The Problem Of Frustration - Building Trust and Understanding Between Horse and Human

Contributed by Emma Phillipson

Every horse owner dreams of having a wonderful, loving, mutually beneficial relationship with their horse. We want our relationships with our horses to work on a semi-symbiotic level, human and animal complementing and understanding each other perfectly, having developed a human/horse bond built upon a basis of perfect trust. In practice, however, this can be more difficult than it seems to obtain. Horses, of course, are different creatures to humans. Their minds work in very different ways - and these differences can cause frustration to arise on both sides. It's nobody's fault, really - it's simply a basic incomprehension of the other's motives and aims. That frustration - despite the best intentions of human and horse - can lead to actions which may cause a breach in trust. For anyone to develop the ideal relationship with their horse, they need to learn to understand their horse, to keep their frustration in check, and to utilize techniques which will build the kind of trust which can overcome comprehension barriers.

The Trailer Problem

Training horses to trailers is a classic example of a situation where misunderstandings can cause damaging frustrations to spring up between horse and owner. To the owner, it does not seem unreasonable for the horse to enter this safe and secure space (often filled with tasty equine treats). However, horses are notoriously fearful of things which are new even when they do not have to interact directly with them. For the horse, entering and being enclosed by something which is entirely new and unfamiliar is a prospect against which they instinctively shy. This leads to an awkward situation where the horse utterly refuses to go into the trailer and the owner - who perhaps has somewhere to go in a hurry - becomes increasingly short-fused and perhaps tries to force the recalcitrant horse to enter. Should the forcing be successful, the horse is subjected to what is for it a terrifying ordeal wherein they are dragged in an unfamiliar moving enclosure at unknown speeds through unfamiliar territory, with vehicles roaring past on all sides. Terrified horses may barge around, or even rear and kick. Although a good insurer should cover you for any damage thus caused, they cannot compensate you for the inevitable loss of trust that putting your horse through this experience which is, for them, incomprehensible and scary, will engender.

Building A Bond

Rather, therefore, than becoming frustrated and forcing your horse into activities which it finds alien, it is far better to build up a solid basis of trust by treating your horse with kindness and respect, and gently habituating it to new experiences before subjecting it to them. If your horse becomes accustomed to the idea that you are a safe person, who is on their side and has their best interests at heart, you will reap the rewards. Being gentle and kind to your horse will work wonders, and trying to build a bond through physical touch and closeness cannot hurt. Techniques like Tellington Ttouch help you to groom, stroke, and scratch your horse in a manner which will promote bonding. It is also, obviously, very important to care properly for your horse, and ensure that all its physical and environmental needs are catered for. A poorly-kept horse will be stressed, and - as everyone who's ever made their family suffer while they struggled to meet a deadline knows - stress is not conducive to good relationships.

Gaining Understanding

Perhaps most importantly, try to learn something about your horse. Each horse has its own individual quirks, so observe your horse, learn about what it likes and about what distresses it. That way, you will be prepared for situations which it may be uncomfortable with, and will have a good enough knowledge of its personality to school it through such situations effectively. Also try to gain an understanding of equine behavior and psychology. This will enable you to appreciate why your horse sometimes behaves in ways which seem incomprehensible and irrational to your human way of thinking. Understanding that many horses prefer to be approached from the left, for example, can render your own interactions with the horse much more fulfilling and productive, as well as helping you to understand why your horse may spook at things which approach from the right while out on a ride. There are hundreds of books, websites, and courses available from which you can gain a greater understanding of your horse. It is knowledge worth gaining - as it can only lead to better understanding, less frustration, and therefore greater trust between you and your horse.