Other Riding Tips

Bonding 101: How to Make the Most of Your Horse Time

child bonding with horse
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Written by Lindsey Rains

Time Won’t Let Me

In this Bonding 101 series, we discuss the importance of your approach, boundaries, and leadership with your horses. It would be remiss not to also talk about one of the most important aspects of horse ownership and partnership: setting aside ‘time’ for bonding.

If you’re anything like me, you may feel like you should be productive every moment of every day. The 1966 song Time Won’t Let Me comes to mind whenever I’m tempted to simply be with my horse rather than accomplish.

Who has time for that?

Bonding time is something we categorize as “non-goal-oriented time.”

Goals help us to progress as equestrians, as well as help our horses improve. While it is really important to set goals with our horses, it is equally (if not more) important to simply spend bonding time with our horses.

*Cover photo credit: Johanna & Bunny

Wanted: A Better Bond

Your use of time can go far towards developing a strong horse bond. Allocated with care and reinforced with joy, both horse and rider can learn to trust and rely on the other one.

In this session, I will share how

you can prosper through the effective, nurturing use of bonding time.

horse bond time

Components of a Better Horse Bond

There are two things to consider about bonding time:

  1. Time for Learning About Us: Setting aside consistent “playtime.”
  2. Time for Improving Us: Strengthening your horse-human bond.

Horses can sense when we want something from them and when we are spending time solely to exist alongside with them. Let’s jump into the basic ways we can spend bonding time with our horses, and what we can learn from it.

Time for Learning About Us

Most equestrians dream of having a strong bond between horse and rider. My goal is to give you a few pointers and ideas.

When you’re setting aside time to bond with your horse, the most important thing is to remain calm. This is low pressure, non-goal-oriented time.

It’s time to just hang out with your horse. Chill.

A horse I ride often, Rose, loves being touched. Whether I’m giving her a massage, wither scratches, grooming, or petting her, she loves it.

So, when I’m bonding with her, I focus a lot of our time on physical touch. These good feelings then transfer to the saddle when I’m riding. I can reach down and stroke her neck if she’s starting to be tense, and she immediately associates that touch with calm and enjoyable bonding memories.

Photo Credit: Milan Berry

Another horse that I ride, Chip, doesn’t really care about touch. He doesn’t mind the occasional pat on the neck, but he really doesn’t like grooming.

Instead, I’ve learned that his ideal bonding time includes:

  • Hanging out while he grazes
  • Playing around with liberty training or with a groundwork exercise
  • Teaching him a new skill or trick

That is how he likes to bond. (Well, and via treats, of course!)

Watch, Learn, Bond

Bonding time is a great way to discover new things about your horse. It took me a while to figure out that Chip really didn’t develop an attachment in the same way most other horses did — and I only reached that conclusion by spending non-structured time together.

It’s how I discovered he enjoys challenges and communicating on a lunge line.

There are other horses who love games, touch, hand walks, and grooming. Whatever your horse finds enjoyable is what you should focus on for your bonding time.

Pro Tip: The Parelli training system has some great games that help you engage with playful horse personalities and even a young horse.

Time for Improving Us

You may have to use some trial and error to find out what makes your horse ‘tick.’ Once you figure that out, it’s time to put that knowledge into action.

It may be before a training session or after a lesson. Or, you might make a separate trip to the barn just to spend time bonding. (Gasp! Really?)

Quality horse bonding time

Photo provided by Angie Misaghi (@angisaghi)

Whatever works for your schedule is fine, even it’s only 15 minutes throughout the week. Even a few minutes here and there can revolutionize your bonding level with your horse.

Dedicated bonding time helps you get to know your horse better and develop mutual trust.

There isn’t one “right” way to spend bonding time and building a relationship with your horse — it might look like:

  • Hand walking down the road
  • Playing games in the arena
  • Natural horsemanship exercises
  • Learning new tricks and gaining your horse’s trust
  • Grooming and petting
  • Hanging out in the stall talking
  • Bath time

Your only goal is to reserve quality ‘us’ time.

Best of all? Spending quality time with our horses also calms our souls. We get time away from the office or home commitments to simply be.

Just make sure you’re ‘offering’ more than you’re ‘asking’ of of your horse. They can sense the difference!

how to think like a horse book

Click to see it at Amazon

horse rookie guide to jumping

Start Intentionally Bonding

Every time you set aside to bond, whether you’re at the barn during a week off, or every every other day to spend a half hour together, I challenge you to write down at least one new observation about your horse.

It could be as simple as “I didn’t know he had this marking under his chin,” or “I never noticed his hooves look this way,” or “I didn’t realize he loves belly scratches.”

Red horse face

Source: Pixabay

Not often can we reap such great reward from such minimal effort. Setting aside a little extra bonding time — without any agenda — will help you know your horse on a whole new level. (And vice versa!)

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About the author

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Lindsey Rains

Lindsey Rains is the owner of Hoof Print Marketing, a boutique equestrian social media agency serving clients like The Plaid Horse, Savvy Horsewoman, and (of course!) Horse Rookie. She resides in Post Falls, ID, USA, with her husband, where she loves taking jumping lessons.

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