When it comes to loving your horse, how do you show it? You may never have considered what your horse’s needs are when it comes to affection. It’s not about us, it’s not ME-search, it’s a bit of research. Each horse is a little different in what they want as affection and our job should be to figure out what constitutes affection for them.
Horses will focus on you when you focus on them. Being present and in tune with your time together builds trust between both of you like no other attribute. Have you noticed when two horses, who may have never met before a long trailer ride together, can be so bonded at the end of the trip that they are practically inconsolable?
The quality of your time together matters to the horse. Just going through the motions to ride and train your horse is a lot less effective than being fully present and noticing all the nuances of their demeanor that day. Staying off your phone and actively watching how they are taking in their environment or lesson is relational. You might ask them for more effort, or you might back off the training, depending on how well you read your horse.
Be mindful and present with your horse, even when you bathe and groom him. Which leads to another important act of love for your horse, how you physically touch your horse. Notice how horses groom each other when turned out. Often they will stand next to each other, facing opposite directions, each scratching the other’s withers. They enjoy being scratched and stroked. They don’t like being patted as much, it can actually raise their adrenaline. They can be trained to tolerate it, but that isn’t love.
Temple Grandin is an author of animal behavior books and is also autistic, making her an expert in the sensitivities of the flight animal. When we spoke recently, she told me that she has to remind horse owners all the time not to pat their horses. Instead, she suggests, find their horse’s favorite spots and safely give them an affectionate rub. Favorite areas are on the neck and chest where they can’t reach. This kindness helps build a horse’s confidence in your relationship.
With that respectful touch, I suggest you add your voice in gentle tones of affection which your horse will recognize as a language between you both. The words matter less than the resonating sounds you utter at times of praise or when you greet your horse. Those sounds plus the rubs and strokes can cause relaxation in a horse and affirmation for jobs well done, in the saddle and from the ground. Horses read our intentions very well and know the difference between praise and annoyance. Horses want to please you. Help them understand what actions you are rewarding.
Most owners love it when they hear their horse nicker to them when they see you coming. You might say they recognize your car or your voice in the barn aisle, horses do learn to know those who spend time with them. Some owners admit it might be the treats they bring to the barn every time they arrive. While these gifts are welcomed by your horse, they can create more problems for your relationship than you might imagine.
My father, Monty Roberts, contends that no blade of grass has ever run from a horse and food is not a reward like it is for a dog or a cat. Treats given from the human body can turn a gentle horse into a biter. If you insist on feeding treats, toss them in a feed bucket rather than feed from the hand, so your horse is not blamed for poor training. Rewards for a horse come in the form of release of pressure. Rest and relaxation, a cessation of work, is a greater reward than treats. While horses won’t refuse treats, these are not as comforting for them as a good rub.
If you want to serve your horse, a much better act of love and affection is to see that he has a clean water trough, fresh bedding and maybe a quiet walk about the place with you as a change of pace. Well fitted and comfortable tack makes a good experience for your horse. Horses appreciate clear leadership decisions by us too, for their trust in your ability to protect the herd. If you are trustworthy, you are to be followed and remembered.
The best way to observe your horse’s preferred forms of affection is to watch them in a field with other horses. Does your horse initiate the grooming on other horses or is he more reserve. Does your horse have a sense of humor, playfully tagging other horses and raising the energy level of the herd? Or is he the one who waits for the ruckus to subside and wanders off for a good roll in a soft spot? Your horse will appreciate that you notice the difference and love them accordingly.
Debbie Roberts Loucks
"I want the horse to want to be with me."— Monty Roberts
MONTY ROBERTS AVAILABLE FOR SELECT INTERVIEWS:
The New York Times bestselling author and world-renowned horse trainer Monty Roberts is available for interviews.
MONTY ROBERTS first gained widespread fame with the release of his New York Times Best Selling book, The Man Who Listens To Horses; a chronicle of his life and development of his non-violent horse training methods called Join-Up®. Monty grew up on a working horse farm as a firsthand witness to traditional, often violent methods of horse training and breaking the spirit with an abusive hand. Rejecting that, he went on to win nine world's championships in the show ring. Today, Monty's goal is to share his message that "Violence is never the answer." Roberts has been encouraged by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II with the award of the Membership in The Royal Victorian Order, as well as becoming Patron of Join-Up International. Other honors received were the ASPCA "Founders" award and the MSPCA George T. Angell Humanitarian Award and FEI’s Man of the Year. Monty was recently included as Horse and Hound Magazine’s Top 50 Horsemen of All Time. Monty is credited with launching the first of its kind Equus Online University; an interactive online lesson site that is the definitive learning tool for violence-free training.
JOIN-UP philosophies can be seen at work with both humans and horses across the world, from farms to major corporations. To learn more about Monty Roberts or the many applications of his Join-Up training methods, visit www.montyroberts.com. Horse Sense and Soldiers aired on Discovery Military in 2010 highlighting the therapeutic effect horses and Monty Roberts' Join-Up® have on PTSD. Soon after Monty and his team developed the Horse Sense & Healing program for veterans and first responders. Lead-Up International was officially launched worldwide at the Monty Roberts International Learning Center in Solvang, California, in February 2017. The purpose of Lead-Up International is to reduce violence in the community by creating peaceful leaders from vulnerable youth utilizing equine-assisted therapy and non-verbal communication, building trust-based relationships.
Media Contact: Debbie Loucks
Monty and Pat Roberts, Inc.