The relationship with any horse requires good foundations. In an ideal world these are laid down right from the start, the right way using the language of the herd. To engage in a true horsemanship partnership the opinion of our horse really matters.
Sadly this is not the experience for many horses that I meet. And the starting point with their new owner can be from a negative starting point. Some have been discarded by their previous owners, sold cheaply and as quickly as possible. Some are labelled as naughty. Some have passed through many hands. Some are misunderstood. Some dislike humans because of prior abuse or trauma.
What we all share is a personal equine dream. That’s why we want horses in our lives. Many people seek a close magical bond and partnership. The road to success is paved with interspecies communication. When you use horsemanship training based on the language of the herd with the relationship coming first you can be a winner in your horse’s eyes and heart. This fuels passion and unlocks potential. The five interlinked foundation elements of horsemanship are: - Bond, Trust, Respect, Time and Focus, Enjoyment. Sadly many horse’s point of view on these five elements are shattered with a very negative view.
Bond. Horses are herd animals that require companionship that makes them feel safe, provides meaningful social interactions and a sense of belonging. It is our responsibility to provide this for our horses. Sadly many horses suffer at the hands of man. They develop survival strategies, some have learnt helplessness; other horses have behaviours that clearly ask humans to keep their distance. Some are sceptical as prior experience has given them no positive reasons for try to bond with humans. The scales of bad experience can weigh heavy with an unpleasant past.
These horses need a fair chance, someone to listen carefully and understand. Time and patience in industrial quantities, along with a sharp eye for the smallest of try which is rewarded lavishly. These horses need to know what kindness and respect feel like. You need acceptance that change will take time, sometimes a very long time. As to move from a negative mind set of no to yes there is a lot of maybe travel through. You need to forgive behaviour instantly and not take it personally. No matter the circumstances you must be loyal, dependable and consistently tell the truth. Plus ignore the unconstructive, hurtful and negative comments from other people who are always ready to point out the “naughty horse”.
These horses must learn nothing bad will happen. A great starting point is being. For many people it is an eye opener to just be with their horse. To just be with a horse is to put aside our agendas. We can easily get hung up on doing stuff with our horses. Have a go at quietly watching, observing him interacting within the herd and his environment. From simply being you can extend into simple interactions that form the basis of observation to meaningful conversation. With deeply held trauma we must place a value on showing every interaction holds no pain or fear. Then you will see the horse start to evaluate things differently, and see you differently from the previous humans he had known.
Trust. Trust is an emotional and logical act. Emotionally it exposes vulnerabilities because there is a feeling of safety and belief in another that they will not take advantage or cause damage. Logically, it is assessing the person in question will behave in a predictable and in a trustworthy manner. It is also about faith in another. There are strong emotions associated with trust these include companionship, friendship, love, agreement, relaxation, comfort. Horses and humans have a natural disposition to trust and to judge trustworthiness. Once trust has been lost it can be very hard to regain. Therefore when looking at trust it is just as important to be trustworthy as this is the only way to build and maintain a trust with another. For us to win our horses trust we must be trustworthy. Our horses must believe we have their best interests at heart. We have to honour the horse and demonstrate being truthful, authentic and keep our promises. Building trust requires us to act with integrity and to be consistent. Empathy and equine compassion enable effective listening skills so we can respectfully understand our horse this an essential skill in building trust.
Sadly the hand of man can cause huge trust issues for the horse. Horrific pasts can shatter trust for the horse in humans, and damage their confidence, self-worth and self-esteem. Naturally the herd is held together with trust, in the inter-relationships within the herd, without it the herd would be in chaos. Consider what type of human your horse had in the past. I have known horses that have suffered with toxic intimidation and punishment. These horses can demonstrate emotional behaviours such as resentment, anger, frustration and fear. These horses do not trust humans or enjoy the human interactions.
Trust is a two way street. Boy this isn’t easy to trust a horse that is damaged by a bad past that exhibits tricky or dangerous behaviour. To trust, you have to look beyond the behaviour, understand why and not take it personally. You have to forgive freely on the spot and bear no ill-feelings. You have to have 100% trust in yourself, and your methods. Your conviction has to be non-wavering, as some small minded people will be all too ready to unfairly criticise, pick fault and enjoy creating pointless drama. They will be ready to judge without the knowledge or understanding the reasons behind your choices and actions. Select your human company well. Let others have their opinion and calmly walk away. This is not blindly carrying on regardless. I urge you to have an open mind and seeking out like-minded people and learn from inspirational horsemanship practitioners.
Every interaction with a horse is an opportunity to build trust. Your horse needs you to be calm, consistent, and know you provide safety and the interactions will be rewarding, enjoyable and fun. There are hundreds of opportunities to show your horse you can be trusted. It is about listening to what your horse is struggling with and stepping up to show them it is ok, there is nothing to be worried about. Horsemanship is about mutual trust. So we have to demonstrate our trustworthiness as much as trust our horse. Learning their communication, their language and etiquette opens up two way dialogue. This enables us to hear our horses, tune in, and engage in an authentic relationship.
Respect. Horsemanship is about mutual respect for each other. Again many horses suffer at the hand of man a great deal of disrespect. It is obvious that beating a horse is a clear act of violence, and is hugely disrespectful. Violence never solves problems. However time and time again I see the results of what has happened to horses that have suffered disrespect in many shapes and forms by mankind such as intimidation and fear. Too many times horses are pressured to do something they don't want to do or are uncomfortable doing. They are then labelled offering a resistance or as naughty. Another form of lower grade disrespect horses experience from humans is nit-picking, constant criticism over little things or a constant negative reinforcement approach to training which can be demeaning. These series of seemingly trivial actions, added up over time, constitutes disrespect. It is easy for people to hang on to old style thinking and long held beliefs and prejudices and these can fuel disrespect. Think about how it feels to be disrespected – Have you ever experienced the unfeeling or uncaring actions or words from another? Have you ever been unfairly judged by another person? How did it make you feel towards the other person?
You only have to observe horses and you will see they thrive in calm, harmonious groups that have herd etiquette and rituals, these are honoured and respected. So horses understand respect for each other. Tap into this and you can have a relationship with your horse that thrives on clear respectful boundaries for you both.
To gain respect you have to be respectful. Respect is about understanding, valuing and considering another’s feelings and perspectives on life. For us to have a respectful relationship with our horse we have to understand and honour their equine reality and have equine compassion. Respect is about appreciating the separate realities we exist in. Using the language of the herd you can communicate with a horse thoughtfully, politely and respectfully. It is seeing your horse as a unique and valued individual not a stereotype. It is about honouring the horse’s dignity and self-worth along with being sensitive to their needs. You must attentively listen to what they have to say, and work to make communication between you comfortable. We all desire to be treated with dignity, respect, courtesy, politeness, and kindness. To be heard and understood with the freedom to express our opinions and ideas. It is no different for our horses. The way forward is to look for the try, no matter how small, and show your horse how much you value them and their contribution. Use praise and positive reinforcement training methods to encourage faster learning. Plus social herd niceties must be observed at all times.
Then there is respect we have for ourselves. You have to set appropriate boundaries with disrespectful people and horses. The way I personally deal with people who disrespect me is to allow them to their opinions and calmly walk away. This is because my life is too short, my energy limited and I have no desire to change the world. I know is not the best way as I should transfer my approach of working with horses to the disrespectful humans. However there is only one of me and my time I feel is better spent with horses and humans who are looking for a better way to be with their horse. The best way I know when working with horses in regards to respect is by using the language of the herd along with calm assertive energy.
The most important thing to remember is a horse must be allowed self-respect, his dignity and self-worth must never be compromised. You must always respect the rights and boundaries of the horse. The communication must be appropriate, direct, honest and respectful. Communication must be two way, horsemanship is not monologue it is open honest dialogue. You need a clearly thought out plan, that you work through at the pace the horse can cope with step by step. Pay particular attention to your and the horse’s emotions and how they impact upon the relationship. Respond to criticism from your horse positively see it as an opportunity to grow and develop. Horses thrive with boundaries or the herd would be in chaos without them. Setting and observing healthy boundaries enables respectful meaningful communication. They allow horse and human to reach a comfortable understanding as to what is acceptable and unacceptable. It provides physically and emotionally a safe place as each knows what is expected. The language of the herd teaches you the boundaries horses have with each other and in turn teaches you to respect your horse’s boundaries.
Time and Focus. One of the things we are all pressured with is time, there are only twenty-four hours in a day, and for many of us to afford a horse we have to work, often long hours. Many horse owners work and also have family commitments to balance. Time is often in short supply. Plus we live in a fast paced world, and this can lead people to look for fast results. There is no quick fix or short cuts. When working with our horse to form a strong relationship we need to dedicate time, and recognise that our concept of time and a horse’s are very different. You need to dedicate regular quality time. This needs to be free from distractions and 100% of your attention. Consider this your horse may only see you for a few hours each day. If the rest are spent in a herd he is lucky. If you want your horse to bond, trust, respect and enjoy hanging out with you have to put in quality, meaningful and focused time with your horse. We all want our horse to be pleased to see us to look forward to time spent together. This will not happen if you are not willing to see relationship building as a priority.
Enjoyment. Discover what makes your horse tick and you will tap into a powerful internal motivational tool. You can read for FREE a series of articles I wrote for Horsemanship Magazine on Motivation - start by reading Panning for Gold then check out the motivation articles. You will find them on the Horsemanship Resources page. Natural horsemanship is a great way to find out what makes your horse tick, along with offering him opportunities to try out different experiences. Play with your horse is another great route into unlocking enjoyment in interactions with you. You can read for FREE my published articles the Art of Play. It is food for thought - Does your horse think the interactions with you are fun and enjoyable?
If you use horsemanship that focuses on these five elements you will win your horse’s heart and be a winner in their eyes. Establishing this relationship is the foundation to building success, harmony and the magical light connection we seek. There are life lessons to be taken from horsemanship. Take a look at the five interlinked elements: - Bond, Trust, Respect, Time and Focus, Enjoyment in relation to any relationship. When one element is missing or damaged the relationship will suffer. Recognize which ring is weak or broken and you can work to repair and strengthen it. Treat others how you would like to be treated. We all want to feel a bond within a relationship, to trust our spirit and soul will not be damaged or compromised, to be treated with respect and dignity, to know that we are given quality time with undivided attention doing something we enjoy. If you want to be a winner, try using the five element approach in all relationships, with your horse, people you interact with, your other pets and notice the many benefits.
You will note I have spoken about what underpins the natural horsemanship techniques not on the techniques themselves. All techniques that focus on the language of the horse work the key to applying them is what I am sharing with you. If you did not understand these underpinning horsemanship guiding principles you may well try to copy a natural horsemanship technique you saw at a demonstration, on the television or read in a book and find it did not work as expected.
My horse Merlot was my once in a lifetime horse that taught me many guiding principles, I feel lucky to have had such a horse enter my life and give me these horsemanship and life lessons. He was the one who showed me the way, opened the door and there was no turning back. This article is just one example of the many lessons, the tip of the ice-burg of what he taught me. They say when the student is ready the teacher will arrive. My Merlot was my most profound teacher. I share so much in writing these articles in the hope it will inspire, spark discussion or debate. It may even challenge you to think about how you want to change your horsemanship.