Natural Horsemanship Part One – Bonding Without Riding

I don’t know anybody who loves riding that doesn’t long to have a strong connection with their horse. It is an innate desire in any of us who love to ride.

In the past the problem which has affected many of us is the fact that ‘bonding’ often meant using fear and pain as a way to win the respect of your horse. And whilst it may be effective, it is also distasteful to many of us who love our horses.

So enter Natural Horsemanship, a school of thought which encourages riders to develop a ‘rapport’ with their hose through sympathetic means rather than force. It continues to grow in popularity – a brief way to explain it would be to tell you to watch ‘The Horse Whisperer’ (like you haven’t already!).

A longer way would be to explain more about how you can use natural horsemanship techniques to bond with your horse. So that’s what we’ll do below.

Bonding techniques

A fundamental part of natural horsemanship is learning to understand your horse rather than using force to make them bend to your will. With that in mind it is vital that you take the time to get to know your horse.

By watching

Spend some time watching your horse, look at its mannerisms when you are carrying out certain activities for an insight into how they feel about them. For example:

  1. Body. Trembling is usually a sign of fear, whilst a rigid horse with stiff movement can likely be angry or nervous.
  2. Head carriage. An elevated head can mean that the focus of your horse is elsewhere, and that could mean problems. Similarly a horse who is shaking their head from side to side isn’t in a good mood at all, they are angry. It is up to you to calm your horse and diffuse the situation (and bring you closer to your horse).
  3. Legs. If your horse is stamping or pawing at the ground, it is irritated and generally unhappy.Pay special attention to the above when watching your horse, as it will give you a really good indication of his/her general happiness. To combat the above there are several ‘natural’ techniques you could adopt:
    • Breathe softly into the nose of your horse and attempt to match their breathing.
    • Scratch/rub the belly button of your horse (search for a little bump approximately three-quarters of the way down their undercarriage.
    • Lower your gaze and offer your hand for the horse to sniff. This is especially disarming to a scared horse.

Talk to your horse

The first trick is to not feel silly – you would talk to a baby wouldn’t you! While horses may not know the human language, they can understand tone, so make sure that you use a tone which is soothing as it relaxes your horse and makes them more approachable.

Never ever talk in a raised voice and shout at your horse as this will not only stress out your horse, but it will not be giving the consistent leadership they crave. Also, panicked horses can lash out, which would obviously be devastating to the owner and needs to be guarded against.

Groom your horse

Whilst the coined term for people interested in natural horsemanship is ‘horse whisperers’, there are other, potentially more important elements of natural horsemanship at play.

One of these is the time you spend doing, and the way you carry out, the grooming of your horse.

Make sure your horse is comfortable

Firstly, you need to be aware of what our horse is trying to tell you. Whilst grooming there are a number of signals which tell you whether your horse is having a good, or bad, time.

  1. Watch the ears. In matters of everything (not just grooming), a simple rule of thumb would be:
    – Ears forward – your horse likes what you are doing. Do it more!
    – Ears back – your horse doesn’t like what you’re doing. Stop doing it/do it less.
  2. Watch the eyes. The eyes of your horse can tell you a lot. If you see the whites of your horses eyes, or a rapid darting of the eyes then you should stop what you are doing. Your horse is extremely likely to be afraid and looking at escape.
  3. Watch the tail. Rapid swishing of the tail is usually a sure fire sign your horse is angry and will buck.

Keep your eyes on the signs above throughout the grooming process and soon you will both have a stronger understanding of each other, without the need for more ‘archaic’ (read: painful) methods of understanding! There are plenty of other top grooming and bonding tips in this great article from Throstlenest Saddlery

And finally, spend time with your horse

In all likelihood this isn’t something you need to be told, after all being interested in natural horsemanship usually indicates a deep love for horses.

But it doesn’t change the fact that by frequently being in the presence of your horse, you will improve your chances of making a connection.

Bonding with your horse

Bonding with your horse

A couple of things you could try are:

  1. You could turn up just to say ‘hi’.
  2. Go and sit with your horse in their favorite part of field, you don’t even need to interact as just being there is sometimes enough.
  3. Muck out your horse just to spend time with them.

Respect your horse, clean them, care for them, and you will begin to see rewards. And now we have a brief overview of how to bond naturally with your horse without riding.

Guest article from Danny Andrews and Throstlenest Saddlery