The feeling of connection is one that many of us strive for. We want to hear a nicker when we walk in the barn, have our horse greet us at the gate, walk easily by our side when leading, and to feel them attentive as we ride, responding with lightness to our most subtle cues.
But how do we achieve connection with a horse? Is it gaining their affection feeding treats and scratching their favorite spots? Is it long hours of training and work? Can connection be formed or does it simply happen?
In the past, horses were used for work. They had a job to perform, whether that was providing transportation, working the fields, or hauling heavy loads. Spending time with horses was, for many people, a necessary part of life. This is no longer the case, riding and working with horses is now recreational. Even for professionals whose work still revolves around horses, their industry is based on fun, pleasure, and sport. With today’s riders, most choose to pursue riding over other hobbies because riding offers something that most other activities do not – the opportunity to connect.
To connect to a large and powerful animal whose mind works very differently from our own, but to whom we are often in-explicitly drawn.
Connection is a feeling, and so it can be described in different ways. Over the past few weeks, I’ve asked many people when they feel most connected to their horse, or the horse they are with, even if it’s just for a lesson. The answers vary, some may feel most connected when just standing with their horse in the stall, while others may find it racing across an open field. The most common description of connection is moments of moving in unity, a feeling of oneness and togetherness.
Both horses and humans are social species, seeking connection to others is an important part of our emotional and physical well-being.
I believe that true connection is felt by both horse and person. A person may feel connected to a horse for many reasons, but for that connection to be meaningful from the position of creating a relationship, wanting our horse to enjoy time spent with us, and even feeling safe as we ride, the connection must be reciprocated by the horse.
I see a horse who is connected with a person as one who is engaged, attentive without tension or anxiety. They are attuned to the requests and needs of the person, and vice versa.
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When a request is made, the horse may not always get the right answer, but they actively try to figure out what is being asked. At the same time, the person is attuned to the horse, noticing signs of discomfort, worry, or tension.
Connection is different than association. We can create good associations about us for the horse through doing things that generally make them feel good – feeding, petting, etc. However, while an association may help the horse understand that we mean good things, food, for example, and therefore is happy to see us walk in the barn, a connection goes deeper.
Of course, that raises the question, what creates a true connection?
At times connections between a horse and a person can seem to happen almost spontaneously – we don’t understand it but something just draws us to a particular horse and they seem to reciprocate.
More often, I find that connections are built slowly. Connection is created through engagement, communication, and rapport.
Connection always begins with some sort of engagement. One individual takes the initiative to start something. It could be a friendly pet or scratch, or even just focused attention.
These simple initiations are really a request for engagement. When we have engagement, whether positive – think the horse looking at us, moving closer, or touching – or even engaging in a not-so-great way, with pinned ears or a hind foot, engagement is always the start.
From engagement, we look to build rapport. Rapport is defined as a close and harmonious relationship with understanding and trust.
We build rapport through communicating. It’s about requests and responses. Just as when we spend a lot of time with one person and learn the subtleties of sensing how they are feeling or what they are about to do by reading both direct and indirect communication, the same can happen with a horse.
Requests can be as simple as look this way, walk forward, back up, or head down. Trust is formed and comfort levels are raised as both horse and person become more confident in how to communicate with and what to expect from each other.
Good communication isn’t just about making requests, it is also about listening. When we can notice the little ways in which our horses tell us things – a cocked head when we hit an itchy spot during grooming, or tension in their body if we push a bit too hard trying to get a new movement during training – we can change our own behavior, pausing to scratch that itchy spot, or doing a few easy walk circles to ease the tension.
As communication becomes easier, rapport is developed, connection deepens, and a history of good interactions and memories are formed.
This process can be more difficult than it sounds. As I alluded to earlier in this article, liking a horse and feeding him treats may help the person feel connected and create positive associations about the person for the horse, but it is unlikely to establish the kind of two-way connection we need for safe riding and a relationship with a horse.
Because connection begins with engagement, maintaining that engagement from the horse sometimes requires using pressure, being assertive, and being insistent.
This often requires some work on ourselves and our own emotional control as well. Because maintaining a connection requires some enjoyment of the other’s company, we also need to think about what we are offering the horse to connect to – a calm, mindful person is more inviting than someone frantically rushing around, stressed from a hard day at work.
I am reminded of the quote from Mark Rashid, “The qualities to be good with horses are the same qualities required to be good at life in general, and vice versa.”
Wherever we find and feel it, connection is the essence of riding, the joy that is found spending time with horses. It is what keeps us coming back, scraping mud off dirty horses, shoveling manure from stalls, and struggling with the physical challenges of balancing atop a moving animal, for those times of feeling acknowledged, accepted, and at one with another being – the horse.
I’d love to hear from you – how do you view connection, where do you feel it, how is it created?
See you in the comments!
p.s. I'm adding this section a week later, to a respond to several questions that essentially asked, “How do I maintain connection if I need to establish leadership?”
This is a great question and I felt it deserved a thoughtful answer.
I find “leadership” to be an interesting term, especially in the context of horse training. It is often used as justification for getting rough and aggressive or as a sort of prerequisite that needs to be established before any useful exchange with the horse.
I don’t agree with either of these interpretations of leadership, but there are other styles of leadership and as we are the ones most often deciding what we want to do and directing our horse, we are, by definition, in the “leader” role.
In my experience, thinking of both horse and human relationships, the kind of leadership that fosters connection is the kind where there is input from both sides.
Here’s a specific horse example: I ask my young horse, Noel, to go over a 2’6” jump – for her stage of training, that’s the high end of the height we work over. She takes the jump but is apprehensive on the approach. I can think “I need to be a leader and continue to push over this jump until she respects my command to jump and trusts me to do what I ask” or I could think “I can sense Noel’s insecurity at that height, I’m going to drop it back to 2’ and do it a few more times until I feel her confidence returning”.
I’m certainly not perfect, but in my riding and training, I try to always look for that second option – listening to the input of the horse and perhaps adjusting my approach or request.
Now, on the other hand, there is nothing wrong with being very assertive about setting boundaries for behavior. Personally, I like the terminology of “setting boundaries” because we don’t need to be a “leader” in order to set a boundary.
An example would be that I am not going to allow myself to be bitten. Even if the horse is frustrated or upset, if they come to bite me, they will meet an elbow or something else unpleasant.
Setting a boundary and saying “no” to a behavior, or being persistent in saying “yes, you will do this” (perhaps crossing a stream, loading into a trailer, walking into the barn, etc.) doesn’t have to be in opposition to connection, in fact it can make the connection stronger because it is still a form of communication.
I think that perhaps a misconception about connection is that it is always created by warm and fuzzy moments – hugging our horse’s neck, petting their soft nose, feeding carrots as a summer breeze comes through the barn.
These kinds of moments are very special, but when I think about it, the connections in my life that are the strongest are often those that experienced the most challenges.
For example, my best friends are those who I can argue with about beliefs or ideas. We can have some real debates, but we don’t get emotional towards each other – we communicate our beliefs and feelings, we feel heard by the other person, and we end up with a stronger friendship because of it.
It is the same with many of the horses I have felt most connected to. They are often the ones that seem the most difficult – we struggle together to understand what the other wants and how to work together, but in the end, that greater intensity of engagement and communication connects us.
This is my favorite article so far from you Callie. It’s very insightful and direct. It’s definitely something that I work on with my horse.
Do you ever go through times when you feel distant from your horse? If so how do you get back that connection?
Hi yes I get that feeling of distance ever so often with my gelding. I’ve learnt from him, that he just wants a bit of space. So I don’t fuss over him too much during these times. He then tells me when I can come back in by a feeling. It’s a feeling in the same way I feel he is distant. I call it his private time X
Absoluty, there are often times when I feel distant. I try to first check myself, I often notice that when I am feeling disconnected it’s because I’m rushing around or thinking about something else, not focusing on the present moment. If I’m not even engaged with the moment I don’t offer anything for the horse to connect to.
When I feel I’m in the best mental place I can be, I observe the horse, and sometimes they are simply distracted too – calling for a friend, looking at the feed truck go by, etc. I try to do basically what I described in the article – make a request to restart the “dialogue” between us. The request depends on context -if I’m out in the pasture, it may be “look at me”. If I’m leading them, it may be “take a step towards me”, or if I’m in the saddle, it may be “bend and move on this circle”.
Once the dialogue or engagement is re-established and we are both more focused and working together in the moment, the connection starts to be rebuilt. At least this is how I think about it…
Thank you for the reminder that it takes time, Callie. I have a mustang who is a year and a half out of the wild, and at times I wonder what it will take for him to really engage with me. He tends to be aloof and tense. I’m trying to remember to take it slowly and understand that it won’t happen all at once, or without consistency and patience on my end. Also a great reminder to bring a calm and mindful self to each session – frustration and negativity certainly won’t get anybody closer to connection any faster!
On a spiritual level, I think horses have chosen to be in relationship with humans at some point. It has made their survival as a species more likely. When, you stop to consider this 1200-1500 lb animal allows you to climb upon its back and guide its movements..it’s profoundly humbling. I try to NEVER take that for granted. My greatest sense of connection is when the horse and I, face a challenge together and master it (sometimes at a basic level, sometimes greater), and we share that sense. My most most challenging horse (smartest, most dominant) is the one who puffs out his chest, holds his head high and radiates pride, when we succeed. There is camaraderie & partnership in that moment, as we both look back at what we did together.
You nailed it Callie. Listening and asking rather than demanding, being consistent with one’s own temperament, healthy boundaries – all good attributes for connecting to horses and people!
Excellent article very well put. I believe that being with horses and gaining that true connection with your horse helps to enrich your life and makes you a much more adaptable person.
I know that since owning my horse Amy i love spending all my free time with her and she has made me a much happier contented person. Horses can teach us so much if we listen.
I dont think people can understand that true connection with a horse if they have never experienced it!
My husband informed me a year ago that he enjoyed riding, but never expected to have the passion for riding that I do. He hates change and so continued to ride the same ho-hum easy-going safe horse named JD for every lesson and on trail rides. We tried many times to get him on another horse. He rode Cheyenne once and agreed she was a very different ride, but returned to JD and refused to switch. So last June three of us worked together to get my husband on another horse. We didn’t tell him JD was in the show that day until we got there. When we arrived he was informed by our friend Mike that he would be riding Chabo! My husband was not happy, but Mike had all the horses saddled up already and they were taking my brother, who was visiting from Texas, out on the trail. So off he went with a frown on his face. I went off to help with the show!
A couple hours later they returned and my husband had the biggest grin on his face I’ve ever seen. He was pointing at Chabo and nodding his head, saying “I get it now!” We had the opportunity to buy Chabo just last week. So while, for now, I’m still leasing my girl, Wildfire, my husband is now the proud (and a little bit scared) owner of Chabo!
im so happy for both of you , what a great ending!!!
Thanks Ro! It’s been a year now, we both own our horses and we are the proud owners of a “new to us” 2H gooseneck trailer. We’ve only had the horses on it once to go to Hibernia Park for a trail ride last week, but we can’t wait for warmer weather to go camping in it. What a change from a couple of years ago. Hope all is going well with your new horse and your trailer hunt.
Good article. How do you remain connected when you must assert your leadership? How can you require certain things of the horse (good stable manners, obedience to riding cues) while still being engaged? Horses are our partners, but of necessity, since we ride them, it’s an unequal partnership, since most horses would rather spend the day grazing than doing leg-yields.
Hi Mary, Thank you for this question! I wrote a “p.s.” to the article because I felt this was a very important topic to address, see above 🙂
Thanks, Callie. I was talking to my trainer today about this issue. I believe “setting boundaries ” is a much more accurate description of what we need as leaders than merely communicating. Many people have definitions of what they mean by communicating and some of the definitions include warm fuzzy feelings. Horses are not people and we don’t connect in the same way. But asking a horse to respect your boundaries and leadership communicates to him that you are in charge and will keep him safe, which is his primary concern, after all.
This is something that is very important to me when choosing a horse. Beyond basic good conformation and a good mind, I look for that possibility of connection. I recently got a younger horse after losing my old guy at 28 after having him for 23 years. We had an almost telepathic connection with each other. So, of course, I want that again.
Since the new horse is very green and much more excitable, the process of gaining connection goes through all of the phases and prerequisites you mentioned. We’re not entirely there yet, but it’s coming along nicely, I think. It is such a feeling of real accomplishment to achieve that with a horse, more so than almost anything else, in my opinion, and more meaningful to me. The movements are almost secondary to that wonderful feeling of being just one organism when we ride, and the knowledge that the horses actually looks forward to being ridden and interacting with her rider. This greenie is, I think, going to be a remarkable horse in time, but I don’t want to rush anything artificially, as she is a more excitable type of horse than my last one.
My big Warmblood looks me in the eye often as if to see if I am really “with him”. He drops his head and nuzzles me. When I give him free time…aka/recess in the arena and make him run and move he does it…as soon as I stop he turns toward me with that eye contact and walks straight to me and lowers his head. He looks up when he hears my truck come in the stable and walks to the fence to great me and eagerly puts his head in his halter. I don’t know if that’s what it is supposed to be but I totally feel connected to this 17.3 brilliant animal. He is obedient and respectful of my space…he’s just a gem. My heart sings when I see him.
can you use any devices on horseback like GPS or radios
Horses have built in GPS. They always seem to know the way back to their barn or trailer.
I will take a wild shot: I think 99.9999999% of the people reading this want to get away from the electronic crap at least for a portion of their lives. Buy a motorcycle. I picture you on a Harley with plastic ‘saddle bags’ , full windshield, sofa-like seats, blasting radio and fake gang colors.
A couple of things come to mind when I think about connecting/bonding with Gracie. One is that horses are creatures of habit and if we only go to see them for feeding, working, or riding them, it’s seems to work against that desired bond, but if we make sure to go just to be with them also, this seems to foster more of a bond.
I like to take Gracie out to a place with lots of grass and sit beside her while she grazes or stand with her in the barn; sometimes I just lay my arms over her back while she relaxes or I’ll massage a favorite spot until she almost goes to sleep.
But my first connection with her came after free lunging in the round pen- some call it joining up. Before that, she wouldn’t come to me in the field; after, she walked straight up to me.
And, of course, T-Touch also helps with bonding.
My mustang, Jolly, and I have been together for a year. He and I have finally bonded. He came from a large herd of horses and needed alot of one on one attention. Working in the arena at liberty, sitting with him, talking to him, round pen workouts and his most favorite, his bath after he’s had a good roll in the arena. All of these have helped him become an excellent trail horse. Callie, thanks to your training videos and blog I am a better rider. Happy trails to you and your efforts to improve the rider in all of us.
I like your article and especially how you differentiate between connection and association. I think communication has a lot to do with it. I am fairly new to the horse world but have spent countless hours in the pasture observing their behavior with each other as well as with me because, ultimately, I hope to have that connection with a few of my favorites. There’s a book, Horse Speak, by Sharon Wilsie and Gretchen Vogel, that I’ve found invaluable in this regard. I have seen much of what she talks about (communication-wise) in the pasture and I use many of her techniques (with success) whenever I’m with or around a horse and believe that in so doing, I am beginning to feel that connection with several. Thank you, Callie, for sharing your experience and insights. You are one of my top ‘go to’ sites for trusted information.
When you “become the horse” and the “horse becomes you”, then connection is truly made. There is no separation between horse and human, when the cord drops away and the two minds merge into one singular being of feelings, sensations, thoughts and existence. Nothing need be spoken, just two minds becoming one single mind and existing in the same space at the same time in harmony. You become the horse and the horse becomes you. No separation.
Canines (including wolves) and I “CONNECT”! We think alike, we are both of the predator mind, I read them and they read me. I grew up with canines as my brothers. I envy people who grew up with horses. As frustrating as it has been to learn the prey animal mind I am beginning to connect with horses. I watch them, listen to them, learn their expressions, study them, feed them, groom them and by doing so; in the near future, I will become a “HORSEMAN”. Until that feeling of “brotherhood” washes over me I will not accept stewardship of these magnificent animals.
A question I incessantly ask myself as I progress on this path to “HORSEMANSHIP” and you must ask and answer: ‘Do we ride them or do they carry us’?
If you need double reins, vicious bits and numerous restraining contrivances to ride your horse, you could be on the wrong path.
Try allowing your horse to carry you.
I always ask my horse if he is willing to carry me that day. There are some days he says “please, no” so we do ground work.
Forgive my non-PC troglodyte thought patterns but I am jealous of the natural empathy women have for all critters large and small. It is natural for women to “connect” but for men it is rare and difficult. Look around your barn, the women “get it” and 99% of the men struggle.
BTW, how does your horse say “please no”? I speak “Canine” fluently! I am struggling to learn “Equine”; any hints?
Trish, I hope you took my question about “please no” seriously; I am sincerely curious and determined to learn to understand “Equine”. My dogs answer simple y/n questions with body language. For example: “Yes” is front feet forward just under the nose, eyes up. “No” is motionless, no tail wag or any motion, blank stare.
Do you want to go for a ride? or Want to walk? are answered with total pandemonium……….yeah…I was being humorous on those last two….ALL dogs go crazy when those questions are ask.
There are some very serious studies with promising results on this subject:
“…we investigated in horses whether variation in the expression of eye wrinkles caused by contraction of the inner eyebrow raiser reflects emotional valence….”
Can horses use symbols (read)?
“…Scientists taught 23 riding horses of various breeds to look at a display board with three icons, representing wearing or not wearing a blanket….
Body language of course. When I approach him in his stall or paddock he will turn his haunches to me and attempt to evade being haltered, much less saddled. Other times he eagerly greets me st the door, pushes his head into the halter and physically implies he wants to be in my presence. If he’s turned out in the field when I approach, I’ll wait at a distance and he come to me. Sometimes he wants to play chase and will angle up to me (much like a playful dog) then dash away. When he’s ready, he’ll stop and walk to me for haltering. It’s body language but I’m also open to his essence. People can sense when they’re around those who like, don’t like, or want them to get the hell away.
Thank you. It makes perfect sense! These are NOT ‘dumb’ or stupid animals. They don’t speak ‘American’ (Any more than we speak “The Queen’s English”) but they do vocalize, use body language and ’emote’ as you aptly describe.
BTW you might be surprised at the total number of spoken “American” words your horse understands and to which he will respond. One of my Malinois will respond to about 300 words! Depending on his mood, there are days when he pretends not to know ‘SIT’ hahahah
My horse HATES wearing a blanket and lets me know without a doubt he will not wear one by running away, truly evading being caught. There are a few times during the winter when it’s cold, windy and raining or snowing. I’ll approach him with his blanket and talk to him, explaining that if his coat (which grows long and thick) gets wet it can’t keep him warm and healthy. Would he wear this “raincoat” till the weather dries; I’ll take it off ASAP then. Usually he will stand still and begrudgingly allow me to put it on. Occasionally he will still refuse and at that point I’ll abide by his wishes.
I aspire to your understanding of the “Equine Language” . I am fluent in “Canine”and speak it like a native………wink
Maybe he is more the ‘John Wane’ or ‘Clint Eastwood’ type and wants something more masculine? ……….wink
Check out the “Callie” of New Zealand, Alycia Burton. Ask yourself why these women “get it” and it is so difficult for guys to connect. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zcPqXfck9Hs
Thank God we have Callie here in the USA! She is a national treasure!
Thank you for the beautiful youtube clip demonstration of Alycia Burton showing what I believe is the ultimate connection of unity between horse and rider. I don’t know if others who watched this noticed a very different expression when Alycia rode her horse bridleless as compared to with the snaffle bridle. I thought his carriage was much more relaxed when bridleless as there was TOTAL freedom for the horse showing NO discernible resistance (especially through his head and neck). You can almost see a “smile” in his expression when he’s FREE to run and jump! Lovely! Alycia and her horse demonstrate true unity (either way…but I think her horse really, really, loves to be bridleless) and I’m betting a lot of us have had visions of being able to ride like this one day! Callie will certainly help you get there!
Haha, thank you John! Alycia is an amazing rider! I have followed her riding for a few years and bought her first DVD as soon as it came out too – she definitely tops me in guts and jumping skill – I’ve never jumped a horse over the bed of a pickup truck, let alone without a bridle 🙂
I started riding late and the first barn made us tack up by ourselves. Maybe this is more common but sometimes I’ll admit I am still a little happy to arrive and find my horse for a lesson ready to go. But early on I realized I was making connections with the horse from that preparation that I feel always benefit me. Maybe they are just associations, now that I’ve read this, but I think now both and more the former. I’m still a novice but always make sure I have plenty of time to chill out before getting on a horse and the time in the barn is crucial for me, and I think, the horse. I think it was Jefferson who was quoted with, paraphrasing, “… the best thing for the inside of a man is the outsides of a horse”. If, god forbid I can’t ever mount one day, I’ll still be keeping them close
I have loved all of these videos. I feel that they reflect the heart of what we all need to understand if we have any possibility of being successful.
I will never forget the first time I thought “turn” and my horse and I did a rollback turn to the left to line up for the next jump. We acted as a single unit, and I’m sure I must have somehow given him subtle physical cues, but it seemed like he was reading my mind. For me, this idea of “connection” happens when you and your horse are acting as a team, with his strength and agility complementing your ability to lead and sense of purpose.
Beautifully written and so, so on point! Thank you!
This is my favorite article so far. Very well thought out, insightful, and well said! Something many people can relate to or if they haven’t connected yet, very encouraging to find that connection. Fortunately I have my deep connection horse and this article seems to explain how we’ve come to such a rewarding level.
Yes, I agree with your article and would like to add a small observation as a beginner rider attending a riding school here in semi-rural Hertfordshire, UK. Sometimes I observe occassions when the horse serves a purpose that may not be conducive towards reciprocity in terms of emotional warmth, and immediate connectivity may allude the rider and perplex those watching. I refer to the young children who attend riding sessions because it is part of a therapeutic education for those on the autistic spectrum mainly. Parents mention their child, while often slumped over a sadle, refusing to sit up but patiently being guided by the skilled hand of a riding instructor, is more ‘calmer’ and ‘appears happy’. The fact I see these same children each week means their connectivity is volunteered, and therefore about developing cooperative behaviour with themselves first, their horse or pony carrying their small weight dutifully into what I hope will be for them and their families, a happy connectivity with the wider world including their creature friends.
I love this article and the replies. For me, connecting with horses feels so powerful and profound, and it can be an ecstatic feeling for me, and for horse…it’s got to be mutually beneficial.
Great article, Callie…thank you! I still consider myself a beginner after a year and am riding lesson horses. This is my 3rd week on Beau and yesterday was my first day getting him from his pasture to halter and tack him. As I walked toward him, he walked over to me which put a smile on my face since my previous lesson horse wasn’t so cooperative with my instructor. I believe sometimes it’s difficult to say where the connection comes from but your statement about continuing to be firm and assertive rings true for me.
Judy (et al) The connection that Callie and Alycia Burton exhibit is the HORSEMANSHIP to which I aspire. (Long way to go!) Without that connection it would not be possible for them to do the things they do with horses. Very apparently the horses “get” the connection also and do their part on the two-way street of connection. Callie seems to have the ability to develop this connection repeatedly with many horses. In my hundreds of hours of research it is both stated and implied many times over that the vast majority of horses want to connect, do their part in the partnership, and please, or at least cooperate with, their steward. In my research, I learned that the Civil War/War for Southern Independence Generals Grant and Lee had this “connection” to their horses. Both Generals were terrific, outstanding riders. The connection of horse and steward must have been a major factor in their superlative HORSEMANSHIP.
I am a “dog person”, canines and I really CONNECT! That said, I would never be stupid-goofy enough to stick my face in the face of a strange canine……….connection (with any person or animal) can’t be forced or hurried or assumed. Don’t rush, don’t push, don’t almost get kicked by a persnickety ‘ol mare school horse as I did. ALWAYS keep in mind these are tremendously powerful, well muscled animals which have survived the eons against predators far superior to we weak humans. Without mechanical contrivances, four or five of the toughest NFL linebackers would not fare well against an angry horse.
The horse “will let you know” when a connection is beginning and developing.
I have had the privilege of watching my daughter and her horse connect over the three that we had him. It really was the most beautiful relationship to watch grow as they each learnt to trust and respect each other. They would both stand resting forehead to forehead for ages with out moving in the paddock just “being” together. He would drop his head so he was the right height for her. It made losing him last November, when he died, all the more painful, knowing that I would never see their lovely moments together again.
It’s confusing to me: know what your horse needs, be sensitive to him, take control, be the leader…I get very confused on how to be a leader AND be sensitive to the horse at the same time. I went out to ride my daughter’s horse after being away from him for awhile, and after the warm up, he refused to budge. I must say I started feeling very annoyed and pressed with my spurs. Nothing made him go. I just get very frustrated. Once I got angry, I just got off, because I knew we wouldn’t be getting anywhere if I continued being angry, and his being stubborn was making me angry. I haven’t been back since because I wanted to figure out what went wrong first. (Dad was ill and recently died. On top of that we’re in the midst of work on my son’s wedding, so time was simply not available anyway. I’m starting to get some of that time back, though, so I want to be prepared to ride with a more positive attitude.) so for me the conundrum comes from being in control AND being sensitive to him. I just am not sure I get it.
You aren’t the only one who struggles with this. I do to – honestly. The longer you know a particular horse the more you can establish a baseline for their behavior and notice when something changes suddenly, often signaling discomfort or a physical problem.
But especially with a new horse or one you don’t know well there is always the question of “is there something wrong” or “is this simply something the horse has learned or is trying, i.e. a behavior issue”?
As a trainer, I have found that most problems that persist when good training techniques fail are the result of something physical. In hindsight there have been many cases that I wish I would have considered and investigated possible physical causes much earlier than I did.
That said, you will probably never understand what happened in this situation without going back and giving it another try – look for patterns of what triggers the behavior, try different techniques to get the result you want. As difficult as it can be, when you can go into situations like this as an observer, without being emotional but just noticing what is happening, it is often easier to pick up on the real problem – even if that is your own technique or skills! Hope this helps!
Yes, thank you, Callie. I should be getting some of my life back shortly. Then I can relax and get back in the saddle. I’ve decided to use the annoy-him technique if he again just won’t go. That is, I’ll bring a crop and tap tap tap on his back end until he makes that first move. I have had a break, but now I am more rested and think I will have more patience with him. I will be on the lookout for patterns. And I will be less emotional, like my daughter when she rides. Thank you for your help. I love your videos, I learn so much from them. Thank you for everything. Marilyn
I totally know where you’re coming from. I used to get super frustrated with my OTTB. Now I have a rescue QH. I’ve found that when I go into the pen with other things on my mind, we don’t connect because he can’t see me as a leader…because I’m not. My mind is elsewhere. I’ve learned that the frustration is totally at myself and not the horse. I’ve also learned with this guy that if he turns away from me, I need to look more closely at myself. Horses are mirrors. It seems to me the horse you were riding was just trying to tell you to stop and take care of yourself.
Of course they can also be stubborn or painful, so it’s worth looking into those things too, but it never hurts to look into the horse mirror either. ❤️
Cherie, I have not yet had the honor to connect with a horse as your daughter did. please accept my condolences. I have lost ‘brothers’ who were dogs. After healing, your daughter will find another horse……or a horse will find her.
I think the most important aspect of developing a connection with your horse is honoring and respecting your horse’s needs. Two years ago I bought my first horse: a 25- year-old Tennessee walker/draft mix who was about to be auctioned off. He was covered in bug bites, 200 pounds underweight and disinterested in humans. He was obedient but aloof. He had no use for humans because he had been worked like a machine and then discarded. However, he eventually realized that my intentions were different. I still make him work by taking me out on rides a couple times a week, but in return, I give him what he wants – – time spent grazing outside the paddock, good food, lots of grooming and attention. The tradeoff is that he now feels comfortable to let his personality come through, and I have quickly learned that I have a very smart and very stubborn horse. But I enjoy the mental challenge. At all times, when I’m with my horse, I’m aware that he’s a thinking creature with his own take on the world, and whenever possible I try respect and honor his perspective. I think this attitude on my part has gone a long way to connecting with a horse that was at one time completely indifferent to me.
spot on .the interest i have brings me to want to learn everything i can about the horse.spending as much time with the horse as possible and like you say learning to read his signs,taking the time to do so is part of creating that connection for me.allowing him to be a horse and using my abilitys to learn and understand.i believe the connection you are talking about is only possible when the human is willing to learn.put away the want and find the BE.
The ‘Zen’ of true horsemanship?
Maybe I should give up on learning to “speak” Equine and stick to research?………NO WAY!!!!!!!
According to They Never Said It, a 1989 compilation of misquotes, the statement was, indeed made by Ronald Reagan in
1987 as he headed to his California ranch for the holidays. However, he wasn’t the first. Dr. Cary Grayson, Woodrow
Wilson’s physician, had previously made the remark.
Ok, Ok, I revealed my troglodyte mind set earlier………so tell me….where are the men commenting about “connecting”???????????? I did not do an actual count but it looks like my 99% rule applies. Women are naturally gifted with the ability to connect with critters large and small (including humans and men in particular.) and 99% of men struggle to even understand what “connection” means. If not for being raised with my canine “brothers” I would not have a clue about the object of my search for connection with a horse. Look around your barn…99% women. Look at the comments……99% women “connecting” with their horses.
The question which perplexes me: Do we ride horses or do they carry us? Maybe we need horses more than they need us ???????? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4TAUdHjYB1U
I’ve been so fortunate to have a wonderful “love affair” with my big warmblood. I’m so sad to hear so many stories of folks that don’t have that. I’m reading a book that I would like to recommend: The Happy Horse An Amateurs Guide to Being The Human Your Horse Deserves by Tania Kindersley.
She is very candid about her journey to the “connection” and I think it may be helpful.
This was a very good article, I really enjoyed reading it!
I have a problem or a few problems when I ride but one thing is that I have this annoying habit when I canter, especially when I jump.
The thing is that when I canter, my foot always seem to slip out of the stirrup. It depends on which dirrection in the paddock I ride in. Out in the forrest I never seem to have this problem.
I don’t really know why this happen, is it my posture, am I scared? I seem to curl up when I go from trot to canter. But I it’s like my foot slips out when I need to turn which is not fun when I jump. I also tend to lean towards the middle..
I like going fast but you’re so limited in the paddock so I like a more collected canter at least one I can controll.
Do you have any tips for me so I can improve my canter/posture?
I am guilty of having an off beat sense of humor and can’t resist saying ‘Who needs stirrups anyway’?
Check out the “Callie” of New Zealand, Alycia Burton. Ask yourself why these women “get it” and it is so difficult for guys to connect. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zcPqXfck9Hs
Thank God we have Callie here in the USA! She is a national treasure!
I still remember a quote from Pat Parelli that I heard many years ago and it has been with me ever since: “What do you have when you ride without bridle, saddle or neck ropes?” ANSWER: “The Truth!” What a great way of determining whether or not you have a connection with your horse!
Great quote! THANK YOU for the inspiration! I read things like that and believe I am on the right path.
I adopted my present horse from an impound facility that is connected with The Georgia Deparment of Agricultural Center where I volunteered. I’ve now had Charlotte now for five and a half years& have loved her dearly since the first time I saw her.
We have had quite a journey together since finding each other which has bonded us.
With that said I will also add that I do not feel we are “connected”. She truly takes MAJOR advantage of me @ every turn. I do not feel that she respects me at all.
I am 63yrs. old & very small in stature. She pulls me everywhere whether I’m leading her or on her back. My previous horse a TB that I had for 23 yrs. was PERFECT. We WERE totally connected in every way.
I try not to compare Charlotte with my previous horse but I know she has the potential to be as connected with me as my Thoroughbred was. I need some advice please how to get her to respect me without being harsh and mean and how to get us more connected.
Ground training! Best thing I ever did. Teaches manners and mutual respect. I found it a bit frustrating at first because I wasn’t sure what I was doing and worried if I was doing it right. But in the long run even if my clues are a bit different from “the norm,” as long as I am consistent she learns what I want and it’s been a great experience.
Hi Ondrea, I would start with teaching some basic responses on the ground, I have more resources, including a few free courses here: http://www.crktrainingvideos.com/online-courses.html
Ondrea, I would start with Round Penning (a person can easily make one out of “step in posts” and 1/2 wide fencing tape if your horse respects boundaries.) Round penning teaches the horse respect by learning to do these 3 tasks: 1.) Go the direction You choose until you say say to change. 2.) change directions by turning in toward you (You are in the center of the pen)…if a mistake is made quickly step to block the horse’s forward movement and send her back the original direction and try again, and again until you get a reverse toward the inside. 3.) get these two skills consistently. 4.) when the horse faces you back up to release the pressure which tells the horse it did a good thing. The goal is to ask the horse to pay attention and be respectful of your wishes in doing these basic tasks. When she “hooks on to you” and wants to be with you (comes off the fence toward you when you back away) you will reach a point where the horse will follow you around (no halter or rope) anywhere you go in the pen. This is the beginning of wanting to be with you outside the pen, too, with a halter and lead rope. This all takes more information than I’m giving so please get help from an experienced person, DVD on the subject, or reading. Good luck…thank you for saving Charlotte!
I am not the most confident rider and I have a Morgan who has challenged me more than once. Thus, causing me to become a little more skittish and causing him to mistrust me. When he encounters new things or things I think will spook him, he feels me tense up and behaves exactly the way I think he will. I recently took him to a trainer to help work through some of the issues I have had with him. She told me that he isn’t really scared of the things I have told her about, but he has learned this behavior. After watching her work with him I have to say, she is totally right. I have taught him to be afraid of things and situations. Last night when I went to visit him we talked about how he looks away when he is approached. He has done that ever since I got him two years ago. He was kind of a loner when I got him – he stayed in the barn by his fan most of the time. When I walk in the barn and he rarely seems to be happy to see me. He has been the same way with the trainer. Last night I started googling “how to connect with your horse”. Then today I got an email with your lesson on connecting. I have always enjoyed and learned from your videos and articles – this one is probably the most timely one I have ever received from you. I know this was written several years ago but I wanted to tell you how grateful I am to have found it today.
Judy, it sounds like where you would want to focus is on getting more comfortable making those requests of him. Your fear is not unfounded, especially if you’ve had bad experiences in the past. I would recommend checking out this video about The Three Way to Connect with Your Horse – I think you’ll find it helpful going forward with your new insights!
I really enjoyed this article! Some days I feel like my horse and I are connected, other days I feel like he’s just not. We’re still definitely working on building that trust, connection and rapport. This was very helpful! Thank you!
Awesome Alicia, I’m so glad you enjoyed the video! I hope it helps you on your journey building more trust, connection, and rapport!
-Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager
I think one overlooked aspect of being connected with your horse is when they exhibit what we see as a “problem.” A better way of looking at it is that the horse is trying to communicate an issue to us, and the worse the problem gets, the louder they’re telling us, “Don’t you understand the words that are coming out of my mouth?!” so to speak. For instance, without realizing it, I’ve taught my horse to lean on me when asking him to raise his hoof for picking, and only TODAY did it suddenly occur to me what I was doing wrong. Yes, it was a “D-uh!” moment on my part, but he’d been telling me for a while now, and today even included an uncharacteristic nip. It’s like when you’re in a close relationship with a person, they sometimes have to raise their voice to be heard.
Great insights John! It is sometimes that when we are ‘going through the motions’ that acknowledging the small things can be difficult but taking the time to observe those small attempts at communication!
-Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager
Ooooh I love this insight! You’re so right and I’m going to be forever grateful that I took the time to read this post and your comment. I have a beautiful quarter horse gelding who came from a kill shelter. That is literally all I know about him. Over the past 10 months I am finally able to walk up to him without him spinning and running, put him in cross ties and brush his entire body. I feel like we are becoming connected, but he’s always ready to be in trouble and has a hard time really relaxing. He is beyond scared and, dare I say, naughty about picking up his hind feet. And after reading your comment, I wonder if I’m not hearing
his “why” and if I’m making the problem worse!!
Truly, you have given me something to think about and explore.
I feel the biggest connection when I’m ready to leave and I will sit down next to my Arab in his stall while he is eating hay. He will nuzzle my head while munching on a mouthful of hay, I end up with a lot of hay on my head. It’s quiet and peaceful, no one wanting anything, just hanging. The other time was when I let him run in a huge open pasture. When I went in and called him, he galloped full on to me. I trusted him. I did not put my arms up, didn’t say a word, didn’t step back…he stopped on a dime right in front of me. I totally agree about your leadership ideas.
Wow Catherine – it sounds like you two have an incredible bond!
– Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager
This is a fabulous article Callielly thank you so much for posting it. I don’t know about everyone else but I often do struggle with the mindset of I must be strong and be a leader versus being a gentle influence and listening to my horse. I realize that there are times when all of our creatures test us and we do need to be strong and assertive but I also agree that sometimes there is a deeper connection and a trust between the horse and the rider that makes all the difference in the world. Finding those connections with our horses are truly magical.
You brought up some really great points here Elizabeth! I had a trainer years ago that had a saying I always really liked “I don’t believe in horse abuse, but I don’t believe in people abuse either” I thought it was a great way of saying we have to say safe but that doesn’t mean we have to be leader or use force!
-Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager