I thought I had a good bond with my horse…

I hear this phrase from a lot of people. It’s startling and disappointing for people who have gotten a horse that they think likes them and then they find out the horse doesn’t want to do what he or she is asked. In some cases, the horse has “chosen” them in some way, and they feel a special bond with the horse right from the beginning. Why isn’t that bond carrying them through? Why aren’t they riding that horse through magical landscapes with the sun setting golden in the west?


For one thing, we have preconceived notions and the horse does not. We imagine a future with this horse and the horse doesn’t imagine that. The horse feels a connection or “bond” with the person but it isn’t based upon performance. We need to take performance out of the equation and not have expectations before we can ask for performance. Then, in order to create the kind of bond that can lead to performance, we need what Carolyn Resnick calls a “working bond.”

A working bond is based upon herd behaviors that resonate with the horse. The more we speak horse language in our body and ways, the stronger the working bond can be. The horse has to want to do the activity the human is asking. The human must learn about the horse and find out what he or she likes to do. What piques her curiosity? What foods does she like? Where does she like to hang out? With whom? What behaviors does she like to engage in?

[Catherine Sobredo Photography]
[Catherine Sobredo Photography]

By working with the Waterhole Rituals developed by Carolyn Resnick we develop a working bond. We expose what the horse’s preferences are and we meet the horse where he is in his development, in his thinking, what is important to him. When you meet someone, for example, you don’t immediately start thinking of things for them to do. You ask questions, find out what they like to do, who are their friends, what they might do in their spare time. The Waterhole Rituals provide a similar context for horses.

What do you feel when your horse won’t do what you ask? Sometimes owners get frustrated or angry because their horse won’t follow a simple request. Once we get frustrated or angry we need to stop what we’re doing and go sit somewhere and meditate. Breathe. Leave the horse. Begin again. Recognize what part of this is your stuff and what part is the horse’s stuff. Sometimes they have baggage too. And once you notice what is your own, you can begin to find your way back to what  you feel like in your body when you feel comfortable hanging out with your horse. And sit with that for a moment or two.

Sometimes the disconnect is in the asking; sometimes the horse is unable to follow that request. By really knowing the horse and finding out what the horse can do and how it can receive information, a working bond starts to form. Every horse I’ve ever met can do many of these rituals within the first day they are introduced because they have the rituals in their DNA. A horse may get excited when he feels “met”, that someone understands him and gives him space to make choices.

Even so, for humans, the Rituals may seem frustrating at times because the human may feel their horse should progress faster than they are. Depending on where the horse has been in its life will have a lot to do with how fast he or she will move through the Rituals. But it will also depend upon who is teaching the Rituals. For the most part, once we learn them, they are easy, and then they can get challenging. That’s when owners might want to bring in the help of a suggested or certified trainer to help with some of the sticky parts.

As a rule of thumb, if you hit a big snag, you can go back to a Ritual that is comfortable to the horse, and move forward again. Also, track your own emotions and how you feel in your body when different things occur in the training process. Notice also the mood of the horse during different activities – is he curious, bored, enthusiastic, hyper, disengaged? You are aiming for curiosity and enthusiasm. Not every Ritual will elicit this response or even the same response every time.

For this reason, this work requires being very flexible. At our Spring Clinic which I will report on in an upcoming blog, we worked with a wide variety of horses. Each were motivated basically by territory and food, like all horses, but they were each very different, so the work I did was tailored to meet the needs of each horse. This way I could show what worked with one horse would not work with another and why.

Private sessions, clinics, tutorials and gift certificates are available for bodywork and liberty work, by calling 505.501.2478 or emailing susansmith@orthohorse.info

My upcoming Horses at Liberty Foundation Clinic will be held May 25-26 in Santa Fe. Learn from a Suggested Trainer of the Carolyn Resnick Method. If you’re thinking of visiting Santa Fe, this might be the time! I will put a flyer out on this event soon. Contact me if interested!


3 thoughts on “I thought I had a good bond with my horse…

  1. Excellent blog about the difference between a horse being drawn to you and having a working bond. Thank you, Susan!

  2. I think an apt analogy is the difference between attraction and a relationship. In the human world, we understand that we can be attracted to someone before we have any kind of relationship and that trying to create a relationship is “a lot of work” compared to just being smitten with someone.

    Another good distinction I see here is that attraction is an individual state (even if two individuals are mutually attracted), while a relationship is a shared experience. Attraction can lead to the desire to create a relationship, but it is not nearly the same thing.

    This is such an under-recognized topic. Thanks for writing about it!

    1. Thank you for insightful comments, Les. Yes, I think this is an interesting analogy. Sometimes a horse picks us and even though that is very flattering, it doesn’t mean everything will be easy after that. Building a working bond is something that comes with time and effort.

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