Now and again I read something on a social media thread which leave me feeling a little uneasy about how people view their horses. I'm certain it's the exception rather than the rule, but still people see horses as almost another piece of equipment to do a particular job for them. First and foremost, horses, to me, are people in their own right. Maybe not human people, by they are individuals with their own unique personalities and view of the world. My job is to get to know them all, and find a way to make their life here as happy, comfortable and fulfilling as I can.
This blog is about how to build a good relationship with your horse and outlines some of the things we’re doing with our horses to set us up for our future together and to help our horses feel safe and secure here at home.
A FAIR AND CONSISTENT APPROACH - is crucial to developing a good relationship with your horse. Horses like to know where they stand and, generally, behave well if their handler is clear about what is acceptable and is consistent in correcting behaviour when it crosses the line. I believe there is no place for raising your voice or any form of aggression when setting and enforcing boundaries. All that I have found to be required is competent, confident and assertive handling. This works hand in hand with a good daily routine to help our horses feel safe and secure, particularly like Henry and Belle when their lives have gone through a major change.
A GOOD DAILY ROUTINE - is what horses rely upon to be stable and happy. Our daily routine stays pretty much the same every day of the week throughout the year, with the exception of allowing longer grazing hours when the weather allows. Each horse is an individual and some are far more adaptable, quite happy to stay out at grass 24/7 in the summer months, while others are standing at the gate waiting to come in at 4pm regardless of the weather! We try to accommodate what each horse wants and needs while at the same time making available the standardised routine each day. Let’s be honest, our increasingly busy lives often dictate that we are more and more flexible and that in turn requires the horses in our care to be too. What I’ve found is more important in keeping our horses happy, than a routine that is ‘to the minute’ is one that follows the same sequence of events regardless of the time. When horses here at KA Equestrian (www.kaequestrian.co.uk) come in from the field in the afternoons to be worked they get their feet and legs hosed, hooves picked out and left in their stable for at least 30 mins to relax before they’re groomed and prepared for work. They know now to expect this routine so I’m not sure they’d appreciate me pulling them straight out the field and doing a 45 minute schooling session. There is no right or wrong daily routine, the trick is to find what works best for your horse(s), bearing in mind that if you have more than one their preferred routine could be quite different, and do the best you can to provide that routine with all your other commitments.
UNDERSTANDING YOUR HORSE - Familiarise yourself with basic horse body language and watch him or her interact with their field mates. Find out where in the pecking order your horse currently is and where he is comfortable, maybe they’re currently in a position they’re not comfortable with or that the herd dynamics are in flux. Getting to know what is ‘normal’ for your horse is so important as, being his or her main caretaker, you’ll be able to pick up on when something is ‘off’ far sooner than the yard staff or fellow liveries. Try not to humanise your horses though. It’s easily done when we become emotionally attached but they have different needs and desires than us, essentially just food, water, shelter and companionship. They really don’t care whether their bandages match their saddle cloths or if their feed bucket is pink or green. They aren’t offended when another horse puts their ears back at them. They also don’t hold ambitions like we do - they don’t stand in the field wishing they could jump at Hickstead one day or gallop round Badminton. What they do look enjoy however, is time with you.
SPEND TIME WITH YOUR HORSE - and not just riding. Take 5 minutes to take your horse a carrot in the field. If you don’t have time to ride don’t skip your visit, instead pop in and give your horse a groom. The physical grooming will benefit your horse but the act of caring for your horse will relax them and make you feel good too!
GIVE YOUR HORSE A TREAT! - Not everyone is an advocate of giving horses treats, thinking it teaches them to nip but you don’t need to allow your horse to do that. I like to give my horses treats and unsurprisingly, I think they like me better for it! A carrot or an apple does the trick and wont rot their teeth like sugary mints. Associating me with a tasty treat has to be a good thing in my book!
None of this is rocket-science, and as horse owners and horse lovers we do most of this without thinking, but it always pays to keep these basic points in mind.
KAEquestrian on YouTube