Does Your Horse Trust You?

Between a horse and rider, there should be a bond of trust.  This is especially important for those who jump, asking horses to take off from a particular spot before each fence.  Most riders connect that having a “bad eye to a fence,” (i.e., not having the ability to determine the proper take-off spot before a fence and putting the horse either too close to or too far from the fence for a safe take-off ) causes the horse not to trust the rider. However, many riders don’t connect other aspects of their behavior to the issue of trust.

For instance, when a rider “gets left” over a fence and bangs the horse in the mouth and back with his hands and seat, this action destroys the horse’s trust.  Anticipating the abuse, the horse will start adding a stride at the base of the fences to minimize the size of the jumping effort in an effort to lessen the impact of the hands and seat; or it will stop in front of the fences or “run out” beside them as it tries to avoid the abuse altogether.

Another action that breaks the trust is the rider being too lazy to wash the horse’s face with a sponge that has been wrung out properly and, instead, using a garden hose to spray water onto a horse’s face (and sometimes up its nose!); or using bath water that is too hot or too cold.  Not paying attention to where you’re asking the horse to go and causing it to bump into or step on objects is an additional way to break the trust.

Finally, behavior that will completely damage your relationship with the horse is to punish it for your mistakes.  I have often seen riders become frustrated or embarrassed in the course of a clinic or horse show and start beating or jerking on their horses, as if to indicate that the bad performance is all the horse’s fault.  The truth is that horses are some of the most docile, sweet-natured creatures on earth, and they respond consistently well to kind handling and good direction from the rider.   They really deserve better than to be abused by the untrained, ill-tempered, or untalented.

With time, your horse will become very much like you, so take a look at your horse’s progression or regression and acknowledge that what it has become is what you have made of it.  The act of accepting responsibility is the first step toward changing the situation for the better.