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Connecting With Your Horse

March 11, 2024

We usually use the term Man’s Best Friend to describe dogs. Fido is certainly deserving: he is very loyal and devoted. However, we also have a lot of reason to celebrate horses. For thousands of years, they carried us, helped us plow and harvest fields, assisted with herding cattle, and even accompanied us to war. While horses are no longer part of our everyday fabric of life, there are still plenty of horse people out there. We can build beautiful bonds with our equine pals, but that relationship takes time and work. Read on as a local Visalia, CA veterinarian offers some advice on building a connection with Silver.

How Do You Know If You Have A Connection With A Horse? 

Silver will give off signals, though they aren’t quite as obvious as Fido’s tail wag or Fluffy’s purr. Getting to know and really understand  horses’ body language can go a long way here. Most people learn the basics when they start riding, or at least learn that flattened ears are a sign of an angry horse. There’s a lot more to it than that. Doing some research into the hidden nuances of Silver’s stance, expressions, ear and nostril movements will go a long way. Relaxed  horses will lower their heads, and may cock one of their back legs a bit.

There are some clear markers here. Once Silver has learned to trust you, he may start coming up to you when he sees you. He may whicker to greet you at the stable. He may also nudge you with his head, put his head on your shoulder, or try to groom you. Grooming nibbles—or allogrooming—are another positive sign.

As the saying says, sometimes no news is good news. If your horse was wary at first, but is slowly opening up, that’s also a good sign.

How Long Does It Take To Bond With Your Horse? 

Horses can get very attached to humans, but don’t expect that to happen overnight. It will probably take weeks or even months for Silver to really become attached. Being consistent during this time can go a long way. Even if you’re boarding, try to feed and groom your horse yourself as much as possible. Just cleaning his stall and keeping his buckets clean can help build on this relationship: on some level, he’ll realize that you’re taking care of him.

What Are Some Ways To Build Trust With A Horse?

Horses can be quite wary of people. While an experienced horse person can sometimes make huge strides in short periods of time, for many people, this is a case of slow and steady winning the race.

Here are some suggestions: 

Quiet Time

Sometimes those quiet moments can go further in building trust than anything else. Just sit with your horse. Pull a chair up near his stall, and read a book. Or, just find a spot in or just outside the paddock.

Dining Out

Another small thing that can help build trust? Take Silver out on a halter, and let him graze some new spots. 

Explorations

Horses are naturally curious. Take your horse for a walk around your farm or neighborhood, and let him explore a bit. (This may not be a great call for horses that are prone to spooking at every little thing.)

Massages

Horses can get stiff and sore, just as we do. You don’t want to just start rubbing full force. Using a tennis ball is a good way to give Silver a good rubdown without pressing too hard.

Stall Toys

You don’t see as many toys for horses as you do for dogs and cats, but some horses really like them. Consider getting your equine pal something, such as a hanging ball.

How Do I Bond With A Rescue Horse?

It’s absolutely heartbreaking how many horses are out there in horrible conditions. If you’ve adopted a rescue horse, then it may take longer to earn your horse’s trust. This varies greatly from horse to horse. Some may immediately grow attached to their saviors. Others will be more wary, and will need time. Start with veterinary care, and by seeing to any physical issues your horse has. Don’t force yourself into his space: just take things slowly.

Center Yourself

Horses have a way of making you forget about everything else that’s going on. Silver may be a rather expensive therapist, but he’s also a really good one. However, if you’re headed to the stable, take a moment to calm and relax yourself before handling your horse. This doesn’t have to take long: listen to a calming song on the way over, and take a few minutes to breathe deeply and clear your head.

This is important because horses are very intuitive: they’ll pick up on any tension or anger you’re feeling. As we all know, Silver is a prey animal in the wild, and it’s very easy to trigger that fight-or-flight instinct.

Treats

Treats are often recommended for training and bonding with animals. Horses are no exception! While you don’t want to go too crazy with sugar, snacks can definitely help. You can go with classics, like apples, carrots, sugar cubes, or peppermint. If you want a secret weapon, try some homemade cookies.

Here’s one of our secret weapons:

Oatmeal Molasses Cookies

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups brown-sugar oatmeal (dry).
  • Half-Cup grated carrots
  • 3 tablespoons molasses
  • Half cup brown sugar

Combine all these ingredients. Add enough water to make into soft dough. You can also add a bit of honey and some chopped apples if you like. Stir well. Put into oven on 365 degrees until golden brown and crisp. Of course, if your horse has any medical issues, check with your Tulare County veterinarian first, as these are sugary.

Adjust For Your Horse’s Personality

Every horse is different. It’s important to keep that in mind. A trail ride isn’t going to be very soothing for a horse that is frightened of everything, and grooming isn’t the best way to win over a horse that doesn’t like being touched. (Silver would still need grooming, but if he doesn’t enjoy it, stick with the bare minimum and work on desensitization.)

Use The Right Gear

Keeping your horse comfortable can go a long way. You may find that a rope halter and lead are more durable and provide better control than leather. Make sure the halter fits properly. Some horses get cold more quickly than others, so ask your Tulare County vet about blanketing. 

Look Up Exercises

There are dozens, if not hundreds, of exercises that can help build trust and communication. Ground work and lunge work can both be helpful hear.

Start Slow

Rule number one? Don’t rush things! Start by spending time with Silver in a safe, enclosed area. Don’t force attention on him, or get into his space before he’s ready. Talk to him, act calm and relaxed, and take things easy.

Use Positive Reinforcement

This one comes with a grain of salt: putting pressure on SIlver and then releasing it when he obeys is positive reinforcement. What we mean is never strike your horse. With horses, aids such as crops, spurs, and lunge whips are only effective if used getnly and properly. In other words, focus on rewarding good behavior. 

Always Put Safety First

Never forget that you’re working with a huge animal. Always wear thick books around Silver, and use a helmet when riding. Be alert and aware of things that are going on around you, and follow basic safety precautions, such as not approaching from behind.

Do you have questions about bonding with a horse? Contact us, your Tulare County local animal clinic, today.

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