Strengthening the bond with your horse requires trust and security. And most importantly, you need to record the conversation and “talk” to the horse.
Strengthen the bond with the horse
"Strengthening the bond with the horse" primarily means building a trusting bond with your horse and giving it security. Without trust, there can be no real partnership with your horse. Your horse cannot feel safe with you.
But everyone knows that trust cannot be forced or fed with treats. You can only work it out step by step. This requires a lot of patience, but it's definitely worth it.
Horses show you their trust, for example, by
- to relax with you
- allow your closeness
- go with you relaxed into the terrain
- relax and have your hooves scratched out
- follow you into the trailer without hesitation
- follow you wherever you go
How do I build trust to strengthen the bond with my horse?
- Meet your horse with a calm and relaxed body language and voice. Breathe calmly and relaxed. Be clear and unambiguous in your communication.
- Show your horse that you are a safe place. Through your posture, convey to your horse that you know what you are doing and will make sure he is comfortable. Keep calm and show your horse that there is no reason to be scared or upset. Always be consistent in your actions.
- Pay attention to the needs and character of your horse.
Because every horse has a different personality, a different past, a different rank in the herd and different experiences that it has saved.
- Show your horse that you are willing to listen. Just spend some time with your horse. Watch him in the paddock, take him for a walk or take your time cleaning.
- Talk to your horse.
Talk to the horse
The point here is not to tell the horse a lot, but to "speak" in body language and with the signals of a horse. We can strengthen the bond with the horse if we are willing to listen to our horse, learn its language and respond to it in its language - start the conversation with it.
But if you want to talk to your horse, you must first understand its language. This requires that you observe the horses' body signals and understand their body language. We have described this in detail in our blog post "Understanding my horse correctly" ( https://hoofment.de/blogs/news/mein-pferd-correctly-understanding ). If you haven't already, check back there if you want to learn more about horse body signals and body language.
In this article, we'll look at the next step. "Talk to the horse" means: Record the conversation with the horse so that it understands us. As clearly and distinctly as horses communicate with each other, we must also express ourselves to the horse. We need to use our body language in a way that our horse understands.
We already know a lot about the body language of our horses. But how do we answer them? With which signals do we "speak" to our horse?
In her book “Language Course for Horses”, Sharon Wilsie suggests 4 rituals that we can use to start a conversation with our horses. These 4 rituals are important rituals in how horses interact with each other and offer us the opportunity to answer our horse in its own language, to speak to our horse. We would therefore like to introduce these 4 rituals to you below.
4 rituals to talk to your horse:
Sharon Wilsie calls these rituals "the four G's of horse language": Greeting, Going Somewhere, Grooming and Gone.
- Ritual: The Greeting
A greeting is something simple that you do every day. Unfortunately, when it comes to our horses, the greeting sometimes takes a back seat or is not carried out with the necessary respect. Unfortunately, some also don't know how to greet a horse.
How do horses greet each other? How do you greet us? In order to start the conversation with your horse and to strengthen the bond with your horse, the greeting is a very important ritual.
If you take the time to observe horses greeting each other in the herd or even over the fence, there is something exciting to discover: The greeting of horses among themselves usually consists of three mutual touches on the nose:
- The first touch:
A formal greeting to say hello, assess each other, find out more about each other, often followed by a small movement, a slight turn of the head in the direction of the other horse and the question, "If I walk in this direction, will you follow me." ?
- The second touch:
After the delicate first contact, a second touch of the noses, combined with a deep inhalation and combined with a gesture mimicking the other horse, as a confirmation of who is leading and who is following.
- The third touch:
The third touch of the nose decides what happens next: either the contact is broken off, the horses separate, perhaps with an invitation to compete or play, possibly even with the front legs being thrown, a high-pitched squeak.
Or: with relaxed horses, the rituals of walking, grooming or getting up and away follow. (These three rituals will be explained in detail later in this post.)
But now to the crucial question: How do I greet my horse in his language? How do I approach the conversation with my horse respectfully?
The best way to mimic the horses' greeting ritual is to say "hello" to your horse with your hand, preferably your knuckles (slightly clenched fist, knuckles up) and touch his nose. This gentle touch is followed by a slight sideways rotation of your body. When the horse mimics the movement, he offers to follow you with that movement.
When greeting you for the first time, you must be just as mindful of a horse's personal circle (personal bubble, individual distance) as you would expect him to be. It is important that you introduce yourself to the horse and ask if you can enter his private circle so that he is comfortable with your approach. This is especially true when greeting horses you don't know well. It is best not to approach a horse directly from the front, but rather from the side. From a reasonable distance, you extend your hand to initiate the greeting. If the horse responds to your invitation by taking a step toward you, touching your hand, or otherwise giving you a welcoming feeling, you may enter his personal circle and begin by greeting your hand or knuckles to his nose for the first time.
The first touch is then followed by the second contact of the knuckles or hand on the horse's nose with the message "I'm getting to know you" and another slight turn to the side. This should increase the horse's willingness to follow you.
This is followed by the third touch on the nose, where you breathe as calmly and gently as possible. With this third contact you introduce the question, like when the horses greet each other: "What do we do now?". You can now "go somewhere" together with the horse (see 2nd ritual), start grooming (see 3rd ritual) or you can simply part peacefully (see 4th ritual).
Even without the full greeting ritual, horses are often already impressed and happy to welcome you if you stick out your knuckles to say "hello". If you carry out the complete ritual with three consecutive touches, you can experience an even more intensive exchange that further deepens your mutual trust. It's definitely worth trying it out for yourself.
But beware: in the herd, the higher-ranking horse begins and ends the greeting. So if your horse not only sniffs and touches you carefully, but pushes you clearly with its nose, pushes you to the side or even pushes you away with its shoulder, there is a lack of respect and your horse wants to take on the leadership role.
2. Ritual: Go somewhere
If you observe horses in the paddock calmly, you will surely find out who is the head of the herd and where the rest of the horses are in the hierarchy. You can quickly recognize this from the “who moves whom” principle. This means that the person with the higher rank creates space and the person with the lower edge gives way. Therefore, it is important for a mutual sense of trust between you and your horse to establish who is leading and who is following. Creating clarity here is actually not difficult and can be easily implemented:
The first step: The horse is asked to walk.
To do this, touch your horse on the side of the face (on the horse's upper gaiter, below the eye) or at least point there. Sharon Wilsie calls this point the "walk away face button." If horses nudge or point at this point, they are prompting the other to take their face out of their personal space. The horse doesn't have to go all the way. A horse can already tell that it is being respected when the other turns his head away and gives him enough space. You can observe this behavior, for example, when horses are tied up next to each other or when they stand next to each other at a water trough or a haystack.
So if you point and press the walk away face button with your index finger stretched out and the horse turns its head to the side, it is respectfully giving you enough personal space.
You can also ask your horse to move his front legs to the side. You stand at the height of the horse's neck with your face to the horse. Then ask them to move their forehand to the side by touching or pointing your finger at their midneck or shoulder. When your horse moves sideways, bows his head, and breathes more deeply, you know he understands you and has earned his respect.
In the next step you can “go somewhere” with your horse. In order to move forward together, roles must be assigned: who leads and who follows?
To do this, lead your horse by the halter and try to adapt to the rhythm of your horse's front legs with a relaxed posture.
To do this, bring your shoulder in line with your horse's shoulder.
Once you are in step like this, you can change your rhythm and ask your horse to adapt to you now. Your horse will instinctively adjust to your speed and stride length. Of course you can also add sideways movements. You can do this exercise with a halter and lead rope, with a neck ring, or without both. Of course, you can expand this with various other exercises: stomp your legs to stand, just step to the side, cross your feet, walk over obstacles and floor bars, etc.
Through such exercises - conversations between you and your horse, in which you show yourself clearly, calmly and responsibly - your horse's trust is deepened and the bond with your horse is strengthened.
3rd ritual: grooming
Horses express their bond with each other by grooming each other. Mutual scratching and scratching is always a mutual give and take, ie two horses scratch each other's back and withers symmetrically. So it's understandable that when you brush your horse, your horse will want to return it and try to scratch or nibble you. If this gets too intense, you should request more personal space again by lightly touching your horse on his walk away face button.
Begin grooming by touching your horse's neck or withers as horses would touch each other. Then you can either continue scratching and stroking your horse, brushing off the dirt or combing out its winter coat. Depending on what is appropriate or pending.
Grooming means sharing the space again. Your horse must therefore consent to grooming. If your horse loves to be cleaned and to share the space with you during this time, this time allows you to be intimately together, which strengthens the bond with your horse.
If your horse doesn't like being touched or groomed and is tensing up or fidgeting, you could try the following:
- first tap your horse with cupped hand on the neck
- breathe relaxed and calm
- stand at a 45 degree angle to the horse, or in other words: point the navel away from the horse to relieve pressure, because if you turn the navel towards the horse, this is a go away message for your horse.
4. Ritual: Up and Away
Up and away means for horses: "That's done for me", "I'm done with you now" or in short: a simple "No!". The horse wants out of a conversation. The horse transmits this message by vigorously flicking its tail in the direction of another horse or a person - often combined with flattened ears. Then it turns away or runs in a different direction, is "up and away". It's important to heed your horse's "no."
Here "talking to the horse" means that you want to make your horse understand in his language that something is done, that a conversation is over for you. You can try to imitate his tail movement: abruptly swing your arm and hand once over your back or thigh as if you want to shoo away a fly. This way you can make your horse understand that something is done and send it away. Try wiping with your hands. Maybe your horse will respond with a vigorous tail swipe and you'll part peacefully.
These 4 rituals offer you the opportunity to talk to your horse using body language and signals that hopefully your horse understands. With a lot of calm and patience, you can strengthen the bond with your horse and build more trust and respect. Of course there are numerous other ways to talk to your horse, to answer him in his language. You have probably already consciously (or quite unconsciously and intuitively) introduced some rituals to communicate with your horse.
- Mark Lubetzki, In conversation with wild horses, Kosmos Verlag, 2022
- Sharon Wilsie & Gretchen Vogel, Horse language course, Kosmos Verlag, 2018