There are many things you can do to improve the relationship with your horse. Even if you already have a great relationship you can still implement these.
1. Listen to Your Horse
Stop labeling your horse and start describing his behaviour. If you use labels you give away your power to listen. If you have a ‘stubborn’ horse, or a ‘lazy’ one or even a ‘smart cookie’ it feels if you don’t have any influence on his behaviour. Nothing is further from the truth. Study horse behaviour and spent time watching your horse.
2. Act to what your horse communicates
If your horse doesn’t want to come near a new object or doesn’t want to jump over a jump, he is telling you something about his emotions about the object. In order to improve your bond you don’t only have to listen what he has to say, you have to let him know you care. The way you do this is to make him comfortable and increase his courage and confidence about what you want him to do.
3. Break up your training in small steps
Your horse has no idea what you have planned for him today and in the future. If you are teaching him something new, make sure you set him up for success and break it down in small steps. Positively reinforce him for every effort he makes, even though it might not look like the end result yet. This is called splitting behaviour in animal training. I teach my students to set and plan their goals so they become very successful.
Milestones in horse training are always based on small steps.
4. Make training, riding and taking care of him fun
Strengthen everything you want your horse to do for you with something he likes too. Don’t think only about you want if you value the bond with your horse. The more positive reinforcement you use (the more you give), the more you get back from your horse. All people I know that started using clicker training notice very quickly how much your horse suddenly pays attention to what you do if you use a bit of clicker training.
5. Keep track of your Training
One of my pet peeves is to keep track of your training. This helps you to see how far you’ve come and how much you’ve already improved. This goes for your training as well as your relationship. My horse Kyra was wild when I got her (feral, I mean!). She didn’t want to have anything to do with me or people in general. Now she seeks out human contact and is the barn favorite. How great is her live now because of that!
When you keep track (and there are many ways to do this!) you can put where you are now in perspective. We are all very tempted to only look at all things we haven’t achieved yet and that can lead to feeling like a failure. I am a fan of comparing yourself only with yourself, not with someone else. You might compare your worst with someone else’s best. That is not setting yourself up for a proud feeling!
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Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
I help horse owners get the results in training they really, really want with joy and easy for both horse and human. I always aim for win-win!
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