Owning a horse is more than just having a big pet, especially if you’re not a professional horse trainer or breeder. That’s why the best course of action once you get a new horse is to get help from a professional trainer or a horse communicator.
You simply cannot train your horse and build genuine trust with it by making it up as you go along. Horses are special. They can have a very positive effect in people. They are even noted to have healing abilities to a degree.
On the other hand, horses are quite skittish, and you need to win their trust step by step. Building a bond is especially important. Horses are, after all, bigger than dogs and can do severe damage very quickly when startled or distressed. Even if you do get help from a professional trainer, there are still some things that you can do to build genuine trust between you and your horse.
Study your horse
You should always study your horse before you own him.
Most horses can be split into two groups: leaders and followers. It is very easy to determine whether your horse is dominant, or a leader, or submissive – a follower. If you get a dominant, leader horse, you might have your hands full during training. In fact, horses that show signs of having a leadership-type personality might even be too difficult to handle for a beginner.
If you have a paddock, observe your horse as it interacts with other horses. Also, observe how your horse reacts when a feeding bucket is placed in the paddock. The horses really show their personality in that situation. Some go immediately for the bucket, which indicates that they prefer to lead rather than observe and follow. Other horses will not go for the bucket, but they will show signs of distress. Other horses will not go for the bucket, but they also don’t prance around in distress at being unable to feed. These show signs of patience – they may be followers instead of leaders, but they are also patient and willing to wait for their turn to feed.
Most of all, you need to observe your horse for the tiniest signs of distress. Horses show anxiety subtly before they strike harshly – so watch out for nervous tail wagging because it’s among the first signs of trouble. Then, watch out for nervous prancing, inability to stay still when you want the horse to do just that, and watch when your horse raises its head up and straightens its ears. You will need to be aware of these signs when you train your horse so that you can read its reactions correctly.
Show your leadership
Before you build trust with your horse, you must demonstrate that you will be the leader. If the horse gets the impression that you will be a follower instead of a leader, you will have trouble getting it to do even the simplest task of changing direction.
There are several ways that you can show leadership.
First of all, protect your personal space – and the horses as well. When you wish to cuddle your horse, make sure that you guide the horse towards where you’re standing. When you’re done, guide the horse slightly away from you. Doing that shows the horse that you’re the one leading the interaction.
It’s important to stay still, on the balls of your feet, when interacting with your horse. There are two reasons for this. First, when you don’t move your feet, you show determination and leadership. Second, and this is especially important if you and your horse haven’t been training together for that long, standing on the balls of your feet will enable to move away quickly if something distresses the horse.
Next, you need to show the horse that you can protect it from harm. When another horse wishes to come close to your horse, you need to deter the other horse without moving your feet. Remember, if you move your feet, you will send the wrong message to your horse – that the horse can make the decisions while you follow.
Building trust: encounter, wait, revisit
Encounter, wait, revisit is a method of getting your horse to learn and do new and different things. The method is very effective when training your dog to jump ditches, walk over tarps, or simply stay still while you grooming and clipping.
It’s important to note that between the steps of wait and revisit comes a small reward.
Many people adopt a wrong method of encounter, wait, encounter, revisit. Let’s take an example with clippers.
Electric clippers vibrate, touch the body of your horse, and the cord can appear to them like an unusually rare and dangerous snake. Clippers can really be traumatizing for horses and using them on your horse can shatter the little trust you’ve managed to build. The method, when applied to warming the horse to electric clippers is to go slowly. For example, start by having the horse look at both the clippers and the cord. Then, take the cord and rub it all over the horse to show it that the cord is not a snake and that it will not do harm. Once the horse is comfortable with looking at and being touched by the clippers, turn it on and start slowly. Many horses have an adverse reaction when you reach their belly. Watch for the tiniest sign of distress, and stop. Don’t remove the clippers, just stop moving. Once the horse shows a sign of comfort again – tail stops wagging, his stance relaxes – you take them away before trying again. Continuing with the clippers will only show your horse that he gets punishment – not a reward for relaxing. However, when you take it away, you reward the horse.
The method can be applied to anything – even playing games. When your horse shows any sign of distress, only wait and remain calm. Then, take the clippers away, move the horse into a different direction, reward the horse by taking away whatever it was that caused distress. Most of all, remember to show your love and affection at all times. You’re not a heartless dictator. Most horses don’t take commands that well anyway. They do understand requests, and because they’re such good animals, they usually do what you want.
All of it will show the horse that while you’re the leader, you two are also partners. It will become the cornerstone upon which you will build your bond.