Trust is an essential element of relationship, especially when one of you weighs nearly ten times as much as the other. Little girls and grown women dream of the perfect equine partner, then wonder what went wrong when the dream fizzles. Learn how to earn your horse’s trust by avoiding the six most common mistakes.
Training, riding, competing, and even basic safety with horses requires knowledge, commitment, and trust. Your horse doesn’t have a choice about where she lives or who owns her, which places the responsibility to create a productive and satisfying relationship 100% on your shoulders.
If your horse is spooky, unresponsive, pushy, afraid, inconsistent, or uncooperative, I guarantee there’s a trust issue some where.
(Links to the first two parts of this series also appear at the end of this post.)
Part Three examines the final three reasons your horse doesn’t trust you:
- History–Yours or Hers
- Broken Promises
- Moving Too Fast
Experience: Why History Matters to Horses
Unless you claimed a horse at the moment of birth or captured her in the wild, your horse experienced human before meeting you. If that contact was positive, it serves as a firm foundation for the relationship you hope to build.
More often than we’d like to believe, the horse grazing in your pasture has already learned not to trust humans, or worse, to fight or run away without waiting for details or explanations.
A horse with a history of hard luck may learn to trust you, but that doesn’t guarantee she’ll trust anyone else. Like some foster children, horses willingly risk their safety a limited number of times. After too many disappointments, even the best and most profound love may not overcome the past.
Horses trust calm personalities who know the drill and offer them a better deal with total confidence. They teach you to be honest, kind, authentic, and how to inspire transformation.
Even if your horse doesn’t trust you today, in most instances that can change.
The Effects of History, Promises, and Timing
Every relationship moves at the speed of trust. In 2000, we sold two coming-yearling half-brothers to a family with two young boys. They came home nearly ten years later–with history.
The family eventually sold all the horses, and I never learned what happened during those years, except that it wasn’t all good. One of the brothers, Ace, a shiny tobacco colored gelding with a bright red forelock and mane suffered from dissociative disorder. When he registered stress, he left the planet.
Ace enjoyed consistent care, professional counseling (from me) and every promise was kept. Most of the past ten years he lived in the barn, a roof shared with his herd, my husband and me. The stalls were 14 seconds from my office or our bedroom. Ace was an in-your-pocket pet unless there was something precise or specific you wanted from him.
He ground his teeth, twisted his head and neck, and everything in his world moved too fast, from his brain to his feet. Consistency was not his long suit. But I persisted. For years. And then more years.
I didn’t think Ace would ever completely relax and trust me. I reset his mental and physical idle to s-l-o-w, but there was always something that wouldn’t believe my promises made and kept.
After eight years of relationship, the unimaginable happened; Ace committed to our relationship. He was sweet, consistent, calm, and believed what I told him.
What promises have you made to your horse? Seriously. Write them down. Here’s a little grease to get your list started:
- I’ll be fair, gentle, and consistent.
- I’ll never hurt you.
- I’ll respect who you are and earn your respect.
- You’ll always have clean cool water and proper nutrition.
- I’ll provide adequate shelter.
- I’ll teach or ask at a speed you can manage.
- I won’t let anyone else have access to you who won’t live up to my promises.
Like most elements of relationship, every piece is connected to every other one. One way to create bad history is to break a promise. The more the promise impacts a horse’s feeling of security, the greater the damage.
What do you call someone who promises but doesn’t deliver?
Who trusts a liar? Untruths and twisted logic is part of human society, but horses neither rationalize nor compartmentalize. Excuses and explanations are useless.
Horses trust when you earn it.
Become A Student of All Things Equine
We are students of horses; how they communicate, think, and perceive the world and our place in it with them. Horses often hear a promise you didn’t realize you made.
Remember what I wrote at the beginning of this article: The responsibility to create a productive and satisfying relationship with a horse is 100% yours. Keep studying!
The only way to overcome relationship damage caused by broken promises is to be intentional about what you promise and then keep it. Then do it again. Promises must be kept, NO MATTER WHAT. Horses don’t understand the finer points of deal breakers or exceptions. (Honestly, no one does.)
Examples of Broken Promises:
- Failing to leave slack in a lead rope.
- Forcing ANY response.
- Giving your horse instructions or a cue chain she doesn’t understand.
- Forgetting breakfast because you had a late night.
- Empty water buckets.
- Failing to notice small lamenesses.
- Coming to the barn angry, frustrated, or full of ego.
Moving too Fast
How long does it take to earn a horses trust? It took Ace EIGHT years. I knew that Ace would never leave us, so timing wasn’t an issue. We were in it together, until death do us part.
How long does it take for a horse to master a lesson? As long as it takes. A critical variable is the experience of the teacher.
The more ways you know how to teach the same thing, the more likely you are to find success in less time than folks with limited toolboxes.
Never commit to a predetermined training schedule or compare your progress with someone else; you aren’t them and their horse isn’t your horse. Never be disappointed in your horse. It isn’t her fault.
How long does it take? Read about two horses with unique time tables in these posts:
Working with Special-Needs Horses
The skills I learned over thirty years apply to most horses. But some horses are mentally or emotionally unbalanced. Qualified professionals can rehabilitate some, returning them to work as useful and trustworthy horses.
I’ve worked with many dangerous or unbalanced horses. Most became manageable, but only when routines were meticulously maintained. There were a few others who made progress but couldn’t retain their lessons. They’d be fine for a long time, but reverted back to where they began when their routine varied even a little.
Obedient and consistent horses develop over time and with endless repetition, as trainers teach them more vocabulary, establish greater trust, and both exhibit and inspire confidence and commitment.
For the same reasons, obedient and amazing Christians aren’t created instantly. God provides the perfect teacher, the Holy Spirit, to tutor, quiz, challenge, and help us become the people God intends.
Never compare your faith journey with someone else, for the same reasons mentioned in an earlier paragraph.
There’s no schedule. The reward is the journey itself, not some arbitrary destination.
Always Give the Benefit of Your Doubt
As we wrap up this series on trust, there’s one more piece of the puzzle I want to mention. If you miss this, all of your hard work to establish trust is wasted.
Give your horse the benefit of your doubt whenever her response isn’t what you expected. Redouble your efforts to be clear in your requests and ask for only one thing at a time. A precise response requires a precise request.
Horses (almost) always give honest and consistent responses. Use them to evaluate your own behavior. The horse is never wrong.
“God’s commands exist to guide you to life’s very best. You will not obey Him if you do not believe in Him and trust Him. You cannot believe Him if you do not love Him. You cannot love Him unless you know Him.“~ Dr. Henry Blackaby
Don’t ask for a level of trust you can’t live up to today. Above all, deserve the faith your horse has in you.
Did you miss the first two parts of this series on trust? It’s not too late, click on over.