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Is Your Horse Ready to Go Steady with You?

By Lindsey Partridge 

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Your Horse Lives in an Arranged Marriage

We’ve often heard about trying to put yourself in your horse’s shoes and think from their perspective. This is hard because we’re not horses. However, relationships with horses aren’t that different from relationships with people.

I want you to put your horse in a human’s shoes. Perhaps then you’ll better relate. Let us imagine your relationship from a perspective that your horse is a human.

From this perspective, your horse is living in an arranged marriage. This is because in most cases, you chose your horse and your horse didn’t choose you. Your horse doesn’t understand why or how you ended up being their human, they just know that you keep showing up.

You may have chosen your horse for their personality, looks, experience, or pedigree but your horse didn’t get a say in the qualities of their human. In this essence, your horse has entered into an arranged marriage with a complete stranger.

Relationships Begin with Getting to Know Each Other

Think about your relationships – no matter what type of relationship it is, we need to become familiar before we’re ready to commit. In every type of scenario we usually do some type of investigation to understand the situation better before we commit emotionally, professionally, or financially.

Sometimes the emphasis is put on the horse being a skeptic and unsure – but this is also true of humans. Just think about these human examples – they show that we are skeptics about relationships too.

  • Personal relationships: usually start with some friendly conversation, having a meal together, meeting each other’s family or friends.
  • Professional relationships: may interview, check resumes, read social media profiles, and check references. Usually employees start on probation or a trial before a workplace commits.
  • Consumer relationships: the buyer is likely to read the product information, ask a friend if they’ve tried it, or read a review. Many places offer returns, or trials.

It’s Not a Level Dating Field

When you acquired your horse, you probably asked questions, looked a pictures, watched video, and may even had other professionals go inspect the horse for you.

Depending on your personality and circumstance will depend on how well you got to know your horse before you ended up committing, but it’s not a level playing field.

While you were finding out your horse’s history, asking about their personality, if they have any vices, and looked at their pictures – your horse had no idea who you were. Even if you went to go visit your horse, they probably weren’t aware that you wanted an exclusive relationship.

We bring our horse to their new home and often we expect to start riding alone in the arena or out on trails right away. We assume we can just carry on as if everything was happy and exciting. Here lies the problem – you have decided to commit to your horse, but your horse hasn’t made the decision yet to commit to you.

Doesn’t it make sense that we need to allow the courtesy to our horses to get to know us?

We Want Intimacy with our Horses

Intimacy with horses may seem like an odd concept – it’s a different type of intimacy then what we experience with other humans, but it is a very real concept with horses.

Many times people are asking for intimate tasks with their horse without really realizing it. Something as simple as leaving the herd to go off by yourselves is an intimate task.

If your horse isn’t calm in the barn or arena with you by themselves, they are telling you they aren’t ready to be intimate.

These are some examples of intimate tasks:

  • Going scary places like shows or trail riding
  • Liberty
  • Being alone together (out of sight of other horses)
  • Riding

We Need to Date Before we Kiss

Could you imagine meeting someone for the first time and right away they go in for a kiss?

For some of you perhaps that’s no big deal, and for others that may give you goosebumps because it’s a total stranger. This is true for horses too.

Some horses trust new people very easily and will accept pretty much anyone – they are confident in their own skin and don’t rely on others to help them feel safe. Other horses take more time to develop that level of trust before they are ready to take the relationship to the next level – these horses are often not comfortable by themselves.

Dating and getting to know your horse is the best way to help them develop a level of comfort with you. The Calm Connection exercises in the Harmony Horsemanship 101 Course, give a lot of ideas of how to start this – using Square, Spirals, Move with Me & Yield, and Boomerangs are often the best ones to try first.

Once you start ‘dating,’ keep in mind that some horses will need more time than others to get to know and trust you. Part of this will be your confidence, competence, calmness, and clarity. The other part will depend on your horse.

There are many factors that play into how quickly someone develops new partnerships such as:

  • Past experiences
  • Upbringing
  • Genetics
  • Environment

It’s important to understand that just like people, there are many types of horses – each can react differently to similar circumstances differently.

We all have our own lived experiences. We respond to these lived experiences in our own way. Sometimes what is traumatic for you might not be traumatic for me and vice versa. Trauma doesn’t have to mean abuse – it just means experiencing an emotional response. For some horses, being loaded onto a horse trailer is traumatic, but for others it’s no big deal.

There are many ways we can respond to stress or trauma. For example we may:

  • want to find a solution
  • not be affected and move on
  • become emotional
  • become very distrusting and skeptical
  • become very cautious of any similar situations
  • want to run away and hide

Two individuals can experience the same event, but react differently. For example two horses could be caught in a barn fire. One may forever be terrified of fire, and the other may not be.

Qualities are Not Right or Wrong, They Just Are.

This is a very important point to reflect on – qualities (in horses or humans) are not right or wrong, they just simply ‘are.’

Often in our world we classify things as good or bad, right or wrong, positive or negative.

However, sometimes we need to simply observe a quality and leave it at that – it isn’t right or wrong, good or bad, positive or negative – it just ‘is.’

This is important because when we remove the judgement of classifying these qualities as good or bad, we can let go of the notion of punishing a horse for a particular response. Instead we can focus on responding from a place of compassion – with a focus on helping the horse better understand and overcome their emotions.

We Need to Respect Readiness Levels

Compassion and respecting a horse’s readiness level is important. We can’t force intimacy – well we can, but usually that just means we lose trust and connection.

Here’s a horse example – most of the time, horses that are consistently hard to catch in the field are usually trying to tell us they feel they are being pushed beyond their readiness level.

When horses feel safe and valued, then they become willing and safe partners.

Let’s put it back into a human example. Some people enjoy one night stands whereas others require a matrimonial commitment before intimacy – horses are not too different. There will be some horses that anyone can hop on and go ride alone without issue, and many horses will need to develop some level of comfort and confidence with a person before they’ll trust them to ride out alone with them.

Let relaxation be the guide that tells you if your horse is ready to progress to the next step.

Is your horse ready to go steady with you?

These are some signs that your horse is ready to go steady:

  • Easy to catch
  • Okay being alone with you (not herd bound)
  • Will follow you willingly at liberty
  • Allows you to rub/touch them all over
  • They look to you for guidance

If you struggle with any of the above, then it could be a sign that your horse needs to get to know you better.

Dating your horse might not seem as simple as dating a human – it’s really hard to take your horse to the movies, shopping, or sightseeing together – although possible (check out this cute video with Dreamer and I visiting NYC or this video of Dreamer going shopping with me).

The good news is that there are some things you can do to help.

It’s start with thinking about interacting with our horse as a relationship, and trying our best to have our horse’s happiness matter (check out this cute video of how I survived 10 Days at the Royal Winter Fair with my horse Soar).

The Harmony Training Continuum helps humans develop better relationships with their horses. The relationship goes through 4 phases:

  • Respect and Safety
  • Calm Connection
  • Create a Yes Horse
  • Refinement

The majority of time to date your horse is spent in the Calm Connection series of exercises that help your horse want to go steady with you. Then you can move into Create a Yes Horse where you start to ask your horse to do various things for you. Once they consistently say yes to you, then you can move into refinement where you can finesse their speed, straightness, or suppleness. (For more information about the online course check out http://www.harmonyhorsemanship.ca/online-learning/)

Tips for Dating your Horse:

  • Work with your horse in a place they feel comfortable. As they gain confidence you can start to explore more places.
  • Don’t take it personally. Most negative responses happen out of fear or lack of understanding, so remember to respond from a place of compassion not anger.
  • Let the horse be in charge of the speed of the relationship. We have to respect the horse’s readiness level if we want absolute trust. Take the time in the beginning of the relationship so it takes less time later to accomplish your goals.
  • Be aware of your body language. Often there are very subtle things we are doing that affect our horse. Are you driving or drawing? Try setting up a camera to film yourself so you can see what you are doing. Usually we aren’t as precise as we think.
  • Start with calm connection exercises. Square, Move with me and Yield, and Spiral Draw are big keys to developing a calm connection.

What’s Next?