Trust is an important part of any relationship. It is what we need to have an effective partnership with our horses and is a good foundation for any relationship. Some people subscribe to the “trust is earned” mantra but I tend to trust from the start, especially with my horses. I build trust with my horses through trust exercises.
Trust and bonding exercises are important to do with any horse you regularly work with. Some exercises are more intense, and some you can do in less than five minutes. When a horse trusts you, everything becomes easier. Here are some trust exercises I do:
- Grooming: This is the ultimate trust and bonding exercise. Placing hands on the horse’s body, scratching itchy spots, smoothing down the hair is all very comforting to a horse. Horses groom one another in the wild and we are stepping in as the herd mate when we groom. Grooming is also a great opportunity to work on trust with a horse’s feet. The feet are a horse’s biggest weapon, to run or kick. When they lift their foot up, they are saying that they trust you not to put them in danger. That’s huge!
- Deep Breath Work: Take five minutes and breathe with your horse. Place your hands on their barrel and belly and just breathe with them. Slow your breathing down to match theirs and feel their breathing under your hands. This is calming for both of you.
- Let go of the lead rope: When you have your horse on a rope, toss the lead rope over their neck and ask them to stand. Once the horse is standing still, walk around them. Circle the horse once or twice in either direction. Keep the horse still and walk away from the horse, then come back. This will help you trust that your horse will listen to you and respond to you.
- Close your eyes: While riding, close your eyes. Make sure you are in a safe space with no obstacles or other horses to distract. Trust your horse to walk quietly and not run you into any trouble. This is a very empowering exercise for you and will deepen your bond with a horse.
- Lead without a rope: The ultimate trust exercise. Either keep a lead rope over the horse’s neck or take it off completely. Lead as you normally would, only without a rope. Allow the horse to follow you and trust that he will. You may need to do some bonding before the horse will follow you, like a riding session, intense groundwork, or lunging but it is worth it.
Next time you are at the barn, give these a try! Let me know how it works for you and if you have any questions, comment below.