Regardless of whether or not it’s your first horse, the first thing you’re going to want to do with your new horse is bond with them, but it takes time and understanding to form a good bond with any horse.
How do you bond with a new horse? Anything positive you do with your horse will increase and strengthen the bond you have but spending time with your horse, grooming them, and understanding their body language will also help to build that bond.
It’s natural to want to bond with your new horse but horses are like us in that they won’t automatically fall in love with you in the same way you have with them. Building a good and healthy relationship and strong bond with a new horse takes time but it doesn’t have to be a chore, it should be fun for both you and your horse.
How do you bond with a new horse?
The basis for any good and healthy relationship should be one of trust and understanding and the relationship you and your horse have shouldn’t be any different. If you understand how your horse is feeling, how their brain works, and what they’re thinking this process will not only be much quicker but it’ll also be fun for the two of you. Below are a few tips and tricks that will help you bond with your new horse in no time at all.
1) Be calm and relaxed around your horse
Horses are sensitive animals that pick up on how you’re feeling and react accordingly, if you’re relaxed they’ll be relaxed too but if you’re tense or in a bad mood they’ll be nervous and anxious.
Being relaxed around your horse isn’t always easy, especially if you’ve had a bad day but try not to let that spill over into the time you spend with your horse. Take a few minutes to relax and focus on your breathing before seeing your horse. Many smartwatches (and even smartphones) have mindfulness apps that help you to relax and destress, take advantage of this and your horse will notice a positive difference.
If you’re always relaxed around your horse they’ll soon see you as a safe and positive place to go and will therefore trust you more, increasing the bond further.
2) Be consistent and firm with your horse, but be fair too
I know I’m stating the obvious when I say that horses live within a herd, but part of that means that there’s a clear hierarchy with the boss horse (or alpha horse) being at the head of that. This hierarchy is tested every time a new horse is introduced and it’s no different with you, to your horse you’re a new member of the herd and they want to show you they’re the boss. By being consistent, firm, and fair your horse will soon learn to see you as the alpha horse and will then look to you to protect them and for guidance.
When you’re asking your horse to do something it’s crucial to be consistent and always ask him in the same way. You should also make sure your instructions are clear and that your horse understands what he’s being asked to do. If your horse does understand the instructions and knows what to do then you need to be firm and make sure he does it properly. For example, if you’re asking your horse to stand still make sure he does until you tell him to move, don’t let him move forward (or backward) on his own.
When your horse does what you’ve just asked him to do make sure you praise him, this positive reinforcement will also help them to learn quicker and therefore make training more rewarding for both you and your horse. Likewise, be fair with your horse and don’t expect him to be able to do something the first time around if he’s not been trained to do what you’re asking.
3) Don’t only show up for chores or to ride
It can be difficult in today’s busy, non-stop world to make time for your horse but only turning up when you’re riding or have chores to do could lead to your horse associating you with work instead of fun. It can also have an impact on their physical and mental wellbeing.
Just spending around ten extra minutes with your horse or turning up only to see them can make the world of difference to your horse.
4) Spend quality time with your horse
I know this is similar to the tip above but just spending time around your horse will help him to see you as part of the herd. In time this will also help you to calm and destress your horse if they’re feeling anxious.
Being part of a herd, horses spend a lot of time with each other so just hanging out with your horse in the field is one of the best ways to spend quality time with your horse. There are other things you can do with (or for) your horse that can be just as beneficial. Things such as grooming, feeding and even just talking to your horse can all help.
5) Work at your horse’s pace – don’t push them
Research has shown that forcing your horse to interact with you can be counterproductive and, in extreme cases, can cause the horse to resent you instead. The best thing to do is to let your horse come to you when they’re ready, horses are curious animals so this shouldn’t take long.
Be calm and relaxed around your horse and before you know it they’ll be engaged with you and paying attention to what you’re asking them to do.
6) Understand your horse’s body language
All animals use body language to talk to each other and horses are no different, and by understanding how horses communicate you’ll be able to speak to your horse in a language he understands which will help to build that bond.
It might seem complicated and difficult to learn at first but the main thing to focus on is your horse’s head, and especially his ears. While horses use their whole body to communicate around 70% of that language comes from their head and face. For a more extensive guide on horse body language, check out this article.
Understanding your horse’s body language will also help you to know when they’re bored, stressed, or relaxed. It can also help you to recognize whether or not your horse is in pain.
You can also use your understanding of horse body language to train your horse (using something like the join up technique) but if you do it’s crucial that you’re consistent. Otherwise, your horse won’t know what you want him to do and will get upset and frustrated and possibly even lowering their trust in you.
7) Positive reinforcement
Positive reinforcement is a generic term used to describe any type of training that ignores bad behavior and rewards good behavior but it’s the most effective way of training a horse. It’s also great for building a bond because your horse will enjoy your sessions and will be fully engaged with you.
Most people consider clicker training or the use of a dually halter as positive reinforcement training but it can include simple tasks such as grooming your horse. I personally like to put a halter on my horse, walk him around for a few minutes then stop and make a fuss of him before letting him loose again (or returning him to his stall). This teaches him that a halter doesn’t automatically mean work, he then is much happier and more relaxed.
Whatever method you use it’s important it’s something your horse enjoys doing, this will have a positive influence on him and will in turn mean he wants to be around you.
8) Grooming your horse
Believe it or not, grooming your horse doesn’t just make their coat shine but it can also help to build (and increase) a bond, especially if you focus on the areas your horse has trouble reaching. The reason for this is because, within the herd, horses use mutual grooming (known as allogrooming) to build bonds and for relaxation.
When you’re grooming your horse be gentle, take your time, and pay special attention to areas that are difficult for him to reach, areas such as his withers and along his back as well as his neck and belly.
9) Give your horse a massage
I know this probably sounds like it’s the same as the tip above but while it is similar, grooming covers the whole body whereas massaging a horse focuses on particular muscle groups and works in a very different way. While you don’t need to be a qualified equine massager, learning the basic techniques will help you to really make relax your horse.
Recent scientific studies (both in the horse world and the human world) have shown that not only does massaging improve circulation and alertness but it also reduces pain along with muscle soreness and tension. It also relaxes the horse by warming up the soft tissue which releases a hormone known as endorphin (known as the feel-good hormone) which means your horse associates that feeling with you and therefore increases the bond.
It also seems that some horses will lean into a massage to indicate where they need they want you to focus on particular areas.
10) Groundwork exercises
All good horse / human relationships (especially those with a strong bond) involve the horse respecting their owner’s personal space and looking to them as a leader which is where groundwork comes in. It’s one of the most important things to do with your horse, regardless of whatever discipline you take part in. It also forms the basis of any new training exercise as you’ve already built the foundation.
While there are literally hundreds of different groundwork exercises you can do I’d focus on simple ones that force your horse to move his feet. Things such as engaging your horse’s hindquarters, getting them to back up, and moving their shoulders away will all help to build respect and therefore increase the bond.
11) Respect your horse and treat them like a horse
This might seem like an obvious thing to say but I’ve lost count of how many people I’ve seen treat their horses like dogs or children which is why I say you should remember your horse is just that and not another human.
Make sure you treat your horse like a horse and that you give them what they need and what makes them happy. Things such as shelter, pasture, water, and companionship from other horses (or suitable animals if that’s not possible) as well as making sure you’re a strong leader they can trust and depend on.
If your horse feels like one he’ll be much happier.
12) Give your horse a few treats
I’m not saying you should bribe your horse into connecting with you but giving him the odd healthy treat now and then will work a treat (pardon the intensional pun). As any owner will tell you, horses are governed by their stomachs and if you can win that over you’ve won the horse over too. After all, wasn’t the kid who brought all the candies to school the most popular?
How long will it take to bond with my new horse?
The amount of time it takes to build a strong bond with a new horse is dependent on two factors, how much time you invest in the process and how responsive your horse is.
The more ‘positive’ time you spend with your new horse the quicker they will come to see you as a calming influence and want to be around you. Likewise, if your horse has had a troubled past or has a mistrust of people it’ll take longer for them to connect with you.
The important thing to remember though is that every step you take towards bonding with your horse will help. Lots of small steps add up to make a big difference.
How do you tell if your horse has bonded with you?
Horses use a lot of body language to tell you (and other horses) how they’re feeling but if you haven’t learned how to read your horse yet it can be difficult to interpret.
Aside from body language, other signs your horse has bonded with you are how they act when you’re around. Do they pay attention to you even if you’re not interacting with them, do they follow your instructions, are they relaxed around you? If you answer yes to all of those then it’s safe to say your horse loves you and that the two of you have successfully bonded.
I hope you found this article helpful. If you did I’d be grateful if you could share it please as it would really help me.
Over the years I have tried hundreds of different horsey products, from various blankets and halters to different treats. Some I’ve loved, others I’ve hated but I thought I’d share with you my top all-time favorite products, the ones I never leave the yard without. I’ve included links to the products (which are in no particular order) that I really think are great.
- Horse Knots by Reference Ready – If you’re like me and enjoy pocket reference guides then you’ll love this knot tying guide. These handy cards can easily fit in your pocket or attach to the saddle for quick reference. They’re waterproof, durable and are color coded to make them easy to follow.
- Mane ’n Tail Detangler – Even if you never show your horse you’ll need to detangle his tail from time to time (and possibly his mane too) which is always a challenging chore! I’ve found that if I run a little bit of detangler through my horse’s tails every few days it stops them from getting matted up and makes combing them easy, even if they’re coated in mud. I don’t know if I should admit to this or not but it also works wonders on my hair.
- TAKEKIT Pro clippers – Over the years I’ve tried a lot of different clippers and while some were obviously better than others I found these to be by far the best. They are heavier than a lot of other clippers but for me, that’s a good thing, it makes them feel more sturdy and hardwearing. On top of that they have a range of speeds so are just as good for clipping your horse’s back as they are his face. I also like the fact that they come in a handy carry case but that’s not for everybody. The company that makes them is super good and incredibly helpful too, a real bonus these days. The only thing I wasn’t keen on was the fact that it doesn’t come with any oil, but that’s not a major problem as it’s not difficult to buy lubricant.
- Shire’s ball feeder – There are so many boredom buster toys out there but I like to use these every day, regardless of whether or not my horses are bored. I find that it helps to encourage my horses to problem solve by rewarding them with treats (or pieces of fruit) but it also mimics their natural grazing behavior which helps to keep them calm and de-stressed.
- Horse safe mirror – This is a strange one that many people are surprised about but I like to put horse safe mirrors in the trailers as well as in the quarantine stalls. It helps to prevent the feeling of isolation by giving the impression of other horses being around. Being herd animals horses can get extremely stressed when they feel that they’re on their own but with these stick-on mirrors, they believe that at least one other horse is with them.
- Rectal thermometer – I know this isn’t glamourous at all but it’s vital for your horse’s well-being to be able to check their temperature and a rectal thermometer is the easiest way of doing this which is why I’ve added it to the list.
I’ve also put together a few shopping lists of essential items that I’ve found helpful over the years. I’ve broken the lists down into different categories rather than put everything in one massive list 😉