Sharing a strong bond with your horse is hugely important, without it you can’t achieve a winning partnership. Here, our expert international dressage rider and trainer Claire Lilley shares some simple ways to bond with your horse at home.
Give him a thorough groom
Horses bond by grooming each other, so it makes sense to do what another 'horse friend' would do. A good grooming session should last at least an hour. You can go further by using massage techniques after your grooming session.
Walk him out in-hand
In-hand work in the school is a great way to bond with your horse, and if you stand by his shoulder you can see his facial expression. Practice walk, halt, walk transitions in the school to start with and progress to leading him outside down a quiet lane. Just taking him for a walk in-hand will help you bond. Sit on a wall and pick some nice long grass to hand feed him.
Teach him turn around the forehand
Stand by his shoulder and with a schooling whip held alongside his body, tap him on his inside hind leg, on the thigh or cannon bone (whichever works the best) to ask him to step away from you. Alternatively press him with your fingers by the girth where you inside leg would be. The movement resembles shoulder-in 'around a dinner plate' with the front legs stepping around 'the plate' without crossing. The hind legs should cross over in big, sweeping steps. This is a great in-hand exercise that should get him thinking and means he’s working in close proximity with you, rather than only listening to you when you’re in the saddle.
Learn to long-rein
Long-reining is a great way to improve the bond between you and your horse and improve your schooling at the same time. Practice school movements in walk, such as circles of different sizes, serpentines, leg yield, shoulder-in and so on.
Master halting square
With your horse in-hand, try to achieve a square halt, if he leaves a leg out behind, touch the offending leg with a very long schooling whip, or use an old lunge whip with the lash chopped off (leave about 3 inches of lash attached). Try not to fiddle around too much with the halt though. If he won’t stand square with a couple of taps, then walk on and try a new halt.
Just enjoy his company
Find the time to just be with your horse, whether he’s in his field or his stable. Wrap up warm and take a picnic full of goodies you can share like apples and carrots. Sit in his stable and spend some time talking to him, stroking him and sitting with him.
More about our expert
Claire Lilley is an international dressage rider and trainer who trains horses and riders of all levels and knows just what it takes to achieve that winning partnership. See Claire's new DVD Stop! Go! Turn! for more schooling ideas. Visit www.clairelilley.com for details.