I once spent a lot of time with a horse named Colusi. What a guy! In his younger days he was a champion barrel racing pony, got lots of awards and retired at seven years old. From then on, he lived a cushy life at a wonderful barn with about 75 other well-cared-for horses. Colusi lived to the ripe old age of thirty-one years, still looking and acting as young and vibrant as when he was a kid.
I first met Colusi when I was taking lessons. He was a calm horse with a sweet disposition. He was sort of the "old man" of the barn, being the senior horse there. But he didn't know me from Adam, and he wasn't so docile that he wouldn't spook or get jumpy around strangers or the unexpected. I had to develop our relationship slowly. I started out by visiting him on a regular schedule, even after I finished the lesson course.
I'd bring him Nature Valley Oats and Honey granola bars, which he loved. We'd go for long walks, (which I called "grazing") together. I talked to him non-stop, as if he were a best friend, which he was. I'd groom him, scratch his itches, bathe him, and he even allowed me to get on him bareback for a little mosey around the creek area. I knew we'd created a special bond when he rested his very heavy head on my shoulder as I stroked his neck -- Colusi was hugging me.
My bond with Colusi was created by both of us just following our natural inclinations to be kind. Later, I took some time to study about creating a trusting bond with a horse and found that I was unknowingly already using some of the concepts of natural horsemanship -- an excellent way to develop trust.
Some of the things I learned about building a trusting relationship with a horse included:
- You've got to be a horse. That is, in your horse's eyes, you're his "herd" and you've got to learn to communicate with him in ways that other horses would. This is how he'll begin to understand and trust you.
- Choose a quiet place for your communication sessions.Talk quietly and consistently to your horse. Use low-key, quiet movements whenever you're around him.
- If the horse is new to you, let him smell your hand and get used to your scent. Breathe into his nostrils, just like other horses would, and give him a gentle rubdown with a rubber curry comb, which is relaxing for your horse. But don't groom his face at first, because that doesn't feel as good to the horse. Just show him you love him in gentle ways.
- Let your horse tell you what he's feeling -- and listen to him. If you're trying something different with him, like lifting a hoof, don't force it if he's uncomfortable. The point is to let him know you're not going to force him to do anything until he's ready to do it.
After spending enough time repeating your same calm, quiet actions and demeanor around your horse, and letting him take the lead in showing you what he does and doesn't like, he's going to start feeling that he can trust you. My friend, Colusi, responded perfectly to these "natural horsemanship" ideas.
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