“How to build a strong connection with your horse?” is the start of a series of blogs written by Lola, our in-house volunteer from Argentina. Sharing knowledge from other volunteers to help you to learn new skills related to horses, sustainability and farm life.
Lea, a volunteer from Tenerife Horse Rescue, taught us about equine communication from the ground with her new horse, Cadette whom she adopted during her time here. She explains the importance of this practice which helps you to build a strong connection with your horse, and the most frequent exercises she chooses to perform.
In Tenerife Horse Rescue we believe that communication is the basis of a strong relationship with your horse. It is very important to understand what our horse wants to tell us in every moment and also to make it a clear choice what we want to ask from him. It is a mistake to believe that this dynamic only works when we ride them. Since, whatever the activity we do with them, at all times we are exchanging messages. And since horses do not express themselves verbally in our language, this kind of communication becomes very important. But neither they are born knowing these signs, nor do we have a manual on how to talk to our horse. This is why working with them from the ground is a great opportunity to create a dialogue and establish a stronger bond with him.
As there is no better person than our lovely volunteer Lea to explain how this practice works and the results we can obtain from it, I decided to follow her one day to the training area. But first I want to introduce these beautiful creatures, the core of this blog post.
Lea is our “horse girl” and professional photographer at Tenerife Horse Rescue. At just 19 years old, from Germany and she has a great passion for horses and photography. That much, that she decided to quit school and come volunteer with us where you she can practice how to build a connection with your horse.
She came to the farm about three months ago, long enough to fall in love with her new horse, Cadette and build a strong connection. with him. But this was not love at first sight. Their relationship was built over time thanks to the dedicated work she does with him. Every day Lea goes to meet him in the paddock and invites him to interact with her in the training area. She takes advantage of this moment to get to know him in detail, let him express himself, interpret all his gestures, looks and movements.
Cadette was a racehorse. He was pushed a lot without having enough training. He suffered everything a racehorse suffers and even more. One day his legs simply weakened, he gave up and fell to the ground. Despite that fact, after a year with Tenerife horse rescue he is physically well today, all these wounds are kept in his mind and are manifested through nervous behaviors. Sometimes he gets scared for no specific reason and starts galloping in the place. Other times, during the activity, he may become uncomfortable in the presence of other horses.
“This practice is super effective for horses like Cadette. Through this training I try to make him understand that there is no reason to be nervous. I try to relax him so that he is more at ease and calm. I also work on his fears and emotions. This help me to build a strong connection with my horse, based on trust.”.Lea
This it the place where all fun should happen. Lea enters with Cadette, free from his head collar as she invites him to follower her inside. It’s not about giving many different signs, but giving a few but clear indications. When Cadette points his ear in Lea’s direction, it means she has his attention. Then she points her belly at his, to make the connection. Her belly has to face him at every moment to not lose connection. One wrong step, and your horse can interpret another message.
When Lea wants him to start trotting, she releases all her energy and produces a deep breath, which Cadette immediately catches. She also raises her hand pointing to his back legs. The sign must be clear. You can also use different sounds to encourage him. To ask him to stop, Lea just visualizes a point and lets out a long breath. Then if the horse tries to keep moving you can point in front of his head with your hand. Once he is quiet, you can reward him with a “Good boy”/ click or your chosen reward.
You can also try to ask him to back up. Just, point your feet at its front legs, first one and then the other. You always can help him with noises to let him know that you want something from him. The idea is that the horse makes a step in the order you are asking him. First one leg, then the other. And that’s it. If he does, reward him again. Then go back to liberty. You must mark the direction and the rhythm through small signals, gestures or sounds. And whenever your horse responds to your signals, you must let him know by means of a gesture. Lea chooses to give him an emotional fuss and utter an encouraging “Good Boy.”
It is very important not to be defeated by your horse’s behaviour. It is not a question of dominance, but of registering clear messages in its mind. He must understand what you are asking and act on it.Lea
When he finally responds to your signals, you should be more relaxed. This is for him to know that his behaviour is now correct. Since it is a communication work, there may be misunderstandings. And in general, the mistake is in our signs, which, sometimes, may not be very clear for the horse. For a successful practice it is very important, on the one hand, to be firm and confident. And on the other hand, to convey clear messages that do not lead to confusion. It is also essential to make a constant effort to maintain your horse’s attention, which can sometimes be interrupted by external effects. When this happens you will get his attention back. It is important to stay calm and confident when this happens to show the horse that there is nothing to worry about. To get the attention back, start again with simple questions like trotting and go back to walk again.
To end the practice. For this, Lea advises asking her horse to step, she walks away with her back pointing to him and waits for him to come and look for her. When you have your horse by your side, waiting for you, it means that the practice was successful. Congratulations! You know how to build a strong connection with your horse. You can reward it.
“The most important thing when working with horses is patience. You can’t be in a hurry, because your horse needs enough time to incorporate all your messages. So if you have important things to do later, better work with your horse another day. You also can’t bring your personal problems to your training sessions. Because your horse does not understand these conflicts and can misinterpret your bad mood”Lea
It is hard to put into words what is perceived while Lea works with Cadette. It could easily be compared to a dance, that regardless of the rhythm or the pauses, the connection of the couple is what will determine its success.
Respect and loyalty can be seen to be a big part of the job. And mutual respect you must earn. It’s about making your horse feel good so that it responds to your messages. This is an everyday job and as Lea says, it requires a lot of patience and empathy. If respect and loyalty are reciprocal, there should be no big problems.
While this way of communication is extremely successful for Lea and Cadette, each horse and relationship is different. Therefore, it is very likely that some horses require more incentive than others. Such as higher stimuli of food rewards or body scratches. You can also try other signals. They don’t have to be the same ones that she chooses. The only thing that matters is that they are clear enough for your horse and for you also.
-This is a great exercise to learn how to guide your horse, gain his trust to show leadership in difficult situations.
-Through this practice, you can help your horse overcome certain fears or traumas from the past.
-It is also a great proposition of mental and physical challenges for your horse. It helps to keep him in good shape, and to establish a physical, mental and emotional balance.
-Of course, it serves to improve communication with your horse, which will make all the activities you do with him much easier and more enjoyable for him.
-And finally, these types of exercises help to exercise your horse’s focus and concentration.
All of which helps to create a healthy, happy and confident horse who can enjoy his life in the best way he can with a connection with his owner.
Although this body communication practice is the one most used by this volunteer, there are many other ways to communicate with your horse. If you want to know more about communication with your horse you can read this post And if you are interested in other ways of training horses you can read our post about Clicker Training
I hope this article is clear enough and helps you to build a stronger relationship with your horse. And if anyone knows about the topic and wants to write for us is totally welcome! There is no only one way to work with horses and we are really open to hear your techniques related to positive reinforcement and emotionally understanding with your horse.
If you want to know more about communication with your horse you can read this post
And if you are interested in other ways of training horses you can read our post about Clicker Training
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