Horse and Human: Three ways to create a better connection
Written by Andrea Wady – an international clinician specialising in horse behaviour and liberty. She is a teacher for the critically acclaimed HorseClass online community.
The chances are you and your horse know each other well, but when you put your hand on your heart, how deep is your level of trust in each other? If your chasing Olympic glory or flowing around at liberty, chances are your trust in each other is rock solid, but what about us mere mortals who are not reaching such lofty heights.
Trust is built on far more than good training, well fitted tack and an independent seat. It is more than bringing them feed, water and hay every day.
Building trust is a two-way street. Here are three proven tips you can practice with each other. No, I am not expecting you to pop your head down and start grazing or sniff piles of poo, but these three exercises can ensure your horse knows you are thinking more like them. They are behaviors that come naturally to all equine. In turn these exercises will help their trust in you grow and you will start to see them follow your lead and listen more. As a result your trust in your horse will rocket.
- Match your horses’ feet when walking.
This sounds far too easy, but it is a game changer. Getting into synch with your horse will feel like dancing. If you have short legs and your horse covers the ground, you will get a hip work out like no other but try matching the rhythm of their stride as you walk. Horses naturally find comfort in a herd when they mirror each other, so be a herd of two!
Have you ever watched horses gallop around a field, hooves matching hooves and then seamlessly change legs? This is a form of entrainment, like metronomes that start to come into synch together. Did you know horses do it with their heart beats as well? They can feel yours too, so nice deep breaths to stay centered. Match their stride and you will be well on your way to being in better harmony with your horse and they will feel much more comfort by your side.
- Watch the outside environment.
Horses look out at everything, they are not being annoying, it is deep in their DNA, it is what keeps them safe and alive in the world at large. One of the biggest fractures in the horse human relationship I see in my work is us humans have eyes at the front and the horse have theirs on the side, we literally look at the world in a different way.
Try swiveling your head more, look around you, spot the distant tractor before they do, pause a second and watch it, take a deep breath (signaling that all is ok) and carry on. If your horse knows you are looking out for you both, just as a herd sentry would do, they will relax and begin to really trust your judgement. This exercise will also help you learn a lot more about how your horse looks at the world around them. Hone your vision, hearing and your sense of smell. Horses literally get inundated with information on what’s happening around them. All the while we are ploughing ahead, tugging on the lead rein, telling them to stop being silly, totally oblivious of why our horse has rooted rock still. It’s not disobedience, its nature! Taking over this role will allow your horse to relax and follow your lead and idea more easily, they will know you have noticed what’s going it and you have got it covered. They can literally stand down.
- Join in with what he is interested in.
Friends like similar things, you would be unlikely to stay friends with someone who never showed any interest in what you liked, if you shared no common ground, you are unlikely to stay connected.
Horses use their nose and mouth to explore the world at large around them. An easy way to show them you care about what is important to them is to touch anything they do. If you have a spare half an hour, take your horse out in hand and let them explore (safely of course) and be interested in what they are focusing on. This can especially help with spooky horses. I worked with a top-level dressage horse who would run people over every time you lead him out of the stable and through the barn, he was terrified of everything. I asked them, what does he do if he touches the things that scare him? The reply came that he had never been allowed. Over the next ten minutes we let him sniff everything, and we did the same. If he was too scared to approach something, I would look at it, rub it and then let him sniff my hand. Within minutes he was sniffing it himself.
He was transformed and started to strain to touch everything, within twenty minutes his long-held fears had evaporated, and he was walking up and down the aisle on a loose rein watching to see what he could explore next. Horses need to touch things to be able to log something away as safe. It was a game changer, never in his thirteen years of being there had he been allowed to make sense, through touch, of the things that made up the world around him.
These three exercises are the tip of the iceberg in seeing the world through your horses’ eyes but join with them as often as you can and your will see your relationship and trust move to another level.
Horses never chose to come into the human world, so it’s great if we can spend a few minutes a day seeing our world through their eyes. Trust me, it’s a game changer.
Check out her online courses Pure Liberty and Pure Connection for Kids at Horse Class. Enjoy the documentary Taming Wild Pura Vida with Andrea and Elsa Sinclair. Her up and coming book “We climbed mountains” is due to publish in 2022.
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