Often we forget that horses are prey animals. This means that trust isn’t something that comes naturally to them. On the contrary, being standoffish to preserve their own safety is an instinct that can be difficult for them to overcome, especially if they have a history of trauma or abuse. As horse caretakers, we have to take steps to earn their trust, which means always being a pillar of consistency, safety and calmness that they can rely on.
Horses rely on their senses to determine if their environment is safe. Because their intellect is so heightened in this regard, they can easily pick up on your mood when you’re around them. If you’re working to earn – or keep – your horse’s trust, make an effort to shake off any frustration, anger, anxiety and other negative emotions before entering the barn. The more level-headed you are, the easier it will be for them to let their guard down in your presence.
Training and riding your horse are great ways to develop his skills and form an everlasting bond. But if all you ever do is work together, it makes it difficult for your horse to relax in your presence. Carve out some time every day for a gentle grooming session. Not only will this keep your horse looking his best, it’ll provide a quiet, intimate time for the two of you two connect without the pressure of expectation and achievement.
There are a couple important things to keep in mind when it comes to grooming, especially when it comes to fostering trust:
Let go of goal-oriented mindsets – There are, of course, numerous health benefits of grooming. But do your best not to focus on attaining a gleaming coat or shiny hooves every time. Instead, turn your attention to simply being with your horse. Pay attention to his body language, and spend extra time brushing those spots that make his lip quiver. The more he enjoys your grooming sessions, the easier it will be for him to trust you.
Choose the right tool – A positive grooming experience is everything when it comes to promoting a trusting relationship. Using harsh tools that cause discomfort will have the opposite effect, so be sure to invest in gentle alternatives such as those made of rubber. Brushes that remove hair while also massaging the tissue are ideal, since they’ll keep his coat healthy and instill a sense of deep relaxation.
Earning your horse’s trust probably won’t happen immediately. Depending on his past and personality traits, it may take years before he looks to you as a dependable companion. But don’t let this hinder your progress. Though it might be exasperating at times, it’s important not to let your emotions get the best of you. Remember – your horse picks up on what you’re feeling!
Instead, practice taking deep breaths to ground yourself when spending time with your equine companion. Patience is key when it comes to developing a trusting relationship.
Once you’ve earned your horse’s trust, he’ll be more responsive to training and better able to perform in the ring. Just take things slow and abide by the above steps, and you’ll be a dynamic duo in no time!