Building a connection with your horse takes time and effort. It isn’t something that happens magically. But what can you do to build that connection?
Here are five challenges to work on that will help you to develop Connection, Attention, Communication, Calmness, and Trust with your horse.
Each challenge is a question to ask yourself and your horse. Are you listening? Can you understand and do what it is I am asking of you? Am I giving clear consistent cues so that you are able to understand?
1. Walk with your horse for a least 20 steps at liberty
Our first question is… are you with me and can we move together?
Being able to walk together shows you have a connection with your horse. He wants to be there next to you.
If the answer to this first one is yes then it’s time to ask another question…
2. Walk next to your horse, stop, back five steps without touching the lead
Here we are asking the same question, just stepping it up a little.
I see that you can walk next to me, are you paying enough attention to stay with me though if I ask you this?
We want them to mirror us as we move; to want to stay with us.
When our horse will mirror our movements we have their focus. All their attention is on us, not on other horses in the pasture or what might be going on around them.
3. Guide your horse through an obstacle course, cones, posts, without pulling on the lead
Anyone can pull their horse around. If we want true communication with our horse we need to be able to guide and maneuver them with our body language. To achieve a give and take where horse and human can communicate wordlessly to accomplish a task together.
Set up a course with what you have on hand, cones, jump rails, logs, then guide them through it.
Can you walk between these two narrow posts? When we get to the end can you turn on your hindquarters? How about forequarters? Are you capable of more?
Ask for a sidepass over a rail, or for your horse to straddle the post one front and one hind on each side. Try to do your course without ever tightening up the leadrope. Be sure to make it as challenging as you and your horse are able to do. If you always strive for a bit more than you are able, eventually you will be able.
4. Have your horse wait while you walk 10 foot from them
Now that we’ve established that your horse wants to be with you, can you keep him away? Many horses will have a hard time being separated from you. When working with you is fun then you are the exciting place to be. We want to be able to ask him to resist the excitement, to remain calm.
Working in a place that is safe for your horse to be loose, ask him to stay while you walk away. At first, it may only be small distances but each time he answers the question correctly you can add more distance until you are up to ten feet!
Then try to challenge yourself further. Can you make it twenty? Can you walk a circle around him? Can you call him to you?
When a horse is able to remain calm in the face of excitement he will be able to stand quietly and wait until you give the next cue.
5. Have your horse touch something ‘scary’ at liberty
Your horse should trust you to control the way he moves his body by the time you ask this question. Trust is important in our relationship with our horses.
We are going to ask him to trust you enough to follow you wherever you lead him and trust that you will never ask him to face something that could hurt him.
We are going to find something that he is uncomfortable with. Balloons, tarps, and mailboxes are good, safe options. Practicing all the steps you have worked on up to now – a loose lead – a willingness to let you move his body – ask gently for him to approach the scary thing. It is important never to force. We need to let it be up to him.
Now we ask, are you willing? Will you trust me? Can you touch this?
If the answer is yes he deserves lots of scratches or cookies or both!
Working on these 5 Challenges will really take your relationship to a new level. They will help you to develop Connection, Attention, Communication, Calmness, and Trust with your horse. And if you have those foundations you two can do anything together!
Do you want to have fun and create a very special bond with your horse? Try trick training…