Nanette Levin is a tremendous resource for horse training and the horse/human connection. I enjoy her articles so much that I have asked her to write a guest blog for the Naturally Unbridled blog readers. Please enjoy the article and visit Nanette’s blog at www.HorseSenseAndCents.com/blog.
Want a Deeper Bond with Your Horse?
There’s an amazing spiritual connection you can achieve with a horse when you allow them to be part of the training conversation. While formula approaches can yield results through compliance, the bond you create is on a much higher level when you customize your approach to incorporate your horse’s talents, interests, personality – and comments.
You can learn a lot from watching your horse. He can learn a lot more from you if you respond to his questions and concerns – something you’ll only pick up on if you’re paying attention.
Respect goes both ways. ‘Teaching respect’ is a misnomer. Respect is a choice – and it’s earned.
Can You Read Your Horse?
If you see your horse pinning his ears, swooshing his tail, avoiding eye contact with you or fleeing to the far corners of the pasture when he sees you coming, he’s not happy. Consider reworking your plan to incorporate activities he can easily understand and enjoy. You’ll be amazed how quickly your horse gets excited about being engaged in your training plans when the program includes his needs.
Know the Eye
One of the most telling features of the horse is the eye. You can see calm, fear and anger all in a flash. It’s particularly important to watch the eye when you’re working with young horses. If you see fear, back off. This is not the time to be asserting your dominance; it’s when you should be assuring him you won’t put him in harm’s way. Slow down, pick another activity or spend some time calming his nerves before you insist he get with the program.
Using Ground Time Effectively for a Better Bond
Ground work is a great way to get a better read on your horse – and begin to develop a bond through insight gained from quiet time. It’s a lot easier for both of you to communicate and relate during non-riding time. Don’t interpret this as drilling in the round pen – this tool is way overused in the U.S. with a growing number in Europe close behind. Instead, consider time together in the pasture, grooming and bonding in the stall, long-lining, companion walks and other ways you can be together to begin to understand what your horse appreciates and how you can use what delights him to build a rapport and friendship.
Get Creative Showing Your Horse Appreciation
Let go of the treats for tricks routine if you want a thinking and participating horse. Most horses will respond better a scratch in a favorite place, a word of appreciation with your energy behind it or the opportunity to play in an activity that delights them in the quest for a partnership.
If something’s not working, try another approach. We had a little filly at Halcyon Acres® a number of years ago we were trying to prep for a national breed show. One of the events included an in-hand obstacle course. She was smart and willful. Most of the activities bored her, but she loved to jump. So, we struck a deal (this was actually her idea). For every request she completed, the jump was her reward. It was hysterical to watch as she made haste back to the cross rail each time she completed a tedious obstacle. Of course, we had to increase the height to keep her excited. Often the reward isn’t what you might think. You have to watch and listen to find it.
He Won’t Do It
If you’re struggling with your horse, consider what you’re doing to take the fun out of training. It’s incredible how grateful horses become when they’re included in decisions. Once he realizes you care about his concerns, moods, passions and comfort – and are able to recognize what he’s trying to tell you – you’ll begin to build a bond much deeper than possible in a master/servant relationship. Of course, this may include insisting that certain expectation be met (don’t assume you’ll be bonding with a confident mare if your approach is to back down every time she challenges you), but it also mean you acknowledge their input. There’s nothing wrong with noting an objection and overruling it. That builds respect too. If acting out is due to fear, though, the same approach will shatter a trust bond.
Building a spiritual foundation with your horse requires a two-way communications channel. If you learn how to keep your horse in the conversation, you’ll delight in a partnership richer than you never imagined.
Nanette Levin owns Halcyon Acres®, a 117-acres facility in the New York Finger Lakes area where she breeds Irish Draught Sport Horses and works with client horses who have had their brains scrambled and/or those starting under saddle. She’s also the publisher of the Horse Sense and Cents™ book series, including “Turning Challenging Horses Into Willing Partners”. Check out her free blog at www.HorseSenseAndCents.com/blog.
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