Horse as Teacher
Horse as Teacher
Horse As Teacher

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Does your horse trust you? (Part 1 of 2)

Trust and like are two very different qualities, especially when it comes to your horse. Many horses like but don’t always trust their owners. Well-known horsemanship clinician Tom Dorrance feels that a horse’s trust for his owner is the foundation of the relationship. If your horse doesn’t trust you then his instinct for self-preservation will supersede everything else, which means that in a scary situation he will tend to react based on instinct rather than turning to you for guidance. This kind of lightning-fast reaction can easily injure you or your horse.

A horse’s lack of trust can also show up in less volatile situations. A horse has three basic needs: to be cared for, protected, and comforted. Each time you fail to meet one of these needs your horse will feel that he is alone and that he can’t trust you—a dangerous feeling for a herd animal. In response, you horse is likely to buddy up with other horses and may become barn sour or develop other behavioral issues. A horse with trust issues will often have digestive and immune system weaknesses. On the training front, not taking the time to build an initial foundation of trust can result in problems such as running through the bit, balking, rearing, or bucking.

So how do you develop this all-important foundation of trust with your horse? Unfortunately there is no simple answer. Luckily there are some good places to start including developing leadership skills, improving your horse’s balance, and controlling your horse’s fight or flight instinct.

Developing Your Leadership
When you develop a relationship with a horse you become a part of his herd, so it’s important to establish yourself as the leader of that herd. A horse who is unsure of your leadership will continually test you. This testing could be as subtle as nudging you with his nose or as blatant as walking all over you. The question is whether you can pass the test. You may think you are being kind when you ignore your horse’s attempts to invade your space, but in reality you are causing him to be unsure of his position in the herd. Correcting your horse when he invades your space is not about punishment but about giving clear and consistent direction about which kinds of behavior are acceptable and which are not. More sensitive horses will back off in response to light pressure while others will require a much stronger form of correction. The goal is to offer enough correction to prevent the horse from testing your leadership again; otherwise you are just nagging your horse and will have correct him over and over. Once your horse is clear about who is in charge, he will relax and begin to trust you.

About the Author

Madalyn Ward, DVM, owns Bear Creek Veterinary Clinic in Austin, Texas. She is certified in Veterinary Homeopathy and Equine Osteopathy. Memberships include American Veterinary Medical Association, American Association of Equine Practitioners, American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association, Texas Veterinay Medical Association and the Academy of Veterinary Homeopathy. She has authored several books and publishes the monthly newsletter, “Holistic Horsekeeping.”

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