Monday, November 11, 2013

Establishing Trust Between Horse and Rider

Photo via Flickr

There is a breathtaking video floating around the internet of a young lady riding bareback and bridleless on her beautiful horse, wowing those in the arena with their wonderful display of athleticism and skills. What immediately struck my mind was the degree of trust she had to establish with her horse in order to train him to do all she asked with nothing more than cues given from her legs and seat.

Natural Horsemanship training is based on winning a horse’s trust, rather than forcing him to do your will. Training with trust makes your horse “want” to please you by doing what you ask.

But how do we get there? How can we build that kind of trust?

Just as trust with those whom we form relationships is important to humans, it is equally important in the relationships our horses have with us. By nature, horses are “fight or flight” minded.

They know two things: 1) there is safety in numbers, and 2) humans are predators.

It is our responsibility to show we need not be feared and that we can be entrusted as a leader. Your horse will interpret and compare everything you do in the context of herd behaviors.

Have you ever seen a horse respond well for a friend, but when you rode him he tried you? Rather than being stubborn as most folks would try to ascertain, he was simply telling you he was unsure of your leadership. Trust is not something that will be attained in a short amount of time; rather, it is built slowly and must be maintained daily.

Your horse will look to you for leadership, just as they look for the same within their herd.  When a horse trusts you, he knows you’ve got his back and that there is safety under your leadership; therefore there is no need for fear.  But he judges your ability to lead every time you are with him, because your lack of leadership may, in the herd, cost him his life.

We must be consistent in how we reinforce positive behaviors and correct bad behaviors. Again, we are emulating reactions in herd life. Our horses will always test our leadership to see if they can shift us from our course of action, which is a sign of weakness in a leader.

Be quick to praise and equally as quick to correct, and do it every time.  Trust can be lost if we lose sight on how our horse interprets our actions.

Begin to establish trust from the ground. If your horse doesn’t trust you on the ground, he is not going to trust you when you’re riding him.  Grooming is a bonding moment as it mirrors herd mechanics when horses groom each other.

If your horse approaches you unasked in the paddock, make him back up a couple of steps. He wasn’t invited to approach you. Once he stands for a little bit, invite him to walk up to you.

While on the trail and a “boogie” is encountered, stay cool in the saddle and urge your horse forward with consistency. Okay, my human is cool with this, so it must be safe. If you are tense in the saddle, it will transfer to your horse.

Round penning or longeing your horse also builds trust because you are in control of when, how, and where he moves, which again mimics natural herd dynamics.

Continually focusing on the bond shared with your horse and maintaining your position of leadership will strengthen your partnership and performance whether on the trail or along the rail.

By: Darlene M. Cox