scratch him if he is intensely interested in you but if not don't force him to
do anything even if you think it's nice for him. And remember your energy from your
eyes and bellybutton should be soft and "off".
After the lesson rate your experience
out of 10. 10 being he wanted to spend the whole session being with you and was
very friendly and 1 being he ignored you the whole time. This will show you
what he really thinks of you and the only way to improve this and strengthen
the bond with him is by repeating it and spending more quality time with
him/her rather than forcing him to be groomed with a brush, or ridden or having his feet picked out, or mucked out etc...
Now with some horses it might look to you like he's
ignoring you as horses can be masters of this technique but I guarantee this is
not the case as he's taking it all in and will start to change his
opinions about you if you continue to practice spending undemanding time as he will start to look at you in a different and better
I guarantee that the above
exercises will improve your relationship with your horse as you show him you are his friend and partner, and offer a better balance to your relationship rather than just forcing him to do the things you want him to do for you, so my advice is to carry on thinking outside the box on how you can continue to treat your horse with continued dignity and respect in every way with every interaction you have with horses.
This is the look you want when your horse looks at you...which is saying come on..lets go off somewhere
good together as friends
Please see our other pages for more on building better relationshps with horses......and thanks for looking
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