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Margit Deerman

Building Rapport with your Horse

When we look at being the leader for our horse, we have to understand that the most important thing for him to believe is that we will keep him safe.  “Does my horse trust me know matter what?”  In order to get confidence in us we need to first make sure we have rapport with our horse.  Building rapport with a person you spend time with them.  You would not demand things on them or even ask them to keep doing things for you in the beginning.  But as your friendship grows, it becomes a two way street and then your friend will want to do things for you and you for them.  You may look forward to spending time just chatting over coffee first.  If you want partnership with your horse, it should be no different.  Usually we want something out of them.  First we want them to catch them, put the halter on, lead them somewhere, groom them, ride them, etc.  Whether they want to or not.  But did you ever think of just hanging out with them? That is what the herd does.  They hang out, grazing all day and may have a little play once in a while.

One year early on in my horsemanship journey, I was at the Parelli Campus in Colorado.  We were given the task of sitting in our horse’s pen each morning for ½ an hour before class for 10 weeks. We were to go in, away from our horse and sit still.  Not ask the horse to do anything.  Of course keeping safe was number one if they tried to maul you.  The class had their horses in pens next to each other.  And as I sat there, I saw that a lot of the other horses would go and check out their human.  Some would even go hang out next to their human.  But as I walked in to sit down, my horse Joe would look at me and then continue to eat hay with his butt to me.  I was so embarrassed as I watched my classmates each morning.  This went on for 9 weeks!  At this time, I was well into the program (5 years) and preparing for becoming an instructor.  We had already met all the requirements through the program levels.  But for these 9 weeks, I sat and had to really think hard about why my horse did not want to come over to me.  Week 10, I finally got a walk over sniff and back to his hay.  Wow! Did I learn the hard way.

So my conclusion after this exercise was…. My horse could do everything I asked him to only because I MADE him not because he WANTED to.  It was my idea not our idea together.  Principle #3 in Parelli Natural Horsemanship; Communication is two or more individuals sharing and understanding an idea.

When I returned home from Colorado, I turned him out to pasture.  I had another up and coming horse to focus on, so all I did with Joe was lots of hang out time with him, grazing, grooming, and carrots.  At first he wouldn’t come to me when I came to get him out of pasture, but over time he came running when he saw me.  He then began to really want to be with me.  He started to meet me at the gate each day.  He was happy to do things if I asked him to and did them with exuberance.   Our relationship began to blossom.   To this day, he is a happy horse and loves to be with me and offers to do things for me! Together!

This was such a huge lesson that my horse gave me and I share this often with my classes.  Looking through his eyes, I was not being a partner.  I now make Rapport a number one priority in my developing horses.  If I do something during our training time that breaks the relationship, I fix it right away!

With all the rain lately, it is a great time to be in the barn, grab a book and go sit with your horse and see what he says about your relationship.