Equine behaviourist Garry Bosworth shares his tips on how to gain your horse’s trust to build a lasting bond.
1 Show him you’re his leader
Practise some simple groundwork exercises. These will help your horse understand that you can move him about easily and effectively, thus improving his confidence and trust in you. There are four exercises within this step that you can work on – start, stop, back-up and stand.
Once these basics are in place, they’ll create a good foundation for any further training. Ensure you break any exercise down into small, easily-achievable goals. By doing this, you set yourself and your horse up for success, which effectively means you’re getting your horse to say yes to your requests – all good for confidence building.
2 Give him time
Quality time with your horse is essential. This can be achieved by simply giving him a good groom or by stroking him all over. For nervous horses it can be beneficial to sit in his stable with a book and just read, as this allows his natural curiosity to take over and for him to come to you in his own time.
3 Make him feel good
Remember to reward your horse when he’s done what’s been asked of him. A nice rub between the eyes, stroke on the neck or wither scratch are all signals to your horse that he’s done something well. Patting can be a little ‘high energy’ for many horses, especially those who are young or nervous. By saying well done, your horse is more likely to repeat the exercise that got him that reward, which will strengthen the bond and trust between you.
4 Help him face his fears
Expose your horse to potentially scary objects at home in a safe environment. This could be things like walking him over tarpaulin, under bunting, having a plastic bag on a stick and rubbing it on his body or walking past flags flapping in the wind. Always remember to break these things down into little steps for your horse so you don’t overwhelm him.
5 Be consistent
Be consistent with your horse when handling him. Inconsistency can lead to a confused horse, which will erode his trust and confidence. An example of this is allowing your horse to rub his head on you when you’re at home or on the yard but then tell him off when he does this out at a show or event. It’s probably best to not allow him to rub on you at all!