How to make friends with a horse?

"Give him what he needs and he will give you what you want“

I think the quote is by Pat Parelli and it sums up what I think is the basis for a good relationship with our horse: the change of perspective.
In order for the relationship to thrive, we need to put our horse‘s needs first. And I am not only talking about keeping the horse on a pasture with company and feeding it adequately. This is more about what we in our time together can contribute to the well-being of the horse.

If we don‘t walk that mile in our horse‘s shoes and if we don‘t feel responsible to help the horse to be comfortable around us, our relationship becomes onesided. Us humans ask and tell and take, while the horse has the giving part. Constantly. This cannot be a sound fundament for a friendship - who wants to be together with somebody who is only focused on his own issues and advantages and who doesn‘t care about the other that much?

This is how the concept of taking the horse's point of view applies being with horses:

Saying "hello" in a polite manner is part of
a starting a friendship. Photo: Marko


I not only go to the horse when I want to use him for my pleasure (riding or groundwork). Sometimes I just visit him on the pasture and say hello. Sometimes I bring him to the barn just to groom and feed him and then bring him back to his buddies. I don't want my horse to believe that I only show up when I want him to work for me.

I try to keep him motivated - in our case we rest a lot in our sessions. I've been preaching this for ages but it's a hard concept for some people to grasp. Only if my horse knows that I will allow him to rest, he will not try to do so on his own (breaking gait or just minimizing his efforts). Instead he will be motivated to do what I ask because he can rely on me letting him rest afterwards. 

I try to not make the horse feel bad when he made a mistake (this is hard for me). So instead of: "Come on, how often do we have to repeat this until you finally get it?" or "Can you just for once listen?" I try to say (in my mind) "Ok, that was not exactly what I had in mind. Can you try again please?" or "I am confident that you can do it. Give it another shot". 
I am pretty sure (at least most of the time) that the gelding tries to find out what I want and that he is willing to comply. If he doesn't, often I failed to deliver the information he needed, he is stiff and physically not able to do what I asked - and sometimes his focus is on saving energy (versus expending it). 

I will no reprimand him, up the phases or use the whip but politely ask for another try. Us humans do not always feel fit and we don't always give 100 percent neither (especially not if it isn't worthwhile). I think from time to time we can concede that to our horses too. 

I don't always succeed in putting this mindset into action though. From time to time I become angry and inpatient. But I try to be in control of my emotions. 

Of course, there is way more to building a friendship with a horse. But these three ideas struck me as important. 

How do you build a relationship with a horse?

PS: This text of Anna Blake made me think about the feel I deliver the horse when he does something wrong (in my eyes). It's the inspiration for the final part of this article.

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