Learn how to build a lasting connection with your horse.
If you are anything like me, you got into the horse lifestyle because you love them, love the time spent together, and love all the memories made.
But, like any relationship, it’s important that it is joyful, based on trust and mutual connection — not a fight, a dread, worrisome, overwhelming, fear-based, or lacking trust.
Building a connection and trust-based bond with horses is the foundation to everything you want to do and achieve.
To build that foundation and gain your horse’s respect, in a fear-free way, focus on the big things first — the core elements that make your horse function.
Only then can you step into that conversation and start to build a deep bond, mutual connection, and clear communication path that will last a lifetime.
These elements are eternal, profound, and universal amongst horses.
Instead of rattling off a list of dos and don’ts, I’m going to share the underlying secrets behind strengthening the bond with your horse. Put these secrets into place, and you’ll be rewarded with the lasting connection, genuine trust, and energizing willingness both you and your horse crave.
Understanding Horse Trust
There’s something that tends to come up a lot in life with horses, no matter the stage you are in. So, let’s talk about it, shall we?
Most of the time, my inner conversations circle around… “Can I trust this?”
“This” usually refers to a situation, human, or horse.
Your horse is no different. They are also constantly asking themselves…”Can I trust this?”
A horse who lacks trust will often be harder to train, unmotivated, unwilling, or will have many “issues” or “problems.”
Other signs that your horse is untrusting may be running away from you, not standing when you go to mount, uncertainty when presented with new things, and herd-bound/buddy-sour behaviors.
A trusting horse, on the other hand, will follow you anywhere and hardly flinch at something new.
A trusting horse will be willing to work because she knows you have her best interest in mind.
These horses are attentive, motivated, and quick learners. They’re also easier to catch and halter in the field, want to be with you no matter what, and have comparatively little regard for the other horses.
When you build a foundation based on trust, it’s a lot like having a piggy-bank you can constantly pull from in the future. Each time you make a “deposit” that bank is getting bigger and bigger. So in training or a sticky situation you have that “currency” to go back and withdraw from.
3 Secrets for Gaining Trust
Now that you understand why it’s so important to gain your horse’s trust and respect, let’s talk about how to actually do it. Here are the three secrets that will set you on the right path.
# 1: Be Predictable
The number one trust builder is to be predictable by being consistent!
Be consistent with your energy level, emotions, and how you show up around your horse. Stay consistent with your communication, always sending and receiving messages in the same way — a way that both you and your horse clearly understand.
Example: If you step into your horse’s space UNPREDICTABLY, it doesn’t matter WHO your horse is or WHAT you want to happen. You’re setting yourself and your horse up for an un-trustworthy situation.
This 100% goes both ways.
I’ll bet you’re a bit like me, and what creates a feeling of distrust, is a simple fact that I don’t know what my horse will do next.
I cannot predict her next move…
This is no different from your horse’s point of view. Predictability is comforting for both of you.
# 2: Be a Good Listener
Being a good listener is a bit different from your horse’s perspective than you might think.
If I stop all my talking and simply listen to my horse, see, hear and understand what she’s saying… magic happens.
Humans are verbal communicators. Talking our natural go-to. But, not so with horses. They communicate primarily through body language and eye, ear, and muzzle expression. This subtle language can be overlooked if you aren’t paying close attention.
When you slow down your talking and simply allow the horse to “speak,” you’ll begin to see a shift in her demeanor. Quickly, your horse will notice that you are understanding them, tuning in to what they are saying, and respecting set boundaries.
It can be as simple as showing your horse, “Hey, I see that you’re nervous. Let’s pause and take the time you need to feel safe and confident again.”
Increase your awareness of your horse’s language, how she thinks, reacts, learns — and what motivates her to act.
# 3: Ditch Your Expectations and Allow Choices
I know this seems a little “out there,” but hang in there with me.
We often show up around our horses, both with our actions and emotional intent, with a laundry list of “expectations” for how, when, where the horse should act, be, and do.
Now, I’m not saying ditch everything on your agenda. There are important do’s and don’ts your horse must follow to ensure safety. What I am saying, however, is that we humans tend to be “control freaks” around our horses.
We constantly tell horses what to do and expect a perfect reaction.
In a sense, it’s a “destination addiction” — we feel like we must arrive at a specific destination each time we work with our horses.
What I’m suggesting is allowing the horse freedom of choice.
A choice to say “no.” A choice to walk fast or slow when worked at liberty (i.e. loose) in the arena. Offer a suggestion as to what you’d like them to do, but let them ultimately choose how they respond.
Trust is built in these moments spent with no expectations and freedom of choice.
You as the human have to trust the horse to make a decision and allow her to own that choice and the impacts of that choice.
The horse begins to see trust in you because she is given a sense of empowerment. It builds confidence, and she is more invested in the activity because she chose to engage or participate.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What should I do if I get nervous about riding?
First things first, sign up for our free Confident Rider email course!
Q: What should I do if my horse doesn’t seem to care about me?
“My horse has zero desire to even remotely want to try and bond with me…”
“He acts annoyed with my very presence, like he simply doesn’t want me there…”
Sound familiar? If yes, hang in there. You’re not alone.
The good news is horses can change. In these situations, my primary advice is to become “more interesting!”
What I mean by this is change your energy to be calm, cool, and relaxed. I call this a Meditative Mind State, where you simply sit/stand in or near your horse’s space practicing this meditative breathing and being present.
The calmer you are (i.e. the more “interesting” your change in energy becomes), the more your horse’s curiosity will engage. Soon, you’ll become something she cannot resist checking out.
Q: What are some good horse bonding games and exercises?
This is my favorite thing to do with my horses! My favorite exercises and games include:
- Simply spend quality time with them: Free of expectations, allowing choices, listening to them, grooming, or going for a long walk together, it’s this time together that helps build a lasting connection.
- Find what motivates and excites them… and do it: If you have a horse who loves the big arena ball or running over little jumps, trotting in the field with you, do that! Do this at liberty (i.e. loose where the horse has freedom of choice). Just playing with your horse is one of the easiest ways to build your bond.
- Work together on simple herding: These are exercises that should begin at liberty. Slowly, quietly ask your horse to walk forward, then “herd” her around. (5 steps at a time to start is plenty.) “Herding” the horse simply means using clear communication that she understands to “drive” her forward, much like another horse would in the paddock. It’s important to take breaks, and not chase your horse.
Want more ideas and instruction? Check out my free resource download about the Top 10 Exercises to Easily Strengthen the Bond with Your Horse.
Q: I recently got my new horse, and it’s taking a while to bond and develop trust. Is this normal?
Yes, this is normal.
Many horses take a long time to build enough trust and connection for you to truly “feel” that bond. All I can suggest is taking your time. Lots and lots of time.
With a new horse, you often don’t know their past — at least, not all the details. Horses develop negative emotional associations with things, people and places. So, no matter what, when that thing is in her space she loses her marbles!
It takes time to rewire negative associations and create new, positive ones associated with you and/or other objects.
Again, spend time with your horse in the Meditative Mind State. Enter her space, greet her, then leave.
Do this many times a day. What you are showing them is you are a safe, calm, trustworthy person to be around. You enter their space, free of expectations, and then leave without asking anything.
It Takes the Time it Takes
Whoa, that’s a lot! I hope this article will inspire you to take action and know that there is *still hope* even if your horse is fearful, on stall rest due to an injury, or exhibiting behaviors related to past trauma.
Trust simply takes time, and not one minute of time you invest to build that trust is wasted.
Your relationship with your horse isn’t just another checkbox on the training schedule, but a deep desire to truly connect with your horse and enjoy every minute together!
About the Author
Erica is an Oregon native, adventure seeker with big ol’ dreams, coffee craving gal who loves a good story. She, like many of us, caught the “horse-crazy” bug early in life and never looked back. Many horses are to thank for crafting who she is as a horsewoman today. Through in-person workshops and online resources like a blog, ebook, and courses, her focus is on building a trust-based bond and lasting connection with our horses so every moment is nothing short of amazing!
Connect with Erica and Hoofbeat Collective on Instagram, her blog, or access her free download of 10 Exercises to Easily Strengthen the Bond With Your Horse.
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