Confession time: I have a new horse that I want to trust and respect me. How do I build a bond?
We bought a pony! So now what? Just kidding. I’ve been dreaming of this for (ahem) 40 years. Which means, I’ve had quite a lot of time to learn and plan. Learning never ends, but I love having a plan to focus on even if I must deviate occasionally. After all, we’re working with living, breathing creatures.
The burning question on my mind is how do I build a bond with my new horse? Click To Tweet
I have ideas. There are so many things that I’d like to do with Ferrous. I’m lucky that I bought him from my barn where we was a favorite of the owner, and many others. Of course that means a lot of opinions and pressure to make sure he’s healthy and happy. Not that I wouldn’t have done so otherwise. Here are a few things that I’ve been doing the last month to form a bond of trust and respect with my cute little roan.
Consistency is something that I haven’t had much opportunity to work on before owning my own horse. Riding once a week meant dealing with lesson horses, changing schedules, and a whole lot of other question marks. I didn’t have much time to work on my own equitation much less the fitness or scheduling of my horse.
While being used as a lesson horse, Ferrous was stalled in a busy barn where children ran in and out all afternoon and evening. Ferrous has a lot of personality and would often stick his head out of the stall and get a bit mouthy. Increasingly he became frustrated and more annoying so the kids would swat him away. Creating a strangle little dance where he wanted attention but was expecting to be pushed away.
Now in his new stall and with me he has become quieter. He still flinches when I move my hand toward his face, but is quieter, calmer, and more willing to stand and watch me. I know to move slowly and reach me hand out allowing him to sniff first. We’re getting there. Already others have noticed a difference in him.
Lately I prefer the barn during the day before feeding when it’s quiet and only a handful of people, if any, are there. At least while I’m concentrating on building his fitness and our trust. My goal for the near future is to slowly build his topline through conditioning exercises. I sent out a request for guidance on Twitter and was very pleased to receive the same feedback:
- Warm up. With my background in equine sports massage I know first hand the benefits of a lengthy warm up on a long rein. Call me crazy, but I perform a working walk for 5 minutes in each direction on the buckle. Really encouraging Ferrous to lower his head, stretch, and use his back.
- Circles. I love circles. I can’t say I’m the best at them but of course I’m always a work in progress. As I work with Ferrous I’m also working on my own riding simultaneously. These help with horses that become noodles, like my pony, and also with transitions and stretching.
- Transitions. Upward and downward transitions while keeping Ferrous collected and really underneath him are the goal.
- Pole work. Creating strength in the abdomen and back are ideal with this type of exercise. Plus, it keeps things really fun and interesting. I can lay out different grids, heights, and do transitions in between.
- Hills. I will have to wait until the ground softens in spring, but our little valley has a lot of lovely hills and valleys perfect for this.
Don’t underestimate the quality of quiet time together. I often will bring my camera or just hang out by the paddock while he grazes or plays with friends. If I don’t have the time to ride I will take Ferrous for a short walk and let him hand graze. I want him to become used to me and my scent.
The other day something wonderful happened. I walked into the paddock to get him and didn’t see him. The sound of the gate closing wasn’t enough to bring his and his buddy Luke running, which it usually does. So I said hello to Beach Boy nearby and called out for Ferrous. Quickly I heard the pounding of hoofbeats running toward me. Could this be excitement t see me?
Probably not. There’s always wishful thinking. My guess is that they thought I was coming to get them for feeding time. BUT…..I’ll take it. And the nice thing is that he stopped just near me and waited patiently for me to say hello, give him a good scratch, and put on his halter.
4.Equine Sports Massage and Acupuncture
Ferrous had EPM a few years ago, resulting in Ferrous being a bit head shy and tense in the neck and poll area. I’ve been working with him twice a month to give him sports massage. It’s lovely time we spend together where I ask nothing from him but communication while I make him feel better through relieving muscle spasms and reducing inflammation.
My colleague Dr. Michelle Morges gives him acupuncture twice a month as well, which he is loving!
We work locally in Central New Jersey and help a lot of horses. But there is nothing like working with your own horse. Live nearby and want to make an appointment? You can do that here.
I confess I haven’t had a lot of opportunity to play with Ferrous yet. The weather has been frigid this winter and I’m looking for some ideas. When the weather warms I plan on a lot of hacks into the woods. Ferrous and I both absolutely love trail rides (or so I’m told).
I plan on reading, watching, and learning how to do horsemanship. I think it is important that I clearly communicate with my horse in a way that he understands. Creating a solid foundation on the ground can only improve our relationship in the saddle. Monty Roberts, Clinton Anderson, Lindsey Partridge, and Lorie Duff will all be my mentors, and probably expand beyond that!
Recently I lunged Ferrous for the first time in the outdoor ring where we had a little space to work. Our indoor is Kentucky style so has 16 stalls with an outside track. It’s very cool but not much room to maneuver in circles!
I noticed a big difference in our communication right away. Using my body to make him move his feet was so amazing. He watched me and had an ear turned to me the entire time, so I could use subtle clues.
Because he was on a lunge line we didn’t accomplish a true Join-up, however, I turned away and walked forward with a lot of slack and he came up behind me licking his lips. I consider it a success! It made me feel great, and I think he feels more aware of me as well.
When in doubt, I reward good behavior with scratches, rubs, and treats. Ferrous has learned that if he is a good boy then when we’re all done and he’s back in his stall or the paddock- he gets a peppermint. Trust me when I say it didn’t take long for him to get the memo on that one. He’ll now occasionally try to nose open my tack box for goodies if we’re just hanging out in front of his stall. Gee, I wonder what he’s looking for?
Do you have suggestions with ways to play with your horse?