As every horse owner knows, horses are highly social, emotional and complex creatures. If you only spend time with your horse when saddling up and going on rides, you’re missing out on countless opportunities for bonding and forging a real emotional connection. Certain tips for bonding with your horse are pretty obvious. Grooming them regularly is a given. And it’s no secret that horses love a tasty snack. But there are plenty of other tips for forging a deeper connection with your horse that may be a bit less apparent. Here are some examples...
1. Manage your emotions around your horse
Horses are extremely perceptive. They quickly notice and react to human emotions. Although equestrians have known this throughout history, modern science is starting to catch up, too. A 2016 study from the University of Sussex found that horses became more nervous and had higher heart rates when looking at photos of angry human faces versus happy ones.
To bond more effectively with your horse, and to put them at ease, try to keep a handle on your emotions when visiting the stables. Aim to be in a positive mood whenever you’re around your horse. Avoid snapping, scowling or making angry noises when reaching for the feed bucket, tack or grooming kit.
Best for a new or a familiar horse? Managing your emotional state is important for allowing you to bond well with new and familiar horses alike.
2. You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours
When left to their own devices, horses naturally groom the other members of their herd by licking and nibbling their coats. It’s a real ‘you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours’ situation, that helps them develop trust and form close bonds, while getting some relief on those hard-to-reach spots.
Every horse owner is used to brushing and caring for their horse. But many wouldn’t necessarily want their horses trying to nibble them into a more presentable state, in return. Letting your horse groom you while you brush them down can be a bonding experience for you both. If you want to try mutual grooming with your horse, consider talking to an experienced trainer who can help you to establish safe and reasonable boundaries.
Best for a new or a familiar horse? Mutual grooming is best done with a horse that you already know well.
3. Just relax and do your own thing, with your horse nearby
Sometimes, forming a deeper bond just means spending more time around each other. Not every human interaction has to involve deep conversation, and it turns out horses don’t always need our full attention either.
Just relaxing near your horse helps to make them more comfortable around you. It lets them get used to your presence, and it gives them a chance to become accustomed to your body language. What’s more, you’ll learn to read your horse’s body language better by spending more time around them, too.
So, next time the weather’s good, why not sit out in the sun with a good book while your horse grazes nearby?
Best for a new or a familiar horse? There are great benefits to simply being near both new and familiar horses. But familiar horses may be more comfortable with you hovering in the periphery.
4. Talk the hind leg off your… horse
As the Bob Hoskins advert taught us, “It’s good to talk”, right?
Horses may not care much about our thoughts on society or the meaning of life, but there’s evidence they really do pay attention to human voices.
One 2019 study published in Nature found that horses attached emotional memories to different human voices. Hearing voices linked to positive past experiences made them feel good. Hearing voices linked to negative past experiences made them feel, well, not so good.
Chatting to your horse can be therapeutic, both for you and your equine friend. It can help your horse de-stress, and it can help you to get things off your mind. But it’s best to avoid ranting, since your stress and irritation may be contagious.
Best for a new or a familiar horse? You should talk regularly to both new and familiar horses. Regularly talking to new horses may be especially helpful for getting them to relax around you.
5. Play some light-hearted games with your horse
How did that old saying go again? “All work and no play makes Jack a dull foal”? Something along those lines, anyway.
So much of how we tend to interact with our horses is based around goal-focused training or conditioning. But introducing regular play into your horse’s routine can do a world of good – from helping the two of you to bond, to relieving stress and improving learning.
Games can take the form of spook-proofing exercises with a more light-hearted tone (and lots of positive reinforcement), or can even begin with you mimicking your horse’s movements in the field. Matching your horse’s canter and neigh is sure to engage their curiosity, while giving any bystanders one hell of a laugh.
Best for a new or a familiar horse? Regular play is important for bonding and wellbeing, both for new and familiar horses.
The bond between horse and rider is a powerful thing. But what do you do if your equine friend starts to show signs of joint stiffness? Consider giving them YuMOVE Horse and YuMOVE PLUS for Horses – our triple-action joint support for stiffer older horses – to help keep them happy and active for life.