Trust, Relationship, an Ever-growing bond and Partnership. Learning about each other, learning to depend and rely on each other when you're at your weakest; overall becoming a bonded pair in mind, body and soul.
New horse owners, or someone just coming into the world of horses, more often than not, overlook some key issues in having a horse. One of these is the fact that it is not all about riding or going to shows and winning a two-dollar ribbon nor it is not about showing off. Most importantly, it is about becoming one with the animal. To do this a person must have a real bond and a true connection with their horse. They need to know what you are thinking and you need to know what they are thinking, sometimes even before they're thinking it. It is important to know your horse and how they move and behave in order to know when they may act up, before it happens, in order to deal with it. A true bond with a horse, when made, is a connection that can last a lifetime. They come to know that, no matter what, you will protect them. They come to know you can guide them and allow you to do so, just as they can guide you when you first start your journey with them.
It can, and usually does, take some time to build the bond with your horse. When someone doesn't have it, but instead is just a dictator over their horse rather than a partner, it can spotted. Have you ever attended an equine event and witnessed something between a horse and their human that just didn't seem right? A horse may, on the surface, appear to be obedient while there may still be those more subtle signs of unhappiness exhibited that are often overlooked. This, my friends, is a broken and flawed relationship. It is not a partnership, the rider does not ask their horse to do something and thus further strengthen their bond; they only demand and thus ever weaken that relationship, driving a wedge between them that can be very difficult to remove.
As you might imagine, signs can be both obvious or subtle. These should not be taken as signs simply of disobedience so much as that of unhappiness. Horses are masters at communicating, that is if we actually listen to them; many times we are too busy to do so. If we don't listen then the cues that they are giving us can become more violent, more sharp and more sudden to the point where we will have to listen to them one way or another. Sometimes this means we end up listening while we are fighting to stay on a horse that is rearing, bucking, spinning or running backwards. They do give us cues. Warnings. They may speak softly at first, but yes, those soft words do become louder until they are kicking and screaming to get our attention. They may not be able to speak a language as we have come to know it, but that doesn't mean we can not understand them. We, as people, need to learn to read what they are trying to convey to us rather than taking the position of always being superior and right and that the animal may just be badly tempered or is 'being moody'.
We don't need to let it get to the point where the horse must 'scream' at us to understand, but to understand where we lost our partnership with our horse, we need to look at where that partnership should have started. It begins with how the horse feels about you at the start. In the beginning a horse you meet is going to think about you differently depending on their experiences, or lack of, with people. It isn't much different than meeting another person for the first time. Would you trust them enough to ask them to babysit your child during that first meeting? It's highly doubtful. More than likely you would want to get to know them first. Over time you build trust, establish a rapport, gain respect. It doesn't usually happen during that one first meeting. It happens over time and depends on the circumstances.
With horses it is much the same except we also have another important consideration to factor in; that they're horses. It isn't only not being able to communicate in the same way, but if you look at horse behavior you'll come to find that they are, and do things, different from us. You might think, "Well of course they're different", but many times people tend to think of a horse as 'lesser' based on anthropocentric expectations rather than taking them for what they are. Horses have a structured social order based on relative dominance, but it also includes a deep understanding of trust and respect. Also included in this is love - yes, horses do express love for one another. This intelligent and emotional order in the nature of the horse produces a balance that we can attempt to imitate and become part of, but of which we usually fall short.
Why is that? Why do we fall short? Humans have different priorities in their lives. Humans may just want to win the next race or big futurity (Useage?) no matter what the sacrifice. I doubt a horse typically thinks of such a thing. Horses have simply needs; they want to be safe and they want to be comfortable.
It really all comes down to the following question that you have to ask yourself; look deep down and ask: "Is your relationship with your horse a priority?" Yes? Truly? Or perhaps is it that your horse is just being used by you, used at your will and for your pleasure. You may say that you care about their wellbeing and that they are a priority, but if they are sick will you stay with them and walk them? Do you make sure that you go and ice their bad leg, even when you've had little sleep and have to work another long shift?
If you're not willing or able to do those kind of things for your horse, maybe they aren't truly the kind of priority for you that they should be. Are they just a thing, just something to be used when you wish? In order to win your horse's heart it is important that you reflect on your principles; this means asking yourself what your fundamental beliefs are when it comes to the wellbeing of your horse. It goes far being simply making sure that they have enough food, water, shelter and so forth. To really win your horse's heart you do have to at least try to understand them and their lives from their own point of view. It's more than providing for their basic needs, deeper than that. I don't mean just training, or using the most popular techniques, or following a particular equine clinician - it's about really trying to understand how your horse ticks.
Of course, understanding how your horse ticks is one thing; how you use that knowledge is another entirely.
So, where does your horse sit within the priorities of your life? Is it at the top? Is it respected as a being? Or is it just something that allows you to win some ribbons?