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Mind-Body Horsemanship

What is Connection and How to Bond with a Horse

It was always my dream to have a special connection with a horse. To have the kind of bond with a horse like the Black stallion and his boy. A horse who comes when I call, waits for me at the gate and respond to my thoughts. A horse who greets me with a nicker, ears always forward, ready to play.

A horse who loves me as much as I love him…

How to Bond with a Horse - Connection vs. Relationship

I know that if you are reading this post, an incredible bond with your horse is your dream too! But maybe you’re already frustrated because other methods have failed to give you the kind of relationship you want. Or your horse is aloof and no matter how many treats or how much ‘undemanding time’ you spend, things aren’t improving. I’ve been there.

I’m happy to tell you that things are about to change!

You don’t have to be a naturally talented horse whisperer or born into a ‘horsey’ family to have a great bond with a horse. YOU can create the kind of connection and mutually loving relationship with your horse that you are dreaming of. And you can do it faster than you think!

What I have to share with you is going to revolutionize your approach to horses.

But first, let’s acknowledge that it’s a good time to be a domesticated horse.

The Revolution of Natural Horsemanship

The past 20 years have seen a revolution in horsemanship, with more focus on studying horse behavior, “psychology” and a return to more classical training methods.

Natural Horsemanship goes by many names these days, like Relationship-based, Horse-friendly, Evidence-based, or things like Heart-Centered or Motivational training methods.

People are spending more time observing and studying horses, and taking the time it takes to build bonds with horses. Riding lessons the world over now regularly include groundwork and how to read a horses body language.

This has elevated the level of awareness and competence on a global scale. I wish I had learned this stuff back when I was a kid… but:

Mastering Body Language is not Enough to ‘get’ Connection

There is a whole lot going on under the surface in our bodies and minds that influences how we feel, think and act. And of course, our mental, emotional and physiologic state has a big impact on how we are perceived by the horse!

In this video, you’ll find just one example of how we can tap into the power of the Self by using our posture and it’s affect on our neuro-chemistry to change how we are perceived by others, and how we feel about ourselves!

The Problem

Despite this global shift in horsemanship, I’m still seeing many, many horses in chronic states of distress and poor health. Even at the top levels of international competition or in the barns of some famous horsemanship gurus!

It seems like everywhere I look I see horses expressing varying levels of tolerance, lameness, or being “tuned out.” I have also observed horses performing in sport or at liberty and being obedient, but without the open facial expression or the natural eye-contact, exuberance and engagement of a healthy happy horse. These are signs of a loss of connection to the body, to the self and to the present moment.

There are also an epidemic proportion of seemingly well-trained horses showing symptoms of learned helplessness – the ultimate expression of a loss of connection to freedom or free will…

I have had ample opportunity to make these observations in my role as an Equine Hanna Somatics® Educator. I’ve been lucky to work with hundreds (probably thousands) of horses all over the US, Canada, and in 7 EU countries so far.

Here’s what I’m getting at.

The horses I describe above may be DOing all the ‘relationship’ things we have been taught to look for – staying with the human, being light, responsive, and obedient, remaining calm in the face of stimuli like flapping tarps, gunshots and bouncing balls.

They clearly have a relationship with their handlers, but what kind of relationship is it?

Leader-Follower? Mutual friendship? 51/49 Partnership? Dominant-Obedient? Cookie-Dispenser/Cookie Monster?

When we spend any time at all with a horse, of course we start to have a relationship, but is it based on connection, or something else?

The problem comes from most folks thinking that connection and relationship are the same thing. They are not.

The Difference Between Connection & Relationship

We all know that we need to be investing in the Relationship with our horses. Most training methods these days talk about “putting the relationship first,” building confidence and winning the horses trust. I think this is fantastic!

But it takes a lot of time.

Time getting to know a horse by hanging out in the barn or pasture. Showing up to the barn between training sessions to take your horse for a walk or do some hand-grazing. Extra grooming and scratching to find all their itchy places. You know, building the bond with your horse.

Of course we DO need to be doing all these important things, but time is a valuable commodity.

In my Equine Hanna Somatics practice, I often only get to see a horse once. In that very first meeting I have to get that horse to trust me, understand my instructions and follow my guidance.

As you will get to experience if you join my 7-Day Somatics for Riders FREE Challenge, in order for Hanna Somatics to be effective, and to give us the immediate mind-blowing results that are possible, each body, be it horse or human, must voluntarily participate in the session.

When I’m working with clients, I don’t have hours to spend getting to know the horse. I have only minutes to go from complete stranger to trustworthy acquaintance so I can begin my work.

Here’s my point:

I don’t have time to build a Relationship with these horses – but a Connection can be formed in an instant.

A gentle connection between horse and human - bonding with a horse.

Ever seen two horses who have never met before get into a trailer together, and come out an hour later as completely bonded besties? Or how about when you’re out trail riding, or hacking around the showgrounds for the first time, and your horse is suddenly drawn to a horse in an arena or field nearby?

Horses are naturally drawn to connect – it’s a herd-animal thing. We just have to provide the kind of connection they are looking for!

What does it mean to Connect with a Horse?

I believe Connection is the doorway to building relationships and dialogues. But what is Connection, exactly?

Connection can be a feeling or emotion that you feel for a horse, or a horse feels for you. The best connections are the ones that are mutual, like eye contact, reaching for each other at the same time, or that feeling of being together, of oneness.

Connection can be physical, like an affectionate touch, nose-nudge or a steady feel that has some meaning and intention behind it. Sitting on a horse is the most obvious physical connection, but it can be as subtle as the connection from hand-to-mouth through the reins, or out at a longer distance like on a longe or lariat line.

Connection can also be energetic, or something very subtle that borders on telepathy. It’s like getting a ‘vibe’ or a feeling that you are on the same wavelength with a horse. This is most often described by equestrians as that “one perfect ride” where it felt like “my horse was moving off my every thought.” You know, that ride that once we are lucky enough to feel, we are forever trying to get again? That one.

A connection, once made, is an invitation for communication.

There are three main categories of connection that I recognize in my horsemanship program. I use these strategically to speed up the bonding and training process. I go into detail about all three categories of connection in my book, which you can download for free by clicking here.

If we want to bond with a horse, I believe that connection should be the foundation for everything we do with them.

As I see it, the flaw in this revolution in horsemanship is that while the relationship is front and center, simple Connection is not given the attention or emphasis it deserves.

With connection and the desire for communication, we can build vocabulary. With some mutually understood vocabulary, we can start to converse or begin a dialogue as we build language together.

Bond with a Horse by Inviting an Inter-Species Dialogue

I’d like to share with you the guidelines that I have developed to invite dialogues with horses. These guidelines enable us to quickly gain trust, and generally ensure that the horses are voluntarily participating.

The 5 things that I’m going to share with you are also the best way I know to keep both you and the horses safe. I call them The Five Agreements – because if the goal is to invite a dialogue, then we had better start with mutuality from GO.

In my approach, we use connection to create the framework for building the relationship.

Following these agreements causes both parties to engage in self-carriage and healthy posture. A horse and human team who are connected will move with enhanced awareness of one another as well as of the environment and the self. This encourages physical relaxation and balance.

Each of the 5 Agreements applies equally to horse and human. I could, and do, teach entire clinics on these 5 concepts. But in these challenging times – I wanted to reach more people, and help more horses, so I put them into a book!

If you’d like to learn more, enter your name and email into the form below, and I’ll email you a book download link, so you can keep geeking-out with me on Connection!

By Alissa Mayer

I’m a horse-girl obsessed with Hanna Somatics and behavioral science, which led me to develop a whole new approach to Horsemanship, Riding and Fitness. Find me in riding tights, eating pumpernickel bagels and working from home with my twins playing nearby and my horses out the window. My mission? To help horses and riders (and mama’s!) to unleash their inner athletes and feel great every day!

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