How Important Is the Horse Human Connection?
I’ve had some great experiences with horses over many years and some bad ones. What’s been the difference?
I think the essential difference has been the quality of the horse-human connection. It’s been the strength of the relationship between me and my horses. I can look back over 55 years of horse experience and separate the horses into the trusted companions and the problem horses, and with hindsight I can attribute the differences to the quality of the horse-human connection.
An example of a “good relationship” horse is Tiger. Although he was only a three-year old when I owned him, he saved 13-year-old-me in some situations that could have been disasters without a trusting relationship.
After Tiger, my family moved to the suburbs and riding became rare and on rented horses. I entered the US Navy after high school and the regimentation and results-focus of military life may have impacted my views of the horse-human relationship.
Nearing retirement from the Navy, I purchased an Appaloosa mare and after a rocky start, she became a “good relationship” horse that I owned for 24 years. My problems started with her replacements. When the problems started, I fell back on exercises and drills from videos and books. They didn’t really help.
My horse-human relationship conversion started when I attended the Best Horse Practices Summit in Durango, Colorado, in 2017. I watched several demonstrations by a clinician named Warwick Schiller, was very impressed, and started a subscription to his video training series online.
One of Warwick’s videos is called, “Ten Year Old Girl Training” and he describes riding a new horse an an equine event in Australia and having trouble staying on the horse. A little later in the event, the same horse is shown by its 10 year old owner in an obstacle class, and the horse does a fantastic job for the little girl.
Warwick describes his realization that his relationship with the horse is of critical importance, and he talks about how he’s incorporating relationship building in his time with his horses. In another video he observes that you can’t have control over a horse when you have no connection with the horse.
Warwick has revised his video training series based on this epiphany. When I watch his videos, I can tell the pre-relationship videos from the post-relationship ones. There’s a real difference in how he works with the horses and how they respond to him.
My Epiphany About the Horse Human Connection
I’ve really thought about Warwick’s video a lot and thought about my riding over the years and my work with horses over the years, and I’ve realized that my relationship with my horses went missing as an older rider. The horse human connection was sacrificed due to the demands of work and a misplaced reliance on doing exercises.
I’ve spent a lot of time on ground work and videos and time and money going to clinics and that sort of thing. I didn’t spend a lot of time on building the connection with the horse. All of my time with my horses was structured time. I was either doing exercises in the round pen or exercises riding in the pasture.
Now I’ve changed what I do, and I’m changing the direction of Saddle Up Again to align with improving the horse-human relationship. I’m still going to be talking about how to ride better when you’re not a youngster anymore, and how to train better when you’re not a youngster anymore. But that connection, building that trust, building that confidence is going to be an important part of it.
Is Your Horse Human Connection Important to Your Work with Horses?
So does improving the horse human connection apply to older riders? I think it does. Many of us have more time to work with our horses. Many of us have become more patient as we’ve grown older. Most of us realize that we’ll have trouble forcing our horses to do something, and if we come off our horses, most of us understand that we don’t bounce as well as we used to.
There are never guarantees that you can’t come off your horse or that you can’t get hurt working with your horses, but my experience is that accidents are less likely and good experiences are more likely if you’ve developed a good relationship — a good partnership — with your horse.
What do you think? What’s been your experiences in working with horses? Please share in the comments below.