12 Keys on How to Build the Trust of Your Horse
In my opinion trust is essential in your relationship with your horse. It is a process to build up that trust, a road you choose to discover. No longer your goal, but instead the path you take together with your horse is what becomes important.
You will encounter challenges along the way and how you choose to go forward will decide whether or not you develop your horse’s trust. It is a continuous listening and reviewing if this is the right way for you and your horse. This gives refinement and leads you together with your horse towards unity and harmony.
By nature a horse is distrustful of people but through the domestication of horses this has changed over the centuries. It is important to take into account what a horse experiences, what intentions do we have, what do we say with our body language, what emotions are we going through and what is going on behind the mask we show the outside world.
A horse has to learn how to trust you, as a person, and have the time to get to know you.
Your habits and ways, the sound of your voice, your reactions to the world around you and to the horse will be the deciding factors of building up or breaking your horse’s trust.
How do you build the trust of your horse?
The twelve keys to building trust
A horse is sensitive to your intentions. Your thoughts are visible in your body language, whether you like it or not. As a human being, we are often only partly aware of this, a horse is much more aware. Every thought creates a reaction in your body and the horse perceives every subtle change more distinctly than we as people do.
Therefore the first step is to be aware of what your own intentions are. What are you thinking when you go to your horse? Or what do you want to achieve? Observe yourself when you go to your horse.
The way you move betrays tension or shows relaxation. A horse is sensitive to this and will more easily connect with someone who moves and exercises out of a place of relaxation. Be sure to also get physical exercise and training outside of the time you spend with your horse.
Exercise is also necessary, both for your horse and for yourself, to stay mentally in balance.
Your breathing is one of the bigger keys in working with horses. Here in the west, with all the stimuli of the society around us, most people have superficial chest breathing. When you are in a hurry or stressed, your breathing is faster and shallower. With a horse, breathing goes faster when they are excited or when they are in pain. With these differences it is easy to see the influence it has on your horse.
The more you breathe from your stomach and diaphragm, the slower the tempo of your breathing, and the sooner your horse will feel at ease with you.
Ω Use of Voice
Your voice often betrays what is going on inside of you. To build up trust you can, for example, work without speaking to make yourself more aware of your own body language. If you choose to work with your voice, be aware of your volume, how high or low pitched your voice is and your tone. A high pitched voice will make your horse more uneasy.
Be sure to use a deep, gentle, low pitched voice to reward your horse, to ask for behaviour you want to see and when you want to create a peaceful environment. You can use a high pitched voice when rewarding during training, when you want to affirm your behaviour and when you want to appear bigger.
The pace at which your horse learns and in which he moves is set. Naturally in a certain moment you can influence this. For that, a basic trust must be present first.
In addition, the pace at which you move yourself determines whether this builds trust or breaks it down. When you make hurried or sudden movements, it will leave your horse feeling skittish and finding it more difficult to trust you. Working with a relaxed attitude and quiet and gentle movements will influence your own breathing and the wellbeing of your horse.
The pace you work with can be short and powerful, but this will increase the importance of having breaks in between to allow your spirits and muscles a moment to relax.
Every horse has its own rhythm. By nature one is faster than the other. Be aware of your own rhythm and what your preference is. Tuning your own rhythm to that of your horse can be done in different ways to help your horse trust you more easily.
For example by changing your own walking rhythm you can learn a lot about how your horse responds and what your communication with each other is like.
Encourage your horse even in the little things he does well. This will build trust and invite them to show that behaviour again. So learn to recognise the small signals and reward your horse for what you have asked the moment he starts going in the right direction.
Ω Empathise with your horse’s experience
When you know more about your horse’s experience, you can anticipate their needs more quickly. Knowing the specific needs of your horse gives you more tools to guide and assist them in difficult situations. This helps in working together to develop trust.
Respect the way your horse perceives and experiences the world.
Short moments with your horse, where your horse gets your full attention, builds more trust than long lasting training sessions or being together when you are distracted. This is especially true when you are building up a foundation of trust.
Take the time to be together, especially time without wanting anything from your horse. By being with them in their own world you learn a lot about their behaviour, their relationships with the other horses and you become a part of the herd. This gives you a good base to fall back on.
The right timing… is waiting for the right time. The timing of when you ask for something, or not, is essential in building trust. When giving guidance, both on the ground and while on your horse, your timing is important. Your guidance can have much more of an impact when the timing takes place at the right moment. Timing is also affected by your plans, the ability to plan ahead and decide what the right moment is.
Visualising helps you to realise what is in your head. It is a mental creation of images and has an influence on achieving your goals. Forming a picture of what it looks like when your horse trusts you deeply helps in taking the steps necessary to achieve it.
When you have a picture in mind, your body, muscle movements, etc. adjust to it. This has a direct influence on your horse and the reaction your horse will give.
Listen to your horse. What does your horse want? What does he indicate? Learn to ask the right questions to lift your relationship and bond of trust with your horse to a new level.
Ask yourself for once what your horse wants, or must it be as be as you want or decide?
Often we miss the signals a horse gives to let us recognise that what we are doing is causing stress.
I personally have worked with many different horses and ponies with a huge variety of characters and personalities. By tuning myself to my horse, observing their body language and by responding to the signals that they give, I am able to build their trust and a bond of friendship. This is essential to reach successful communication. Eventually we all long for harmony and unity, including with our horse. Collaboration out of unity can be built up now whether you ride competitively, recreationally, or only work on the ground.
Definitions of Trust
– Sincere treatment
– Honouring existing commitments
– Listening to each other
– Treating each other with respect
– Constant give and take
– Depending on each other
– An expectation that the other will not harm you
– Belief that the person you trust will also meet your expectations
This is just as true for your dealing with people as it is with your horse.