Be consistent and clear
When you’ve had a long and tiring day it can be easy to let your horse get away with not doing something properly whereas if you weren’t tired you’d make sure he does it properly. While this is perfectly understandable and any human would except that and not worry about it, your horse won’t understand. Horses like to know where they stand which is why it’s important to be consistent. Clarity is also important for the same reason, if you’re not clear your horse won’t know what to do. In the long run, this could lead to him becoming frustrated.
This doesn’t mean you have to shout commands at your horse just make sure you’re clear in what you’re asking him to do. Put yourself in his shoes and, be honest, would you really understand what you’re asking if somebody else was asking you to do that? At the same time don’t get cross with your horse if he doesn’t understand what it is you want, be patient and you’ll be rewarded with his trust.
Teach your horse tricks
You might think this is a totally crazy idea but hear me out. I’m not saying you need to teach your horse anything radical, just something small like him picking up an item from the floor. It takes time to teach your horse to do this but with plenty of praise and patience, you can eventually have him picking anything up when you ask him too.
The key to teaching your horse is to make it fun, start with something easy to pick up like a food scoop. At first, it’s unlikely that your horse will pick it up but the smell of his food will make him curious. Every time he shows interest in it reward him and let him know he’s doing the right thing and eventually he’ll pick it up in his mouth. Once he’s got the hang of picking it up you can start to point at it and say to him ‘pick it up’, he’ll then learn that pointing and giving that command means you want him to pick the object up. At this point he’s ready to start to picking up any other objects on command.
This can have a two-fold benefit because not only will it help build the bond between you and your horse but it’ll also have the added advantage of your horse being able to help you around the yard. If you drop something all you’ve got to do is ask and he’ll pick it up for you – it’s a win-win situation!
Give your horse regular massages
Be honest, who doesn’t feel relaxed after a massage? Then imagine how your horse would feel too. Massaging your horse will not only help to relax him but it’ll also loosen up any tight muscles he has, especially after a ride. You don’t have to spend long doing it and, depending on the sort of work you and your horse do, doesn’t need to be done every day.
Massaging your horse can have a number of other benefits as well such as pain relief, muscle recovery and increased flexibility. When done before a ride it can loosen your horse’s muscles and increase the blood flow to the muscles, whereas after a ride it’ll help to reduce tiredness and stiffness.
If your horse is particular timid then this can really help because it slowly teaches him to trust you and that you’ll be gentle with him. It works so well that a lot of vets will actually recommend doing this as a way of bonding with a difficult horse.
Talk to your horse
I don’t mean walk up to your horse and ask him how his day’s been, I mean talk to him in a way that he not only will understand but that will also be comforting and reassuring to him. Don’t stand in his blind spot (either right in front of him or right behind him) but instead stand just to his side and make sure you’re taking relaxed breaths. Your horse won’t know how you’re feeling but he will understand how you’re breathing and react to that. If your breaths are stead then he’ll be calmed by that. Next gently stroke, but don’t pat, him all the while talking to him with a reassuring voice.
When you first approach your horse don’t just walk straight up to him either, start to talk to him and call him before you reach him. This will let him know you’re there and will prevent him from being startled because he hadn’t seen you before.
What should you do now that you’ve bonded with your horse?
It’s important that once you and your horse have bonded and created that special relationship you don’t stop building on the bond. Your horse trusts you now so you don’t want to do anything to jeopardize or break that trust. After all, it’s far easier to continue to increase the bond than it is to have to start again and rebuild it.