Horse & Rider
Know Your Horse
The best thing for building trust with your horse is to know him well.
The confidence you feel with your horse can be tied directly to how well you know your horse. So what can you do to get to know your horse and strengthen that bond? In general, spending time with your horse, even if all you have is 20 minutes per day, is a start. Without that time, you’re not going to know him—whether he’s goofy when the wind blows, or if a thunderstorm bothers him. You need to know what disturbs him, what comforts him, and how much pressure he’ll allow you to put on him. You’ve got to know your horse.
Getting to Know Him
If you don’t really know your horse, start by asking questions with your cues. For example, when you sit down and say “whoa,” does he stop, or not? When you guide him to the left, does he turn immediately, or take a couple of seconds to turn? Depending on his level of skill, this will tell you what you need to work on. If he doesn’t respond correctly, he either doesn’t know how, hasn’t been asked correctly, or chose to say no. Then you choose what direction you want to go with your training. When you figure that out, how hard can you push for a response?
I recommend working with your horse every day—but I know that’s not the real world in all training situations. We try to get horses out every day and do something with them— turn them out, work them in the round pen, groom them. They don’t need to stand in a stall.
Shorter sessions with your horse more frequently are better than longer sessions infrequently. If you’ve got 15 minutes, go for 15 minutes. Just make it count.
You also need to know when to quit. If you ask your horse to do something and he does it right a dozen times, he’s going to get frustrated if you continue to ask him.
Here are some ways you can incorporate this conversation you’re having with your horse into riding that will help you get to know each other better and strengthen your communication.
The Stopping Drill
You’ve got to stay safe, no matter what you’re asking your horse to do. Safety needs to be a top priority. So having good brakes is important.
With the stop drill, you don’t need to go very far at a time, just a few steps. Set off at a walk, and walk a few feet, in a straight line, say “whoa,” stretch your heels down gently, and test your horse’s response. If he doesn’t stop, go to your hand to ask him to stop, and back him off your reins for a few steps. Sit for a moment, then walk forward another few feet, and repeat. Your voice commands and body cues need to be nearly simultaneous; you