How To Tell If A Horse Trusts You
Something every horseback rider wants to know is whether or not their horse trusts them. Having a horse that fully trusts you can help you win riding competitions and avoid dangerous situations, so I created this guide to help you learn the signs that your horse trusts you.
How can you tell if your horse trusts you? A horse that trusts you will be willing to follow your instructions even when you ask them to do something they haven’t done before, they’ll come to you when you go to get them, and they will respect you and your personal space.
These are the general signs to look for when trying to determine whether or not a horse trusts you, but there are a number of other signs you can be on the look for that will help you tell if you have your horse’s trust:
Signs Your Horse Trusts You
Horses Trust You When They Follow Your Instructions
One of the easiest ways to tell whether or not your horse trusts you is by how they respond to the instructions that you give to them.
If a horse is confident in your authority and leadership, they are far more likely to follow your instructions when faced with a situation that intimidates them or a patch full of lush grass ripe for the taking.
A horse that trusts you will have faith that you’re not leading them into harm’s way when you’re asking them to do something new. While every horse has it’s own quirks and things they might be afraid or nervous of at first, when they trust you, you shouldn’t have much difficulty correcting these behaviors.
Desensitization training is a great way to get your horse used to unusual situations and help them learn that you can be trusted. For more information on how you can desensitize your horse, I put together a guide for you here.
A Horse Trusts You When They Come To You
Another sign that will help you tell whether or not your horse trusts you is how they react when you go to get them.
If your horse runs away from you, it’s likely because they negatively associate you with too much hard work and not enough reward. When this is the case, they’ll much prefer to stay in their field or stall where they can eat in peace rather than being put through the paces.
The key to correcting this is by teaching them that they can trust that you’ll reward them when they put in the hard work. While it is possible to get your horse to come to you by simply showering them in treats, I find it’s healthier and more rewarding to train your horse to come to you without being coaxed by a treat.
If you have particular trouble with getting your horse to come to you, here’s an article I wrote that covers the topic in more depth and will help you implement a treat-free solution.
A Horse Trusts You When They Respect You
When it comes to horses, trust and respect go hand in hand. If you’re inconsistent in your training, you don’t give definitive instructions, you let your horse call all the shots, and you never spend time simply enjoying your horse, you’ll have a difficult time garnishing any respect from them.
Horses out in a field naturally establish a pecking order over time, where one horse becomes the leader. In the process of establishing this order, the horses challenge one another and continue to do so even after a leader has been established.
Your goal as a horse owner must be to gain your horse’s respect by establishing yourself as the leader in the relationship. This is done by being firm and assertive, but also gentle and kind by being ready to praise your horse when they make any type of progress.
Your horse will inevitably challenge you from time to time, so you must always be ready to be firm when necessary in order to maintain their respect, and in turn, trust.
A Horse Trusts You When When They Allow You To Touch Them
If a horse is unfamiliar with you, they might be cautious about allowing you to touch them. This is especially true for horses that were abused by their previous owner, or that have never had much human interaction.
By nature, horses are fight or flight animals. Although they typically choose flight if it’s an option. When a horse doesn’t know you, their instincts tell them that you could be a predator. And where do preditors most commonly attack their prey? The head and neck area.
If a horse doesn’t trust you, they’ll exhibit the most fear and discomfort when you attempt to touch their neck, face, and ears. However, be cautious that you don’t mistake negative reactions to physical touch as a trust issue when it’s actually a medical issue. You can learn more about this in my article about dealing with a head shy horse.
As you gain your horse’s respect by spending time with them and doing groundwork, they’ll naturally become more comfortable with allowing you to touch them. But if they still seem trepidatious, the article I mentioned above can help.
Horses Trust You When They’re At Ease Around You
A horse’s body language can tell you a lot about what’s going on inside their minds. When a horse trusts you, they should exhibit relaxed body language. Here are a few signs that a horse isn’t at ease:
- Their bottom lip is tight
- Their nostrils are tense
- Their tail is moving quickly or not at all
- Their ears are pinned back on their head, or alert and facing you
Horses that are at ease around you will have an overall relaxed demeanor. The longer you spend around horses, the easier it becomes to tell if something isn’t right with your horse.
Tips For Making Your Horse Trust You More
If you’ve noticed your horse exhibiting any of the signs of distrust that I’ve mentioned above, then the next step is to begin implementing solutions that will help your horse gain trust and confidence in you. Here are a few of the best methods I’ve used to gain my horse’s trust:
Make Your Horse Trust You By Being A Good Leader
As I mentioned previously, horses out in a field naturally establish a pecking order where one horse becomes the leader. In your relationship with your horse, it’s vital that you establish yourself as the leader in the relationship.
You go about this by being firm with your horse when you ask them to do something. If they don’t respond correctly or in a timely manner, you should teach them that it’s more work for them to disobey than to comply.
On the flip side, you don’t want to control your horse with fear by being overly aggressive with them. Whenever your horse makes an effort to do something you’ve asked, make sure you reward them and encourage them in the behavior.
It helps me to go into each training session with underachieving goals. By setting a series of smaller goals working up to my main goal, I am more likely to give my horse praise when they deserve it and the horse is less likely to become burnt out and start to negatively associate me with too much hard work.
Gain Your Horse’s Trust By Doing Groundwork
Groundwork is a key component in strengthening your relationship with your horse. If you want your horse to trust you when you’re in the saddle, they first need to trust you on the ground.
Groundwork allows you to slowly push through any mental barriers your horse might have by gradually introducing them to new challenges. As they overcome the challenges harm-free, they begin to learn that they can do what you ask with confidence.
Whenever I’ve let up on my groundwork, I can always notice a difference in my horse. They start to become disinterested, more likely to spook, and less willing to follow my instructions. That said, make sure you set aside time for groundwork every single week! Here are my 5 favorite groundwork exercises to help you get started.
Make Your Horse Trust You By Rewarding Them
Lastly, a great way to gain your horse’s trust is by consistently rewarding them for their efforts. You can reward your horse by giving them a few treats after a hard workout, brushing them, and spending time with them as they graze. Just being around them, even without an intense training session, will help them start to trust you more.
You know you’re really doing something right when your horse always wants to follow you around. Check out my article here on how you can make your horse follow you!
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