I’m sure you’re familiar with this word being used in relation to horses, but what does it mean and how do you get it? A dictionary translation is ‘a relationship in which a person or thing is linked or associated with something else’. We can rewrite this as ‘a relationship in which a person is linked with a horse’. There are two important words here, relationship and linked. A relationship is a two way thing and a linkage is the connection. You cannot make your horse connect with you, you can only invite and then they will choose. Sometimes they may choose not to connect with you and you must accept that.
I recently conducted a workshop and at the end a few people were talking with me and said that for them everything changed once they formed a connection with the horses. Once the connection was formed all the problems they’d been having with their horses weren’t there anymore. They’d wanted me to work on their problems but I couldn’t because the horses weren’t having them. One woman, as she sat on her well behaved horse, even said to me she was having trouble being convinced that we’d fixed her problems because I hadn’t worked on them. I explained to her I couldn’t work on something that wasn’t there, that the technique she’d learnt for connecting was all she needed. She was challenged by this idea as it goes against all the ‘traditional’ methods of horse training. Traditionally we make horses repetitively work at something until they do it the way we want them to. This way we just connect, then ask, and the horses say yes.
So how to connect? Starting a conversation with your horse by asking them to just be with you is a great place to start. Not asking them to do anything, just being in the present moment with you with mutual respect for each other’s space. Not permitting the horse to barge into your space, tune you out or walk forward and not doing the same to your horse. Standing a respectful distance and being calm and open and present. If you can remain still and calm, after a while all the fidgeting will disappear and the horse will calmly stand beside you. Focusing on a point with your eyes and being aware of your breathing can help.
Once you have achieved this you can do some yields. Asking (not telling) your horse to yield the head to the side and rewarding instantly when they do. Asking for head drop, rein back and hindquarter yield also gives you the chance to say to your horse that you will recognise their every response to your ask. This is an important conversation. If you ask your horse to do something and they do it but you keep asking, you will lose them as they will start to tune you out. This is necessary for the horses’ survival in the human world, if you are not listening to them they have no choice but to stop talking. This conversation is not about getting the horse to yield. It’s about telling the horse you are listening. If you are 100% with this your horse will start to trust you. If your horse trusts you they will do as you ask.
From here you can do circle work with Face-Up, Join-Up and Follow-Up if you still feel a need for further connection. Ensure you are responding to all your horses’ communications and not sending them around in mindless circles. Also using advance/retreat methods by asking your horse to face you, then when they do dropping your gaze and taking a few backwards steps. Repeating this process results in the horse coming to you and following you. There are many different methods that can be used for connection, some suit one horse and some another. It's worth experimenting and finding out what creates the strongest connection between you and your horse.
And then there are no problems to fix. There may be skills that you want to teach your horse but this is totally different to fixing problems. Skills teaching is a situation where you are the trusted teacher who can help the horse navigate through this sometimes confusing world. For both fixing problems and teaching skills connection will smooth the path and open communication so that all you need do is to ask. This is connection.
Suzy Maloney B.Eq.Sc.
Happy Horses Bitless
Lismore, NSW, Australia
Ph: 0401 249 263
Facebook: Happy Horses Bitless Bridles