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When working with any horse, it is important to have a bond with that horse. However, what type of bond you have with a horse will change depending on what your relationship is with that horse. A top rider will have a different relationship with one of their horses than your typical horse owner. Someone who bred their horse will have a different bond with their horse than someone who purchased their horse in later life. But if I have learnt anything in my time with horses is that this bond comes from mutual respect.
Now saying that a horse needs to respect you in order to have a bond with you makes lots of people pull a face. This is because many people hear respect and think violence, which simply isn’t the case. You often need to be assertive in order to maintain a horse’s respect, but this never needs to be violent behaviour. Look at the top horse in a herd. How often do they do anything more than pull a face at another horse to get their own way? Yes this is largely due to the fear of the consequences, but does that affect the bond other horses have with the top horse? I don’t think it does.
Need to be top dog
Whatever reason you have a horse, you need to be above that horse in the pecking order to stay safe. This doesn’t mean you have to beat them or be cruel, but they have to understand that they are not above you. Horses as a species have no respect for those below them and if you are below them it can get extremely dangerous.
I think this is incredibly important to remember when bonding with your horse, because to me, bonding with your horse is building their trust and gaining their respect.
Scottie is generally pretty eager to please. He wants to do what you are asking him. Now there are two reasons I think he does this, the first being that he doesn’t want to be told off and the second being that he wants to please.
A great example of this is when I ask him to do something new and/or scary, like going down steps for the first time. We watched another horse and tried to follow and he stopped at the top of the tiny step trying to work out what exactly I was asking him. You could tell he was really thinking about it and wanted to please, but couldn’t quite find the confidence to try something scary. This is where a whip works perfectly for him. Either someone behind him waving a whip or me using a light slap with the whip to back up my leg is enough for him to take the plunge. He realises that it wasn’t so bad afterall and next time round he often trusts me enough to not need any back up.
Scottie is on the whole, very well behaved with good manners. But he is also a big horse who could cause a lot of damage. So I spend a lot of time making Scottie respect my personal space, which is incredibly important as he does not respect other horses personal space at all! Now while I am happy for him to come and have a cuddle and be in my space, if I ask him to move out of my space, I expect him to move straight away. He knows I am in charge and while I have never hit him to make him move out the way (apart from the very rare occasion where he has tried to barge through me and received a quick slap on the chest) my poking and prodding him to move is uncomfortable enough that now a lot of the time I can just point towards him and click and he moves that part of him away. It is his respect for me as a leader, not his love for me, which causes this reaction.
But that being said, he also trusts me to keep him safe. I have never not been able to coax him past something scary while out hacking or over a scary filler. And when really scary things have happened on the lunge or to and from the field, his go to reaction is to come straight to me and stand just behind my shoulder.
A horse respecting you as a leader doesn’t have to mean they are scared of you and I personally think that it is this respect which helps the horse trust you.
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Last Updated on 14/01/2022