Build a bond with your horse

Build a bond with your horse - horse being groomed

Even the most well-trained horse still needs to trust their rider and/or owner, so it is important to create a strong bond with your animal to enhance the equestrian experience for everyone involved. In this article you will learn:

  • The most basic topics about horse bonding for beginners
  • How you can bond with your horse daily with bonding exercises
  • What a horse’s body language means
  • How to tell if you and your horse are bonding

Being a horse owner is a special privilege. As a companion and caretaker, it is fundamental to bond with your horse so it can become comfortable in your presence and get used to your body language. And vice versa: learning to understand their body language will advance your experiences as a team and create a positive relationship.

Some people see horse ownership as simply riding together a few times a week, but there is way more to it than that. Some of the most vital relationships between a horse and a human are built from the ground up.

Bonding with your horses for beginners

Even though horses seem large and intimidating, they can be gentle giants who love affection as much as other pets. It is crucial to create that special bond with your horse so you can experience the friendship between horse and owner.

Three areas to focus on that will increase the bond you have with your new horse are grooming, trust exercises, and health and well-being.

Grooming

Grooming can be overlooked or perceived as a necessity reserved only for immediately before riding begins. In fact, grooming can be one of the simplest moments of connection and communication with your horse. Pay close attention to which brushes they like and do not like. Notice what areas they prefer to be scratched to get to know your animal.

Trust exercises

The majority of horse owners end up eventually trailering them elsewhere, either for trail rides or competitions. Even if your pet is a backyard pony, it is essential to have your horse accustomed to trailer travel. When practicing this, make sure to stay calm. Horses sense anxiety in their owners no matter the situation. You can use a bucket of grain to persuade them into the back of the trailer and consistently reward them with affection and scratches. These exercises can vary from loading your horse halfway to all the way in.

You do not need a trailer to teach a new animal trust as a horse owner. Lead them over poles or work on training foot placement by making them step on a wooden block or tire. These practices can strengthen the relationship between you and your horse, allowing your horse to feel safe in your presence. Positive reinforcement after your horse does something correctly is the best way to teach them to learn mutual trust and connect with you.

Interaction with your horse while on stall rest/recovery

If your horse is off due to illness or an injury, you may not be able to ride while they recover. You may need to clean and dress a wound or hand walk your horse for light exercise as they work through a rehabilitation program. Take this as an opportunity to bond even more with your horse. Keep things interesting for them by spending extra time on special grooming and interacting with them.

How do I bond with my horse on the ground?

“Spending more time with your horse through bonding exercises will help you learn what’s normal for them,” says Vetster veterinarian Dr. Jo Myers, DVM. “The better you understand your horse, the more you can strengthen your bond, developing a strong and trusting relationship with them.” Bonding with your horse without riding is good for you and your horse’s emotional well-being. Here are a few simple groundwork exercises you can do to enhance your relationship every day and keep a happy horse.

  • Groom your horse thoroughly
  • Take your horse for a walk by leading them on foot
  • Play with your horse by introducing horse toys or obstacles
  • Relax together. Horses can sense your feelings, sit nearby, and chill with your horse to encourage comfort and trust.

Whether you are working on ground exercises, trust building, or riding with your horse, always keep the following basic principles in mind:

  • Learn the general and personal physical cues of your horse
  • Teach them, through training exercises, trust, respect, and manners
  • Positively reward your horse when they do something you are trying to teach them or when they display behavior you want them to continue in the future

What are the reasons behind horse body language?

Since horses cannot communicate with us verbally, we must pay close attention to their body language. This type of communication can tell us a lot about our horse's mood, health, etc., and is a crucial part of the bonding process. Meeting your pony's needs is just one part of bonding with your horse. When a horse moves certain parts of their body, it can mean various moods, from a simple switch of mental comfort to physical pain.

Physical cues that indicate health or mood changes in horses include:

  • Unwillingness to move - This could be because of pain, misunderstanding, fear, or disrespect.
  • Kick out - Your horse might be defending itself and feel threatened.
  • Rearing - A horse that rears is anxious and afraid of what is to come, whether because it is overwhelmed or in pain. An inexperienced rider may inadvertently encourage this behavior by pulling on the horse's head aggressively. Rearing may also indicate aggression or pain.
  • Biting This is a sign of aggression..
  • Stomping/Pawing - A horse stomping or pawing may be annoyed with its environment.
  • Pinned ears - This usually indicates anger.

If you notice these physical indicators, give your horse a thorough body check to look for possible health issues. Emphasize the ears, eyes, mouth (teeth and gums), and feet. Symptoms that your horse might be experiencing pain or discomfort include: jaundice (yellow eyes or skin), ring sour, coughing, nasal discharge, and red or spotted gums.

How to know if you are bonding with your horse

Sharing affection with horses can be one of the greatest feelings in the world. However, they have their unique way of showing love. It’s best to familiarize yourself with how your horse is showing you their appreciation so you can return the favor with scratches or treats. It is no fun having an anxious horse all the time. Horses will "perk up" in your presence and walk over to you if they see you coming. Most horses will turn their ears and head towards you, expecting to be petted. Following you around or nuzzling your body can be their way of reciprocating the affection. A horse that cares and respects you should listen to instructions and be calm in your presence. All of these signs should indicate a beautiful bond between you and your equine friend.

As a horse owner, it is crucial to know how to take care of them properly. Your horse relies on you like any other pet. So, to create that special bond you desire, you have to teach these animals they can trust you. You can do this by knowing their body language so you can fulfill their physical and mental needs. Horses are complex animals requiring lots of work to live long, happy, healthy lives. If you have more questions about how to grow a loving relationship with your horse or any concerns about lack of collaboration, book an online virtual care appointment at Vetster to clarify the process to ensure you and your horse have the best relationship possible.

FAQ - Build a bond with your horse

Do I need special equipment for bonding with horses?

Simple bonding practices do not require special equipment. You can build a bond with your horse simply by petting it and relaxing together. However, with this in mind, horse care does require necessities, such as halters and a lead rope, brushes, etc. So basic bonding techniques may not need it, but grooming and leading practices will create an even stronger bond.

Is it easier to bond with a gelding, mare, or stud?

Horses are individuals, just like any other animal. Many factors will affect your and your horse's relationship. Generally, geldings are considerably more reliable, affectionate, and cooperative. Even though stallions and mares have their pros, stallions can be aggressive and unpredictable with other horses. Also, mares are more likely to have an off day due to their hormone cycle. This is not to say a special bond is not possible with these horses, but geldings are usually a novice owner’s first choice.

How long will it take to bond with my horse?

The time it takes to bond with your horse is measured by how consistent and thorough you are with your bonding practices. Any time spent with the horse will further your relationship faster. Just remember, it is not always just riding that builds a bond. It’s about time.

The Vetster Editorial Team is comprised of seasoned writers and communicators dedicated to elevating stories about Vetster, pets and their owners.
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