How to grow a much better bond with my horse?
The moment I purchased my horse he went through serious WP training. And let's just say, my trainer was not very ""natural" and everything me and my horse did together was work. I feel like we have no bond or no real good relationship. Does anyone have any good suggestions to help me create a good relationship with my horse? On the ground and in the saddle. I did do some ground work. I hung out with him and walked him all over the place. Let him graze and just relax. But that just made him think he could pull his head down everytime I lead him and start grazing. Please help :D
without dissing your trainer, could you explain what specifically you think about this WP training was straining your relationship with the horse?
To me, having a good relationship with a horse means that the horse is trusting me and is content to let me move him around as necessary . Now I am thinking, what else makes for a good relationship?
I think being really fair and consistent with a horse helps to create that bond. So, if the hrose has a problem with trying to pull down and eat the grass, and you work on stopping that, as long as you are really consistent on that , then the horse can accept and live with that guidance. But when you are inconsistent, the horse will be irritated and will start constantily looking for "holes" in your guidance where he can take the lead. That looking for holes to break away from you is a place of discontent for a horse and keeps him mentally unavailable for other training steps. So, I guess my rambling point is to be really consistant, which is a good place for your horse.
Also, work on some minor and mentally challenging things. Like, sending your horse (on a long leadline) over small jumps or logs or around things , through a maze , through gates and such. Teach him to stand on a good sturdy platform, like a cicus elephant. When he does good, give him a really nice voiced praise and a good smooth rub on his nose or shoulder.
things like that.
Do you ever get a chance to take him out on trails and go for a nice breezey canter up a long hill?
Firstly there is a big difference between a bond and a relationship. The relationship is just how you interact. That can be good or bad. A bond however is different. Some people do not consider there even is such a thing with horses.
Many people come to NH because they want a bond. They see horses following people around, working at liberty and think that is a bond. To me its not. The horse does it because he has been trained to. If the horse comes when you go to the field its because he has been conditioned the 'walking them down' way. If they work at liberty its because first they did it on a 12foot line or roundpen, then the 22foot line etc etc. Again conditioning.
So the question for yourself is what do you consider a bond to be? How do you judge it and what are you looking for?
The think with horses is how we keep them. I mean that in the sense that they are a domesticated animal, yet the lines are also blurred with livestock.
Dogs commonly live with us. So we spend a huge amount of time with them. If they are working dogs, then the work often is things they naturally want to do anyway. Its generally fun or instinctual for them, and when not working we 'hang out'.
With horses its very different. Many people cannot live with their horses. They may be kept on yards, and relatively little time is spent with them. When time is spent its 'doing something'. Riding or training. A lot of this is not fun for a horse. Some of it maybe, but a lot of what we ask them to do is just micro-management of their bodies, removing all control and with no purpose that they can see. Why would they enjoy that?
This is why so many become arena sour, or want to kill their owners on the ground and outside the arena.
I bond comes with responsiblities like any trusting relationship does. Some of those responsibilities may not be convenient for us, or what we want at the time. That is why you have to decide what you want to achieve, what you want to experience with your horse.
You said it yourself, its all been work. We even use that word - work. Horses are gregarious creatures, and curious ones in the right circumstances.
The way I think of building a bond is this. I am not a horse. I never will be nor do I wish to be. Any horse I work with is always aware of that. So I don't try to pretend to be a horse. Instead I provide what the horse needs, (food, shelter, security etc) and I provide other things that make it want to be with me above wanting to be with its herd. I also consider what it wants too. (as I said it has responsibilities for the owner too - not a popular concept)
I enjoy horses, and not just riding them. So I look for things to do that develop them and our bond. As I said horses are curious and playful but their survival instincts often restrict this. By providing security and leadership they feel safe and are able to be curious. So we will go out and explore places and things that they would not explore alone.
Simple things, for example soon it will be rosehip season here. Rosehips are great for their circulation anyway, and horses love them. So we go out rosehip hunting on the common. Its a bit like working a sheepdog. Last year I went out with three horses at once and they loved it.
One of those horse is a dressage horse who was becoming sour. Since introducing these sorts of things his owner says he has become a different and more willing horse.
If I ask it to do something it has a purpose behind it that the horse will see. After a while they come to understand that even when they cannot see the purpose initially, the purpose was there or else I wouldn't ask. This carries into everything we do, and proves very helpful when vets or unexpected circumstances occur.
All of this is done with absolute leadership however. A strong leader can allow (in fact encourages) questions. They will however give strong direction and support. If your horse is pulling to eat grass then be clear and consistent as Tiny says. Give them a bump with the halter before they get to the grass if you need to. Do not allow them to stop where they want without asking. I indicate that its okay to stop, initially by tearing up some grass and offering it them. Soon all it needs is to point to the ground with an open palm and that is the invite to stop and eat. As soon as I move away however, they must follow.
Doe, I really like these ideas. Can you give more examples of the sorts of activities along those lines which you do with your horses? And what would you do in the confines of a riding arena? The weather up this way is frequently not conducive to trail riding and I am sure many posters have various reasons why they can't or don't want to ride out, so exercises to make the arena less of a dreich place would probably be useful for many folk, including and especially the OP who feels everything she does with her horse is work.
Hmmm arena - good question - tricky to answer.
Thing is my point is about an approach not a method or exercises.
For example, one cannot make up for Time, Consistency and Purpose (TCP think i'll trademark that! Blast its an antiseptic so I can't :lol:)
Cowboys have a bad rep, and historically, thats probably justified. It certainly bears little relation to the Hollywood romantic image. However, there are many great (cowboy) horseman who work with their horses and treat them with respect. I've had the pleasure of meeting a few and I suspect from their posts that there's at least a couple I could mention on here.
They don't molly coddle the horses. They are not pets, but they still have, Time (lots of wet saddlepads and just time in general spent together), Consistency (the horse knows what its being asked and it is always asked the same way and Purpose (the horse knows its job, and can see why it is being asked to do things most of the time. Even the old school reining trainers used to train out on the trail, and use obstacles for circles etc etc.)
Compare that with many recreational riders (both hackers and competitors) Time (varies massively, may be an hour a day or an hour a week, Consistency (well both ways - often the only consistency is everytime the horse sees them its work. Their ridden skills and ground handling skills often dont match and theres little consistency in the relationship - dominant on the back but less so on the ground) and Purpose (the horse often sees no purpose to activities such as dressage or reining).
These things impact on the 'bond'.
So in answer to your question, my point is if recreational riders want a bond with their horse then think about what you can do that makes a horse want to be with you rather than its herd. (and I dont mean conditioning through NH groundwork) It varies from horse to horse just as their personalities do.
People talk of a willing partner - but what they mean is a willing slave (popular point that'll be im sure). Willing to do what they want when they want it. Thats fine if thats what you are after, but its exclusive from having a truly willing partner and 'soft' horse.
A soft horse comes from mutual respect and understanding. The reason I can reach horses so quickly is because I have no intention, other than to reach them. I don't care how we get there, I have no goal besides trust and leadership.
For some horses that is doing nothing. For some horses its play. For some horses its direction. I work with what they offer and what they need. That is how they come around to meeting me. I show them I am willing to meet them first. Its not an easy apple to swallow for many people especially when they see what they are paying for their horses, but it all depends on what you actually value most.
As example, I have gone to ride a horse and I can tell the horse really isnt up for it that day, so i'll shoot the breeze and do some other stuff. Other times Ive gone down to poo pick or whatever and a horse really wants to ride out - so we will. Or they are in a playful mood, so we play. It all accomplishes something positive. Even the play is physical and develops their collection and musculature, plus precise control and communication which then converts to their back.
Horses are domesticated - when we try for them, they will try doubly hard for us.
So thats the long answer to your question. Ie much of it is providing alternatives to the arena. However with the indoor arena in mind the principles are the same.
Time, consistency, purpose.
I think I know what you're talking about but I am not 100% sure. I'm trying to press you for concrete answers, which I feel can usually illustrate points regarding horse training better than abstract theorizing. :)
Is it along the lines of what a trainer called Chris Irwin (who I am sure you've read) talks about in his books? For example, he gives an example of being at a jumper show and there was a corner in the warm-up arena that most of the horses found scary and were spooking away from. Most of the riders were trying to shove their horses into the corner, using lots of leg, whip, spur, and reins, and unsurprisingly, most the horses were quite resistant to the idea. Irwin then says there was one rider who, when she approached the scary corner, asked her horse for a counter-bend. When the horse started to think about spooking, the rider asked him to sidepass in the direction he was going to spook. Irwin writes:
"The rider was saying in effect: 'If you're going to move away from the gate to the left, this is how I want you to do it...' Without a suggestion of a fight, that rider both reinforced her control over the horse and allowed her to maintain the flow of her gait. She also earned a great deal of trust from that horse, because in the mind of a horse, its leader *should* push it away from scary places..." (Dancing With Your Dark Horse, 124).
Sorry to not be more specific I have concerns over how certain subjects will be handled or accepted.
When I talk of working with what a horse offers, or indeed more recently the discussion about which way to turn a horse who refuses - that is exactly what I am talking about.
There are many expressions that are incredibly hard to actually integrate and fully understand. As such they are commonly bastardised and used out of context. Expressions such as 'making the wrong thing hard and the right thing easy' or 'let what you want become the horses idea' etc etc.
Chris' example is perfect for this. Many people would apply 'make the wrong thing hard and the right thing easy' to that scenario and work a horse hard away from the spook and only give rest by the spook. That is not the concept. The easy thing is to redirect the horses energy rather than fight it.
Coming back to the turning example, I posted about how important it is to consider the position of the horses feet when asking for a turn. Firstly it makes it hard for the horse not to comply when asked at the right moment, secondly it strengthens the leadership. Asking at the wrong time, leads a horse of balance, is more likely to cause them to refuse, and damages trust. Think about it, ever had a leader at work or wherever who asks you to do stupid or pointless things - appears to have no commonsense? Your faith in them disappears fast. Horses are the same. Why would we ask them to trip over their own feet? Thats not a good leader. I think Chris also talks of something similar at one point in that book from memory.
In terms of ideas within the arena I would look to anything that the horse finds 'fun'. The important thing is direction without pressure. For example and ex-pleasure horse who was really introverted had to be taught that it was okay to have fun. Ok to be a horse. Ok to be curious. What did I do with her? Taught her to fetch. Yup. A partially deflated football. I threw it, she brought it back. This then moved to grooming. I would leave the bag out when around her. If she wanted grooming she would pick up the brush and bring it to me.
I remember being out on a hack and a man suddenly started a chainsaw about 5 feet away (forestry commission - neither of us saw him behind the tree.
She didnt seem to like 2 stroke petrol engines in general. So I borrowed a chainsaw. Took it into the arena where she was free (clutched and chain removed just in case). I started it and she came running over, and nipped it. She trusted me and recognised that anything I had on my person could not harm her. In her case developing her confidence meant she wanted to be with me above the other horses.
A pony who will not stand still for love nor money and has a lot of stable vices as another example. Used free jumping to give a focus to her energy. Then I used 3 poles in a triangle a bit like a trail competition. She had to jump then come over and stand still in the triangle. Then we moved to standing in the triangle until called (like a dog) then onto the jumps. She now jumps really well in pony class and has lost many of her stable vices.
I dont know if any of that helps explain it any further. As its a whole approach to horses rather than a simple method, its very broad and also very easily misconstrued or taken out of context.
All right -- tell me what you think of this. A fairly recent example from my own experience:
I'm out on a trail ride with two other riders. We're second horse in the line. The horse in front is being ridden by someone who is just getting back onto riding after 30 years and isn't very confident. Horse decides a road sign is scary and balks. Plants her feet, doesn't move. Rider kicks her once or twice, to no avail. Within a few seconds of the balk, I nudge my horse around them and take the lead. The other horse relaxes and everyone walks on, happy as larry. My split-second reasoning for quickly putting my horse out front was that the balky horse wasn't going because she had no confidence in her rider (why should she?), the rider fighting the horse would only build tension, stress, and resistance, and I thought since both parties (horse and rider) were a bit tense, they needed the positive experience of relaxation and forward and safety, which from the horse's perspective, meant looking at the butt of a more confident horse, more than they needed the rider "winning" a battle (which she may not have anyway) and *making* the horse go past a road sign. Thus the moment of resistance was brief, not a long protracted row which would have stuck in the minds of horse and rider. And the horse went past the road sign just fine.
Something did just come to mind which might directly help the OP. :) Look up Linda Tellington-Jones and her TTEAM groundwork. Her books should be available in tack stores. That (well, more like a trainer I worked with who was getting her TTEAM certification) did wonders for an arena sour horse I used to own.
With a group however, exactly, use the advantage. I would ask someone else to move forwards as you did. I would however hold the balking horse back in many scenarios. I wouldn't just allow them to follow, because then they have left me. Wait until the other horse is past then ask them to move forward to meet them. That way I keep their minds and I keep leadership. The other horse makes it easy, but I keep their mind. Each time is an opportunity to build confidence. On the other hands horses who have to be driven over things never progress past the next 'new' challenge because their faith in the rider is missing.
Mark Rashid talks about 'passive' leadership. Its different from reactive dominance which is what so much horsemanship is based on. I'm not saying its the only way, or the best way, but its my way, and for me and the horses I come into contact with, its a better way.
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