By Margie Sugarman
I just bought a new horse. I think he’s amazing, but I miss the feeling of just “clicking” with my old horse. I know that it takes time to grow that connection, but do you have any tips that can help me be confident and in tune with my new horse in the short term?
You kick off your sneakers and realize that there’s a big hole in the sole of one shoe. Well, you’ve had them for quite a while and have worn them everywhere, from hiking to riding. They’ve served you well but it’s time for new ones. (It’s time to move on to a new horse.) You turn on your computer and order a new pair. You wait in anticipation. You’re excited, they’re cool looking. (He’s pretty!)
Upon arrival, you quickly open the box and slip your feet in. They’re great sneakers, but they aren’t as comfortable as the pair they’re replacing. They don’t bend as well—the sole is stiff. They don’t feel as comfortable—they have to be broken in. They don’t fit like the others did—the old ones were so well molded to your feet. (He’s a new ride, a different ride. He needs some suppling work.)
Another scenario: You have just moved to a new barn and really don’t know anyone. You look around and see a couple of young people talking while brushing off their horses. You feel a bit awkward because it’s so different from the barn you were at where you knew everyone and all the horses. It was like a home away from home. You knew where everything was and how it all ran.
You slowly walk over to the gals and tell them how handsome their horses are, and introduce yourself. They thank you, smile and introduce themselves. They ask you some questions and the relationship between you has begun.
Breaking in new sneakers, meeting new friends, getting to know your new horse, bonding and forming a relationship all have some common characteristics—they take time, but in the end they’re all hopefully filled with positive feelings, good memories and positive interactions.
Let’s look at how you develop a bond with your horse. It’s quite like a new friendship that you’re trying to develop. Any positive interactions with your horse, like with people, will increase and strengthen your connection; from spending time walking through the field to sharing treats, from learning your horse’s body language to brushing him, from riding and bathing him to speaking softly to him. All these interactions help form a bond between the two of you.
Furthermore, being calm and relaxed in your horse’s presence helps your new buddy to stay relaxed.
Think about how you feel when you’re around someone who’s in a bad mood or nervous and anxious. It’s the same with your horse. Staying relaxed sets the stage for him to see you as a safe, tension-free, trusting person and in turn, that impacts the environment/relationship between you both.
Consistency is another area that impacts bonding. Just like with people, you’re rarely misunderstood if you always ask for something in the same way. Horses, like people, respond in the way something is asked.
We often forget that it’s also important to share time with your horse when there’s nothing specific to be accomplished. Your horse needs to understand that’s it’s not just work and no play. Stopping by the barn to give your horse a treat, a hug or a quick brushing goes a long way in his mind and enhances the bonding between you both.
Of utmost importance in the human/horse relationship (especially the ones with the strongest bonds) is the horse looking to their owner as the leader and respecting their personal space. This important dynamic comes from groundwork—no matter what discipline you’re involved in. Just as it is with friendships, there needs to be respect. Respect is developed when one is on the ground and not mounted.
Like breaking in those new sneakers or developing friendships, bonding with your horse is based on time. That time is comprised of experiences, doing things together, learning about each other, speaking to him while building trust and respect.
The things you do might seem small, but if done consistently and in a positive way, the results are huge. The confidence and trust you develop between the two of you will carry your relationship to wherever you want it to go.
Photo by Ali Kelman
Enjoy your friend!