Written by: Lindsey Forkum
The value of building a relationship with your horse outside of riding.
You can force horses to do many things, but forcing a horse to like and trust you is impossible. A horse learns to trust you based on your relationship together. A horse learns to like you through your communication and leadership. You have two very powerful tools that you can use to help get a horse to both trust you and want to be with you.
1) Non-demanding time
2) Join up
“Join Up” is about your horse choosing to come to you and be with you. In order to play this, or any other, game you need to work on non-demanding time first.
Commit To The Relationship
To get your horse to like you, you must first make the commitment to put your relationship and partnership first, and your personal needs second. You can’t put your want to ride, to practice cantering, etc. take priority over the need of your partnership. If your horse does not trust you, or your horse needs to build a better bond with you, then you must make the commitment to put that need first, and post pone your desire to ride and train to a later date. This means get things right on the ground before you even think about introducing the saddle.
First Comes Trust Then Comes Training
As Pat Parelli famously said, “Horses don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” If we want the horse to like us and want to be with us, then we need to convince the horse that we are not predator animals that just want to trap, manipulate and make him do things. We have to make the time our horse spends with us enjoyable and safe.
One of the most important things to making your time with your horse enjoyable and safe is to be clear in your communication. If you are confused with what to ask, how to ask, or even just handling your tools in general then you can imagine how frustrated your horse is going to get and how much your horse is going to doubt your leadership skills. You should practice your skills without your horse to help you get more comfortable. You can also practice your skills using a more experienced horse, perhaps a friend’s, or in a lesson/clinic, then when you go to play with your own horse you will be better set up for success.
Remember that your horse cannot trust you unless you keep them safe – safe from anything that may hurt or touch them, that includes other horses in the paddock, harmful objects, other people, etc. You protect both your personal space and your horse’s space to help make your horse feel safe. This will build trust.
The Forgotten Power
Many people forget to spend non-demanding time with their horse. I understand that we all have busy schedules and when we visit our horse we just want to ride or do something according to our schedule. The problem is horses don’t work well on our schedules. We need to be able to have a plan B – especially in the beginning when our relationship is developing.
Taking the time to do nothing with your horse can have a profound effect. Do you ever take your horse out of the paddock just to go grazing with you? Have you ever just pulled up a chair in the field and sat down reading a book while your horse grazed in the field?
Why spend some time with your horse where you do absolutely nothing – don’t even touch your horse? This is one of the easiest ways to show your horse that you aren’t that predator animal that constantly wants to manipulate and control the horse. Instead you just become a partner.
For relationships that are severely damaged, you may need to only (no riding/ground work) spend non-demanding time with your horse for a period of weeks. For most people though, if you just commit to weekly or biweekly visits of non-demanding time it can do wonders.
The great thing about non-demanding time is that even if you have a cramped schedule, you still have enough time. You can spend five minutes, 10 minutes, or an hour with your horse. It doesn’t matter – you just simply spend time with your horse while asking for nothing. This means if you have only five minutes to spend with your horse that day, you can have a quick visit and you don’t have to worry about leaving on a positive note because you won’t be asking the horse to perform any task or obey any cue.
It is best if you can simply spend time in the paddock and not touch your horse at all. Only touch the horse if he comes into your space and you need to push him out of your space – or if your horse is requesting friendly rubs and you want to indulge him, but be careful to protect your personal space; the horse should never cause you to move your feet or get out of the way. If you don’t feel safe being in the paddock with your horse then try just sitting on the other side of the fence, or take your horse out and just let him graze while you stand with him. After a couple weeks you will start to see changes in your relationship.
Non-demanding time is so easy and yet often forgotten. Many people forget that horses will perform best for us if they are comfortable with us – and yet not many know how to develop this partnership. Take the time it takes and prove to your horse that you can be a partner – you’ll be amazed how your relationship will change for the better!
Lindsey Forkun is dedicated to promoting positive partnerships through humane natural horsemanship for all equine disciplines. Lindsey has been working with horses since 1993 and founded Lindsey Forkun Equestrian in 2002. Lindsey offers training, lessons, free online advice, videos, and more. Check Lindsey Forkun Equestrian out at www.LFEquestrian.com