by  Anne  Gage

From  "Horse Canada" - Nov/Dec  2009

Would you like to have a better relationship with your horse? Because horse people "love" their horses, they want to feel like their horses love them back in the same way. Horses do not express love in the human sense. They develop bonds based on trust and respect. Watch how the horses interact with each other in the herd or a mare with her foal and you will see the different levels of trust and bonding they have with each. Horses that share a close bond will just hang out peacefully together, groom each other, stand so that they keep the flies off their buddy's face with their tail. If you want unconditional love from an animal, get a dog. Humans and dogs have a more similar social organization than horses. Horses don't want your love. They want safety and security. They need to be able to trust and respect their herd mates, and particularly the herd leader - the alpha - to provide safety for the entire herd. Here are three simple steps you can take to gain your horse's respect, build the foundation for trust and become your horse's herd leader.

1. Awareness

Being able to understand your horse's psychology and behaviour is the first step to creating a mutually beneficial relationship built on trust and respect. The behaviour of horses is driven by their instincts. Even though horses have been domesticated for thousands of years, they still have the same instincts as their wild cousins. By better understanding the ethology of horses, we can work with horses in ways that make sense to them. Rather than using coercive methods that force the horse to do our bidding, we can create bonds based on trust and respect where the horse becomes a willing partner and views the human as a benevolent leader.

Develop constant awareness of yourself, your horse and your environment. In the wild, horses' survival depends upon their level of awareness. As prey animals, they need to be aware of predators before they are too close. The top horse in the herd is the most aware horse; not the biggest or the strongest, but the most aware of potential danger so that she can tell the rest of the herd to move. The herd communicates through body language. When the alpha horse says there is danger and it's time to move, there is no dispute or discussion.

2. Boundaries

Set appropriate boundaries that tell your horse where not to go. Horses do not pull each other around, they push each other. The horse that pushes another horse into a boundary is the better horse. A horse pushed into a boundary cannot run away, which is not a good place to be for a prey animal. Use "contact" to create boundaries that tell your horse where not to go. Whether working with your horse in a halter or bridle, leading, lunging or riding, contact through the rope or reins creates boundaries. Respect your horse's personal space (the head and neck) and ask that she respect yours. The alpha horse does not get bitten or kicked, pushed or blocked by any other horse in the herd. The alpha horse can go anywhere, take the best food, drinks first and all without challenge or question. If your horse nips you, threatens to lift her foot to kick or strike, pushes you with her head or shoulder, leans into you or pins her ears when you go into her stall, she is not seeing you as her trusted leader.

Ask your horse to be respectful of your personal space. Picture your personal space as a bubble around you. Block your horse from coming into your bubble unless you invite him or her in and he or she is respectful - low head, not pushing, etc. Be aware of signs that your horse is threatening to bite or be pushy to you and proactively send him or her away from you with a push or a tap on the shoulder. Even if your horse manages to get in a nip or a bite do not hit him or her in the face. Only ever hit your horse on the body, to send him or her away from you. Do not let your horse come back into your space until he or she is completely calm, non-threatening and showing signs of respect.

3. Consistency

Horses feel secure when the rules stay the same and they know what to expect. Whether you are on the ground or in the saddle, apply the same rules every time you are with your horse. Horses are reading us as soon as they can see us, not just when we are working with them. They don't know that we don't know their language and their social rules. If we don't make sense to them they will tune us out, push us around or be terribly insecure and flighty around us.

Riding starts with ground work. Your relationship with your horse starts the moment your horse can see you. They don't miss a thing. In the wild, their survival depends on their level of awareness of their herd mates, their ability to communicate through body language and their awareness of their environment. If you want to develop a better relationship with your horse, start applying these three simple steps - Awareness, Boundaries and Consistency - and you will create a trusting and respectful relationship. Your horse will love you for it.


Anne Gage is a Gold Level Certified (Chris Irwin) riding coach and horse trainer. She teaches adult riders to confidently work with their horses, improve their riding skills and bring the joy back into their riding experience. Her training and coaching methods are based on building mutual trust & respect between horse and human. Anne coaches and trains clients out of High Point Farm near Orangeville, Ontario, Canada and also travels to other locations giving one and two day clinics. For more information, visit her website http://www. annegage. com