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How not to be Your Horse's Buddy
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How not to be Your Horse's Buddy

A couple of years ago I adopted Sunny, a two year old paint gelding, from a Rescue. Sunny was as huggable as a puppy dog.  He would put his head against my chest and wait for me to pet his neck or lean his head on my shoulder. My other two horses had never been as trusting and comfortable with humans as this young paint.  I was so enamored with him and had my arms around his neck so much that he began treating me like one of his horse buddies, which felt as wonderful as it was scary. On more than one occasion he put his teeth in my flesh just as he did when he was playing with my other horses, and it hurt like hell. Once he ran up on me and almost knocked me over. I knew then that I needed to change our relationship and let him know that it was not ok to treat me like another horse. It was very hard for me to establish boundaries. I just wanted to walk alongside him with my arm around his shoulder, but instead I now had to flip my arm if he came too close to me and teach him how to walk on a lead rope without running into me.

Changing a relationship from being equal partners to one being the boss of the other is not easy, neither in the horse nor the human world. We develop patterns of interaction that are hard to break. I am a natural softy and love to spoil the creatures around me. Sunny would accept my newly established dominance for a day or two until he realized I wasn’t all that serious and soon got me wrapped around his finger – I mean hoof – again in no time, and I would have to start all over again building boundaries. It was like the friend whose boss I became saying “Yes, certainly, if you say so” one day and reminding me the next day that we were buddies by saying “Really? You’ve got to be kidding me.”  I finally admitted to myself that I needed help. I hired a no-nonsense trainer who came to our ranch once a week. No nonsense didn’t mean using force – I made that very clear to her, but it was just her “I mean it” attitude and her acquired skills from handling horses all her life that made Sunny respect her from the very beginning. I would watch the two working together and making progress, and I tried to emulate the trainer’s way of handling the young horse. It helped a lot, and Sunny never tried to bite me again, but it was almost as if deep down he knew me so well, that he took the slightest slip in my attitude as an open invitation to start playing with me again.

It has been a difficult road, and we have come a long way. Sunny is going on five now, and I am riding him, and we are starting to make a great team. My advice is to never even start the buddy attitude with a young horse, but to establish those boundaries from the start. Sunny happens to be a sweet boy and he tries to please me, but deep down I think he remembers that he used to play with me and every once in a while he still tries to act his old self around me. If he had the slightest mean streak in him, I think we would not be having fun riding right now. Another advice is to get help when you cannot get on top of the young horse’s behavior. You may not be able to teach him to behave, especially if you haven’t been around horses all your life. I was inexperienced and thought showing my horse how much I loved him by hanging on his neck all the time was a good thing. It ended up being too much of a good thing. The road to establishing boundaries when they were not there from the beginning is a long one and takes many hours of training and frustration. Be a friend but not a buddy to your young horse.


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  1. mcfez
    Love that Round Pen! Fantastic!
  2. julian johansen
    julian johansen
    okay, there is a lot you really have missundestood here abute horses... your trainer is clearlig NOT on the path of the horse. she may have trained a lot, and got a lot of expiriance. but still! she have the WRONG idea of them. as he was when you got him was in fagt as a horse shuld be. but the thing thats not okay, was that idea to bite he got. you CAN be his friend AND boddy, but still make clear whats not okay. if he bite fx in a nice ment friendly bite, you could just had step back and told him not just with your words, but with your feelings, that it not was okay, and that it hurts. taik a look on youtube on a documentary thats called the path of the horse, it last for an hour, and you can learn a lot from it... after i saw it 2 month ago, i studiet those ppl from there. i studiet there ways very closelig, and can help you a lot if you write to my mail julianj@live.dk.... ive allready helped one from thise site. a women called nuala, whos horse is jack... today, after all ive learned her, she can have her horse lose and just have himwalk beside her without holding him. she can just slap on her leg and say come jack, and he come walk beside her as a companian, and friend. she can taik him on a grass mark out in the wilds and just sit down and look on him grassing, and when he had what he culd eat, he come to her and licking her hand, telling her he is ready to go, and they walk home to the barn, still unlease. this i can help you to get that kind of friendship too!!! its easy. you just got to open your eyes for what they really are, starting with to see that documentary, the path of the horse. and from there, i can help you....
    1. Love That Horse
      Thanks for your comment and advice.
      1. julian johansen
        julian johansen
        your welcome. hope you see that film, and to hear from you soon on my mail!!!
  3. Rene Wright
    Rene Wright
    Voted. Love your article. Not many people grasp the concept of not being "buddies" with your horse nor the ramifications it can have until they get hurt. I'm glad you stuck with it, got some outside help and earned the respect you and your horse deserve. I've seen a lot of sale pages where the ppl got hurt by their "buddy" and now the horse is bad or sour or whatever other problems the people have created. Way to go! :)
    1. julian johansen
      julian johansen
      hey rene, there is a part you don't undestand abute people gets hurt around horses. its not becouse they are to soft when they get hurts. its becouse they have abused the horse one way or anoder, whatever it was intended or not. it can be at riding, the pain in the horses moute from the bid. or the pain in there back from that people don't get down every 10-15 min to avoid descomforth in there back... this was just two of many exemples of pains we do to the horse, without knowing what we really DO to them.... we taik out on loong rides, thinking the horse love it, but in fact, after the first 10-15 min, blood seculasion gets complomised, they get sumtums of what would be as what we fell in our leg, when we have sit on it long enoug. they then get alminia, withs is the pain they have when finaly that push on there back is relived at last, and the next 1 hour or more, they have descomforth in there back....

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