If we are struggling to get our horses to do what we want them to do, instead of getting frustrated, upset or embarrassed we need to ask ourselves - does he trust me? Of course, in the heat of the moment, when loading, or at a show, or just being scrutinised by yard peers it can be a challenge to take ourselves out of a situation and view it from our horse's perspective, but it is so important - trust is the most important element of our relationship with our horses. The ability to make him or her feel safe is very much undervalued in training. It's far more important than obedience or that overused and abused word 'respect'.

If we think about it we will know in our gut if our horse trusts us. and it's a wonderful feeling if he does. But if we feel that this isn't the case then we need to ask ourselves what we can do to earn that trust. It doesn't come overnight, there are no short cuts, and it doesn't follow that because we adore our horse he will trust us. As we all know, horses have a huge self-preservation and flight instinct and that takes over if they feel unsafe - understandably they feel that they need to take charge of the situation to ensure their survival - it may sound dramatic, but in their perception it is really is life or death.

What trust is not is a de-sensitised obedience or the 'shut-down' result of flooding, used in some popular training methods. This is an illusion which disappears when there is a situation where trust is most needed. Trust is achieved by making the right decisions for our horses, never losing our tempers with them, always approaching them with an open heart and always giving them the opportunity to let us trust them too - it's a two-way thing. The energy of expectation is very powerful and if we are open and allow them to make good decisions they will blossom.

A few more tips which help to build trust:

  • Always be your horse's voice when dealing with vets/farriers/yard owners, etc. If you feel something is wrong or your horse is unhappy with something make sure you stand up for them in the most sensitive and intelligent way you can in that particular situation. It will not go unnoticed by your horse.

  • Always give your horse 'soak-time' when introducing them to a new situation/horse/person/piece of tack - let them process it. This is very important in loading and often the opposite happens and people try to rush the horse onto the lorry/trailer as stopping is seen as negative hesitation - this generally leads to an escalation of fear.

  • If you are about to groom your horse or treat them with, for example, a healing gel or a poultice, etc. then let your horse see and smell what you are about to put on their body and try to communicate that it will help them. It is courteous and reassuring - we wouldn't like it if someone came up to us and began putting sticky cream on our body or brushing our hair with no warning!

  • Show gratitude and appreciation for the slightest try on your horse's part. Even lifting a foot for us in anticipation of our wanting to pick it out is a sign that they are being helpful, even if it's formed of habit, and if we notice and thank our horse this is another small building block of trust.

So, trust is something that is achievable through day-to-day interactions and care and not something that is generally taught in a training session. Once trust begins between a person and their horse it grows and builds on itself and as well as being an important safety aspect of keeping horses (for example, being able to guide the horse out of a sticky situation out hacking or being able to load him/her when s/he needs to travel to the vet) it is a beautiful aspect of our lives with our horses.

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