Build your connection and bond with your horse, without getting into the saddle. Spending time with your horse doing activities outside of riding can have huge benefits for both you and your horse.
When you take the time to establish the bond with your horse in a low pressure environment, you will set the foundation for trust in the high pressure environments often encountered under saddle. Your horse will feel safe and respected when you have taken the time to develop mutual trust. With the colder weather, it is often harder to ride. This is the perfect time to spend some time with your horse strengthening your relationship before riding season.
Here are the seven ways we have found to bond with our horses when we can’t or don’t have time to ride.
Start a Greeting Routine - start a routine with your horse every time you greet them. This could be a pat on the nose, a hug, a whistle — whatever you decide can become a special way for you and your horse to say “hi”. Your horse will appreciate the routine and know it is you coming every time.
Grooming - grooming is an incredible way to bond with your horse. If you are able to take 20-30 minutes for your grooming routine, you’ll learn your horse’s favorite and ticklish spots. Instead of rushing, use this time to create a bong and connection. Watch for tight muscles and give them a gentle massage with a soft brush.
Positive Reinforcement - positive reinforcement or clicker training is a wonderful way to engage with your horse. It enables faster learning as we can see right away when your horse has done the right thing. You can use this method during lots of activities, including ground play, going for a walk, day-to-day handling, and training.
Go for a walk - walking with your horse rather than riding adds a new dimension to your relationship. Walking allows you to establish yourself as their leader and develop ground manners outside of your normal training environment. You may encounter scary items during your walk, opening up a training opportunity. Watch how your horse reacts to new objects. Do they immediately flee? Do they freeze? This insight can help you the next time you are in the saddle!
Play with your horse - Playing with your horse is great for bomb-proofing your horse and encouraging them to think through situations, especially scary ones. Use different toys, like giant Jolly balls, and objects to create new situations for them.
Obstacle course - Try extending your play onto an obstacle course. You can set up easy exercises in your arena such as pole exercises, walking through channels, weaving around poles or barrels.
Hang out - Spend some time just hanging out with your horse in the pasture (maybe not in the winter!) or in the stall. Horses love to hang out with you or in the herd and relax. Let them eat nearby as you relax and enjoy the peacefulness.