I recently had a powerful result with a client from doing connection exercises. He told me he had been spending 90 minutes treating greasy heel on his horse, and he was doing it daily. The horse was sore, and constant rain meant they were not getting better. I was impressed by his dedication but felt this was not sustainable. I asked if I could work with his horse for a while and proceeded to do some connection exercises. Later, after I left, he messaged me saying he had been able to treat his horse in 20 minutes. The following day he did the connection exercises I’d showed him and completed the task in 10 minutes. This had gone from 90 minutes to 10 minutes! Even I was amazed at such a huge response. He said he now realised he needed to connect with his horse before everything. I was over the moon at his understanding of how important connection is. The following is a brief introuction to some of my connection exercises.
Follow the Leader – I do this whenever I meet a new horse or if there have been issues. It establishes me in the role of herd leader, a trusted person who will look after them. In a halter and lead I walk off in front of the horse and expect them to follow me. If they do not, they will bump into the end of the rope. Usually this lets them know they need to follow me. If they do not, I walk off sidewards a bit and squeeze on the rope. The moment the horse follows I make sure there is slack in the rope again. Every time they stop, they feel the rope, every time they follow, they feel nothing. Every now and then I stop and go or do gentle turns. Gentle turns make it easier for your horse to follow. Yields – These help the horse release their entire body. I ask them to yield the head towards me and away, both sides, the hindquarters, and shoulders both sides, forward and backwards and dropping the head. This is a lot of yields, and it may take a few sessions before your horse is comfortable with all of them. Circles – I do this on a 12’ lead, this also establishes me as herd leader and introduces the horse to watching for my body and to voice cues. I ask them to move around me by twirling the end of the rope and clicking. When they move forward, I remove all pressure. I do this both sides and only in walk and trot as it’s too small a circle for canter. Following – Another following exercise to reinforce and check our connection. This time I do not want to put any pressure on the rope, I step out and use my body language to invite the horse to follow me. By this stage they should be tuned in to me and will follow me everywhere with zero pressure. Touching all Over – By now I am hoping the horse sees me as a trusted leader. This exercise tests this and softens the horses’ body, helping them to relax even more. In halt I throw the lead over the horses’ neck, or ground tie, and walk around touching every part of the horse’s body. This includes inside nostrils, the mouth, nipples, sheath, under the dock, everywhere. If the horse moves at any point, I hold my hand on and wait until they still, remove my hand, then repeat until they do not move. Presence – This is something that is within all the other exercises, it is not a separate exercise. By presence I mean being totally and completely with the horse. Being aware of every tiny little signal they give, having nothing in the mind, being present and open to the communication that is flowing constantly backwards and forwards. With these tools, connection with your horse should grow into a beautiful relationship where they trust you and feel safe. When this happens, issues may change or disappear, without ever working directly on them. Everything, absolutely everything, is easier with horses if you connect with them first.