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5 Signs You May Have a Bonding Problem with Your Horse

Posted by on July 30, 2012

Simply chasing your horse around a round pen may not be the best way to form a bond.

Congratulations, you finally bought your dream horse this year. Now, six months later, you’re beginning to wonder if your horse feels the same way about you. Here are some thoughts to consider.

Sign # 5. Butterflies are Pretty, But…

You’ve had the horse for six months, yet each time you pull up to the stables you get a sense of being in the top chair on the Ferris wheel. Excitement—or anxiety?  Whichever you call it, you horse will sense that heightened energy. Some horses won’t be affected much, but if your horse is reactive enough to become energized around you, take responsibility for the state in which you show up. Instead of proceeding on in an anxious or tense condition, take some time to hand walk your animal, curry brush in hand, and let him graze while you concentrate on breathing, dealing with ANTs (automatic negative thoughts) and being present. In research studies of horse/human interaction, the human’s heart rate can lower significantly simply by being with the horse in a non-demanding way. Let Dobbin do his magic and then proceed on with your plan for a relaxed, fun ride.


Sign #4. The Name Game’s Gone Lame

If what you call your horse keeps changing, even after five or six months and several times through the alphabet, not to mention annoying all your friends and ignoring all the suggestions on your Facebook page, you need to look at what is keeping that name at bay. It doesn’t matter to the horse what you call her, but the act of selecting then rejecting a series of stable names suggests that things just aren’t settled in someone’s mind. Remember, the horse looks to you for leadership and stability. If she doesn’t find it, you will lose value in her eyes and she will tune you out (see Sign #1).


Sign #3. Arrested (Trust) Development

After six months you are still spending a half hour to 45 minutes “warming up” your horse in the round pen or on a lunge line. Really? Did you know that working cowboys and other professional riders mostly don’t do that? They catch, saddle, and get on. The “warm-up” happens on the way to the cow pens. If you are simply going down the trail, the warm-up can be the first mile of the ride. Why else would you need to exercise a horse before getting on? Is the chasing and harassing him into a lather in the round pen before saddling up designed to give you a false sense of control? Real control needs closer contact, either on the ground or in the saddle. Control means asking for the left hind foot to move forward or backward on cue. Wearing down a horse into obedience is not control and ultimately will only result in a tired yet fearful horse. One last point: If your horse has become more exuberant over the months, do a nutrition check. Most pleasure horses can survive just fine on grass hay. Poor keepers should have teeth and worm checks. Feed high calorie food only after a good relationship has been established.


Warm up your horse by riding in a relaxed but correct frame the first mile of the trail ride, periodically asking for yields of his front and back ends.

Sign #2. Absentee Owner

Horses don’t text, email, have smart phones, or even a snail mail address. They can’t do Skype and really don’t understand the concept of delayed gratification, all things we use to communicate and make promises to spend time with our human relationships. A horse relies on consistent, in-person contact in order to develop a trust bond with a human. If, after six months of ownership, you are still only spending about two to three hours per week with your horse, there is no mystery about why you might not be confident in your relationship. Consider taking a day off from work (they’re called “mental health” days, I believe) and spending it at the stable, just hanging out with your horse. Come early, bringing a book and chair, and just inhabit his space. Take her out several times, sometimes for demanding activities and then some for just grazing and sight seeing. If you can’t pry more time away to bond with your horse, then it’s time to examine whether you have enough time to be a horse owner, or whether a half-leased or rented horse wouldn’t better serve your needs.

Spending an equal amount of undemanding time with your horse is critical to the bond.


… and the #1 Sign: That Faraway Look in his Eye

If, each time you ask him to perform a task either on the ground or in the saddle, your horse’s gaze strays over to his stable mates, the neighbor’s green pasture, or the ranch dog walking by, he may not be impressed with your leadership. The next thing that happens is that he forgets he has YOU, his rider, on his back. Then chaos arises as he finally wakes up on the trail, realizes he is ALONE and develops happy feet trying to get back to safety. Bottom line? YOU are his safety and need to make every attempt to let him know that, as much as possible and as early as possible in your relationship.

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