So, You Want to Buy a Horse? Pt. 4: Bonding
When you get a new horse, it will hopefully mean the start of a new and exciting relationship. Your horse won't automatically fall in love with you like you likely will with it, as relationships can take time. Here are ways to help create a bond between you and your new horse.
Be firm, fair, and consistent
At all times, you should be firm in your leadership. Communicate clearly and firmly your expectations regarding your horse's manners and behavior. With this being said, make sure you are also being fair. Don't expect a horse to do anything it is not trained or physically able to do. Lastly, be consistent. When you ask your horse to back up, do it in the exact same way every time. Feed it at the same time. Use the same aids and cues each time you work with your horse. Horses are creatures of habit and like predictability.
Spend as much time together as possible
Showing up just for riding or driving time can be a temptation given the busy schedule most of us have. But try to take time just to visit. Simple things like hand grazing in a bit of lush grass they normally can't get to, scratching bellies or necks and just hanging out together is a relaxing way to bond.
Understand Body Language
Understanding your horse's body language and shaping your own body language will help you communicate with your horse and create a closer bond. However, this has to be done with consistency. Something like 'join up' or other behaviors you have taught won't be permanent if your horse never knows what to expect next from you. Learn to understand what your horse is thinking by observing its facial expressions (yes, horses do have them), ears, tail and posture.
Respect that your horse is a horse, not a human or a big dog. While your horse will learn to enjoy spending time with you, it will also need the companionship of other horses. Horses don't care about the same things we do – color coordinated gear, winning prizes, or perfectly kept stalls. They want shelter from bad weather, good pasture, water, and companionship and leadership from someone they can trust.
Experience Things Together
Just like a shared experience between people can bring them closer together, so can sharing experiences with your horse. The more you train, ride, or drive your horse, the more you and your horse will learn to understand each other.