Horses can be very loving and trusting creatures, but many are also wary or guarded. It is important to take the time to properly bond with your horse. Taking time in the beginning with a new horse can provide years of a beautiful relationship. If your horse isn't new, it's not too late! Bonding can drastically improve the quality of your relationship with your horse.
Why is it Important to Bond with My Horse?
Domestic horses are dependent upon humans for survival. This fact puts these animals in a unique position of needing and wanting to bond and have a quality relationship with their humans. This is borne primarily from the horse's survival instinct.
However, bonding with a human also makes life more enjoyable for a horse. And this benefit goes both ways. Many scientific research studies have shown the human-animal bond's psychological and physical health benefits for humans.
Ways To Bond with Your Horse
Know Your Horse
The most important thing to remember when attempting to bond with your horse is that they are a horse. Horses are different than humans and require different strategies for successful bonding.
To bond with a horse, you need to speak their "language." This includes determining what motivates it and also things they dislike. For many horses, one of the best forms of positive reinforcement and praise comes in the form of food. Horses are often highly food motivated, and treats can be a great way to reinforce your bond with them. However, treats should not be the only reward method to bond with the horse, or they can get mouthy and aggressive when treats are not given. It is important to create an emotional connection with the horse through praise as well.
It is also important to watch your horse for cues. Learning about the body language of horses is imperative as they cannot speak. Ear position, head carriage, tail movements, and body position are all ways horses use to communicate their feelings.
Bonding with your horse will not happen overnight. Horses learn to trust slowly, over time. The more time you can spend with your horse, the better.
How you spend your time with your horse is essential too. Interactions with your horse under saddle are important but are often not the best encounters for bonding.
Spend time brushing, walking, talking to, and feeding your horse. It may not be possible for you to be the primary feeder, but animals form strong bonds with those that provide their food. If you can, be the person that feeds your horse its meals daily. If this isn't possible, always spend time taking them out to hand graze or bring it treats.
Location Is Important
Like humans, horses have places they enjoy and others that cause them anxiety or fear. It is best to bond with your horse somewhere they are comfortable and happy. This may be their stall, their favorite outdoor paddock, or grazing.
High-stress situations, such as trailering or at competitions, are likely to be less conducive to bonding. Ideally, the positive experiences you have with your horse at home and in their happy places will allow you to be a comforting presence in stressful situations. However, always be cautious when a horse is stressed or sick because their behavior may be unpredictable.
Opportunities for Bonding
There are several opportunities for positive bonding with your horse throughout the course of normal daily interactions. You may also want to try to incorporate some of these additional bonding activities with your horse.
Hand Grazing – Taking your horse out to a nice grassy patch and allowing them to graze contentedly while you are near is a great way for both of you to relax and bond.
Grooming — Grooming your horse is one of the best ways to bond. Not only is grooming necessary for the health and hygiene of your horse, but it is also a pleasurable and relaxing experience for them as well. Brushing, cleaning their hooves, and maintaining their manes and tails are great ways to
relax both you and your horse while also providing excellent bonding time.
Talk to your horse — Although horses cannot speak and likely do not understand any of what we say, talking to them is still essential to bonding. You want your horse to get to know your voice. With time, they will be able to decipher your emotions through the inflections in your voice. Remember, if your horse happens to do something that is undesired, never yell at them. Horses don't understand yelling, and it may result in them being fearful or upset.
Ground Training — Not all training has to be done under saddle. Ground training combines training for your horse with bonding time. Great bonding can occur when you are on the ground and visible to your horse. This can include halter work, lunging, and training the horse to accept farriers, veterinarians, and clipping.
Trail rides- Riding your horse day after day in the same location, especially if it is a boring arena, can be dissatisfying to both you and your horse. If possible, give both you and your horse a break and take a trail ride! Make the ride a fun and relaxing experience by going to new places and showing them new things. Take the opportunity to soothe and reassure your horse if you encounter any new or unfamiliar things on the trail, such as water, structures, or other animals.
Things to Remember
When bonding with your horse, there are key things that you should keep in mind. The most important is that bonding takes time. Do not get discouraged if it is taking longer than you expected. Stay consistent and positive, and allow the process to occur at a pace that is comfortable for your individual horse.
Food is important. Feeding your horse or giving them treats will definitely increase bonding. Ask your veterinarian about what treats they recommend, and always get medical advice before giving treats to a horse with a medical condition.
Always listen to your horse. They cannot talk, but horses will let you know how they are feeling through their body language. Pay attention, and use the horse's cues to guide your actions.
Move around to different places. Horses enjoy variety, and you will have more quality bonding time if you vary the places where you interact with your horse.
Bonding with your horse is crucial. Keep in mind that the most significant component of bonding with a horse is time spent together. It is impossible to bond with your horse overnight, so be willing to put in the necessary time and try not to get frustrated. Always strive to have positive interactions with your horse on a consistent basis, and soon you will experience a strong and beautiful bond.
"The Human-Companion Animal Bond: How Humans Benefit" ErikaFriedmannPhDHeesookSonMPH, RN
University of Maryland School of Nursing, 655 W. Lombard Street, Baltimore, MD 21201, USA