Bonding With Your Horse

Spending time with your horse on the ground is good for you, it is a proven fact that petting animals can lower your stress levels!! It can also be very rewarding & beneficial when it comes to your riding. Getting to know your horse, their quirks, their likes and dislikes will only improve your bond together and your horse’s overall trust in you. 

When it came to working with Dante, working on the ground and translating things up into our riding became our go to routine at the beginning, and let me say it worked! He got over whelmed quickly and simply didn’t understand what it was I was asking of him, it came to a stage where you could nearly hear a sigh of relief from him when I used to stop to scratch him on the neck to calm him down whilst riding, it was as if he forgot I was on him at times! From lunging techniques to simply doing in hand walking exercises with him the techniques” were extremely helpful but when it came down to things, literally standing in the stable and putting time into getting to know Dante was all I really needed to do to really get a good grasp of his personality. 

When it comes to bonding with your horse bonding techniques” would be a term I would throw around loosely. Sometimes getting to know each other & gaining each others respect and trust can be the start of a blossoming relationship! I have listed a few things below, keeping in mind horses vary, different things work for different horse, but hey thats what this post is all about! Learning about your horse, and what he likes! 

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Body Language when to Give your Horse some Space

Your horse is capable of doing a lot more than you think. He will show you signs of aggression & aggravation way before you have a chance to pick up on them. From pinned back ears, tail swishing to foot stomping and one of the most obvious his facial expressions. Learn how to react & how to avoid these reaction as soon as you can. 

Stomping of the feet or pawing at the ground can simply be from being bored tied up to the wall, but at the same time your horse has to learn how to behave in these situations, and learn how to stand still. 

When your horse swishes his tail, he could be swatting away flies, during the summer the tail swish” is literally constant! So I wouldn’t pay too much attention to this, it is normally a slow and easy going back and forth swish, way different to the aggressive type. If your horse is feeling agitated that tail will be flicking everywhere, if your horse does this, give your horse some space, give him 5 10 minutes to relax and calm down, with a reassuring pat on the neck. If your horse is reacting to something, for example being tacked up or being touched in certain spots, the aggression is communication from your horse. Without noticing your horse is forever giving you indications of things, it’s a matter of paying attention to them and taking that time to notice. Do remember to stay calm, if you loose the plot in these situations your horses emotions can escalate, turning simple situations into very dangerous problems very quickly. 

Facial expressions on your horse, well these can simply be learned by watching their reactions. Give your horse something he doesn’t like the smell of and straight away you will get the lip curl and teeth showing goofy face! If your horse is afraid & alert, the ears will be pricked forward eyes wide and alert with their head high up in the air.

Getting to know your horse over time will give you an idea of what they like & dislike, looking at your horses ears while you’re riding can also be another massive indication of their mood or attitude to the work their doing! It has certainly helped me!! 

In Hand Work

I love in hand work, it can be so relaxing! Dont treat this as a job for them either, keep everything simple and chilled. Please always remember to put a head collar & a lead rope on your horse for the love of god, you dont want to get your hand stuck in a head collar if your horse spooks and runs off!!  

Walking your horse around the place, as ridiculous as it may sound, but it can be the answer to some major problems. Does your horse always spook at a certain object in the yard? Walk him in hand up to them and let him sniff it out for himself, hold him on a loose line and dont interfere! You are technically bonding with him during this situation, you are both facing his fear head on, you are there with your horse reassuring him. 

Recently I have started putting Dante on a lunge line & literally sat in a field with him as he ate grass around me! The grass I would  walk him out to would be the long luscious grass that he wouldn’t normally have in his paddock, so its almost like a reward for him. Its crazy to sit back and observe him, I bring out a bucket to sit on and while he may be in a daze eating away, he will never come too close to me, he seems cautious of my personal space! 


Watch Your Horses Stance

From reading the above section about in-hand work, it is also important to notice how your horse is approaching certain things, their stand their expression certainly gives a lot away!

For instance, if your horse is trembling/shaking, or hesitant to move forward they are telling you that they are absolutely petrified of something either in front, behind or beside them. One of the most obvious stances to watch out for is if your horse lifts one of his front or back legs or starts swinging his hindquarters. This simply means that they are getting ready to kick. So get the hell out of the way, move as far back from your horse as possible to prevent hurting yourself.

Causes for your horse to lash out or to kick out at you can be literally a mile long, they could be uncomfortable, you could be in their personal space, some horse may even lash out with their front legs if you go near them when they are eating food, every horse is different! It is a matter of learning the body language of your horse, and realising moments to get up and walk away from them or to calmly reassure them with your voice!

Grooming Your Horse

Grooming is one of the key tasks when it comes to bonding with your horse, not only does it give you some quality time together but you get to find out spots your horse dislikes, and spots your horse likes. Grooming and touching your horse all over for just a few minutes each day, even if its before you tack up,  will not only gain your horses trust, but by being gentle with him you show him respect in-turn he will only want to return in, making that bond stronger! 

Grooming your horse will not only teach your horse about personal space, but he will learn boundaries, young horses in particular may try to groom you back so be aware of this when you go to groom them! I have had a few nips on the shoulder from Dante trying to scratch me back when I give him rubs on the neck or on his withers, it is up to you to teach them that they cannot do that either! Its all about personal space, they need to learn where they stand, establish those boundaries!! 

If you are working with a young horse, one who is only getting used to human touch, start by touching him all over with just your hands. Doing this everyday will get him used to your touch. Be aware of the areas where he doesn’t feel comfortable being touched, some horses can be particular with their legs, but take it step by step and slowly begin to introduce grooming brushes, do let your horse sniff and snort and suss them out before hand, it will let them know that the object is safe, that it wont hurt them! 

Always try to focus on the areas your horse likes when your grooming, Many horses enjoy being touched around their withers and mane. Remember you are trying to bond with your horse its a different situation when your vigorously trying to get them cleaned up for a show! 

Remember that horses are social herd animals. They establish a social hierarchy in a herd, meaning that one horse will lead and the others will follow. You want to aim to be that herd leader, through consistent ground training, earning each others respect and bonding with each other you can establish the same type of leadership role that your horse will respond to and want to follow.

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Working at Liberty

Orla here, jumping in with one of my own helpful tips for growing that bond with your horse. Over the last few months I have started to work with Coco at liberty. For me, this essentially means that I let her off in the arena to wander and do her own thing. It originally started as a way for me to get some energy out of her without keeping her confined to a small space meaning she’s much less likely to hurt herself. But it has now turned into more of a bonding exercise for us.

I start these sessions by sending her off to go for a trot and a canter around the arena. This usually turns into a full on gallop run until she decides she’s ready to calm down. When I first started doing this, she would stop and stay out around the outside of the arena but the more we did it, the more she gradually started to come into me in the middle of the arena instead. It was like when she decided she was done having her fun, she was ready to come in and spend some time with me. From there I could walk anywhere around the arena and she would follow me. She’s gotten better and better each time and we are working our way up to her following me over jumps but it’s incredible how much of a difference it’s made. For such a basic exercise, it is quite effective. I definitely feel like she has much more trust in me now.


If you have the opportunity this is definitely something I would recommend trying. Of course liberty work can go so much farther than what I’ve detailed here. Coco has responded so well to what we’ve done so far, I’m contemplating learning more about it and maybe seeing how far we can go with it. But for now, Ill be happy to keep doing our little bonding sessions.

5 Simple Ways To bond with Your Horse

  1. Treat them to a massage! They may not technically need one, but who doesn’t love a good muscle rub out every now & then! I know Dante always feels like a new horse afterwards.
  2. Establish a routine & stick to it, If your horse can rely on you for certain things such as feeding him at a certain hour and bringing him in from the field the same time every day, they will rely on you & therefore you will earn a bucket full of trust.
  3. Have fun with your horse, go for that hack, bring them out of the yard for the day horses love & appreciate the adventure. And it will prevent boredom, as well as bond you together as a team, going out of the yard, you & your horse have literally only each other to rely on!
  4. Stable toys! Its winter, your horse is more than likely in that bit longer, tie a few carrots on strings and hang them from the roof, or throw in a few turnips they are guaranteed to give him an hour at least of chasing around after it!
  5. Be firm, consistent & patient. Stick to your guns! don’t give out to your horse for eating out of the haynet before you hang it up one day and then let him do it the next.

Patience is the key working with horses, especially when it comes to getting a that good bond with them. The moment you lose your patience or get aggressive with your horse, wave bye bye to that bond, you’re literally back to square one again! Horses will show you in many ways that they have a connection with you like running up to you in the field, neighing every time they see you (doesn’t count when they’re being fed!), to following you around the place, over time you will have your own specific bonding” rituals that will be unique to you both. So just be patient and do things you both like doing such as grooming or washing or even bringing him over to graze on the good lush bit of grass (one of Dante’s favourites!) 

Bonding with your horse is upto you, no one can do it for you, and unfortunately time will be the test of everything! 

Thanks for reading!


17 thoughts on “Bonding With Your Horse

  1. Loved this post! My favorite type of bonding with mine has got to be grooming, I could spend hours doing it. And you could see how they love it too!

  2. Yay! This couldn’t have come at a better time since I just bought Ferrous. Until now we’ve been riding a lot but tomorrow I had planned to give him a full massage and just spend some time together hand walking or in his paddock. These are great suggestions.

  3. Wow, this is awesome! You have really put effort to getting the trust and bond with your horse. I will definitely take some of these tips with me! I already have some of them in “the system”, but these are great!

    1. It came to a point where I had no choice, Dante is such a sensitive horse gaining trust on the ground with him was definately something I had to do before we could begin to trust each other in the saddle! I have a much more willing horse on my hands now, one I can actually work with!

  4. This is so great! ❤ I am a huge believer in bonding and ground work being the key to ridden success. I love to ride, but it is the time I spend with them just in their presence that matters. Letting them tell me where they want to be scratched (I have one that will literally put his ear at your hand because that is where he wants a scratch) or what type of grass they like to eat or a good deep grooming. Having that bond and communication on the ground really does translate to riding. Doing everything on the ground that you would do while riding. You can really know when, as you said, they need to just have a little decompressing break. To know that you are listening to them, are there for them, and want to work through it together. That they are not alone.

  5. These are great suggestions and tips. I sometimes forget that their own set of body language and facial expressions can play into our bond if I don’t pay attention – thank you!

  6. I have just purchased a horse after a 40year break. I recovered from colon cancer and decided to go back to what l loved to do involving with animals. It’s great to read your comments and refresh my memory after all this time. I spend quality time every day with my lovely new Welsh pony as every horse owner should do.

    1. Hi Sarah! Wow! great to hear your back in the saddle after an amazing recovery 🙂 Nothing beats some quality time with your horse or pony, in these strange times I count myself very lucky to have it!

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