Take your time.
When a horse is alone he feels insecure. The last thing you want to do is make your horse feel insecure. I’ve heard way too often that people think they need to be in charge and they need to show the horse who’s boss. Well, first of all, you should never have a bossy attitude when dealing with your horse. He will sense the anxiety and become nervous himself, which will only cause more problems for you down the road.
Take time to talk with your horse before attempting to ride him or do anything else with him. This is also something I see people neglecting way too often. They think it’s not important or it won’t help them get anywhere because he doesn’t understand what they’re saying anyway…but that’s not true! Horses understand human behavior much better than we give them credit for! He’ll know if you’re being bossy or laid back just by listening to how you speak.
Horses are sensitive creatures and can easily pick up on when you’re not confident. When your horse senses that you’re uncomfortable, he will become uncomfortable too. You have to realize that horses will be horses and if he doesn’t want to do something, don’t force him.
For example, many people believe that they owe their horses eye contact at all times while they are interacting with them in order to show leadership and build trust, but this actually has the opposite effect. Horses living in the wild do not make direct eye contact with one another; it is a sign of aggression. Making eye contact with your horse is actually teaching him to fear you. If a horse avoids looking directly into your eyes because he is afraid you will reprimand him for looking away, then he does not trust you or feel comfortable around you.
Be a Leader.
A leader is not the same as a boss. A good leader knows how to earn the trust and respect of his horse, rather than command it.
If you are going to be successful with your horse, you need to establish yourself as the one in charge. A horse’s natural instinct is to follow whoever they deem as the “leader of the herd”. If they don’t think you are in charge then they will naturally assume that role and it can lead to many problems from them taking off without permission or bucking with any rider on them. A horse is similar to a dog in this way – both species like to follow someone who will take care of them and act as their protector/leader.
In order for your horse to trust and respect you, you need to be consistent with your commands, soft with your praise and firm when necessary (i.e., if he disobeys an order). You also want him knowing that there will always be consequences for bad behavior (even if it’s just walking away from him until he obeys).
Speak his language.
Take the time to watch your horse or pony and study his body language. Learn all about it, as this is how he communicates with you and other horses. He uses his body language to tell you how he is feeling at any one time. How does he show affection? Is he showing aggression? Is he happy, fearful or submissive?
You can’t expect to arrive at the stable and have a good relationship with your horse straight away. You need to find things that you both enjoy doing together and spend time together doing those things that build trust between the two of you.
Be aware of your body language.
When you talk to your horse, it’s important to be aware of your body language. Horses react differently to different types of posture and facial expressions.
For example, when you are looking straight at your horse, he may think that you’re offering a challenge. If you’re staring into his eyes for too long, it may also look like a threat. When trying to gain the trust of a horse, it’s best not to make direct eye contact.
Similarly, consider the message that your facial expression is sending. If you are smiling at him while giving him commands, he may be confused by the conflict between what your face is saying and what your words mean (he will understand the commands but not the smile).
Let’s look at an example: if you are scowling and frowning while saying “good boy” or “easy,” this will send mixed signals to the animal because one part of his brain understands that he’s doing what you want while another part picks up on negative body language from your face and posture.
Don’t judge him.
- Don’t judge your horse.
- Just like you, your horse has his own thoughts and feelings. He is a living, breathing creature that feels emotions just as humans do. Make sure you’re not allowing yourself to make assumptions or judgments about him without first getting to know him. Instead of viewing him as a beast of burden, try to see him as an individual. (After all, he may be your furry best friend!)
- Assume the best about your horse. Horses are herd animals, and they feel safest in groups with their fellow horses. This means that horses have an innate desire to please and fit in with the other members of their herd—and for you, this translates into making safe choices for himself and his rider.
Keep it simple.
Some of your horse’s behaviors may not be what you would consider the most desirable. Before you try to correct them, make sure that the problem isn’t a result of some confusion on your part. Keep the commands that you give to your horse as clear and simple as possible. Don’t overload him with too many commands at once or try to do too much, too soon. Remember, if you have trouble understanding what someone is trying to tell you it can be very frustrating! Focus on one thing at a time until your horse has learned and understood what’s expected of him before introducing something new.
This advice applies to your body language as well. Horses are extremely good at reading our body language and subtle cues from us, so don’t think that just because he doesn’t understand what we’re saying out loud means that he doesn’t know exactly how we feel about something by looking at how we stand or move around him!
Burn off excess energy.
One way to safely build up his energy is to let him burn it off before you start riding. You can do this by making sure he gets enough exercise each day. I like to take mine on long walks and trots around the pasture before I begin working with him. During those brisk morning walks, my horse has something to do while I’m getting ready and he gets a nice treat at the end of his morning routine! It helps him feel more relaxed while I’m riding.
Know the difference between friendship and obedience.
Trust is the foundation of any relationship between a horse and human. It’s what allows us to communicate with our equine partner. Trust, however, is not something that just happens overnight. It takes time, patience, and consistency to build trust between you and your horse.
The first thing you need to know when wanting to build a trusting relationship with your horse is that horses are prey animals. That means they are constantly looking around for predators who will chase them down and eat them (thanks evolution). This means that your horse might not be entirely comfortable around you at first because he doesn’t know if he can trust you or not yet. Fortunately for us, we have pretty good opposable thumbs so we can help make our horse feel safe around us by keeping predators away from him. In addition to making sure he doesn’t get eaten by wolves (or other predators), we can also show our horse that we won’t harm him in any way as well! We do this by showing him kindness through scratches behind the ears and other areas of his body where he feels comfortable being touched.
Horses are social animals and enjoy being spoken to in ways that we understand.
Horses are social animals and enjoy being spoken to in ways that we understand. To build a relationship with our horses, we first need to try to understand them. Horses communicate with each other using body language and vocalizations. We do the same when communicating with them. Their communication is both instinctive and learned behavior, as is ours. Like us, they have an innate fear of predators (dogs, wolves, bears) but it is their flight instinct that keeps them safe from these predators since they have no defenses such as claws or teeth to keep themselves safe from harm.