How do I deepen the relationship with my horse?

Part I - nervous, insecure horses

If man has ever made a great conquest, it is that he has made the horse a friend.

-Georges-Louis Leclerc de Buffon-

Humans and horses have been living together as companions for about 40,000 years. They have gone through hard times like wars for centuries. These would often have ended differently without the horse. Historians therefore ask themselves, where would man today be without the horse? Thus, a very long time ago, a special relationship between man and horse has been developed.

Horses and humans

As for many people, horses are also a big part of my life and I have a close bond with them. That's why I see like this: horses are not OUR horses. They are a product of life that belongs to itself. They come to us, they can be our partners, but they are not FOR us.

An Indian proverb says, "One does not judge someone by what he has, but by how much he gives." Man has taken the habitat of many animate beings in the world. Also, the ones of the horse, which can live only conditionally free. So now it lives in our habitat, on our terms. Many people surely provide the best possible conditions, yet many people are unaware that they "use" the horse. So, the horse has been put into the position by us to give. We use it FOR us to fulfill specific needs in life. Sometimes it is FOR the feeling of freedom on horseback, sometimes FOR the togetherness, sometimes FOR recognition or success. Many of OUR different needs are satisfied by being with the horse. But what do we give back to the horse? Of course, we provide accommodation and food, but is that what the horse would have chosen for itself? Would the horse like to carry someone on his back, into the highest level of sports, so that we humans can enrich ourselves with OUR success and the money earned with it? Probably not. And yet it is always with a full heart and helps us to make our dreams come true. So that's something that sometimes people in their lives can take more heed. We can learn from horses to give more, to take less and to possess. We can learn to grow personally. We can learn to be no more used to everything being focused on US. We can learn to appreciate it more and not to take it for granted what the horse gives us. We can learn to put OUSERSELVES in the foreground. Every second in the life of the horses is a second of learning, feeling, experiencing.

As a coach, I see it as my duty that the needs of the horse are in the foreground and to consider it as equal by communicating eye to eye. Because as long as we put OUR needs in the foreground, we put ourselves above the horse. The horse, however, sees another horse as equal as soon as it has been taken into the herd. They organize their life together for their common needs, in togetherness. One horse does not organize anything for the other to satisfy its need. Therefore, it cannot understand our actions. It should work for us to meet our needs and is not often enough considered equivalent. So, the communication always takes place at the hierarchical level and not at the level of partnership. For me, there is the deepening of the relationship with our horse partner: partnership-based thinking, but above partnership-based feeling.

The emotions

Scientists have looked at how animals that live with us can reflect us emotionally. They have found that they, like humans, are emotionally equivalent to our feelings through mirror neurons. They have researched brain regions responsible for allowing the animals to feel the same emotions. If we are stressed or have pressure to succeed, our horse will feel it to the same extent. If we relax and have positive feelings even in difficult situations, the horse can "feel it" and "relaxes".

Thus, it depends on our own emotions and our demands on the horse, which we should consider for the relationship with our horse. Because our demands or needs are not necessarily the ones of the horse. If I want to be more active in sports, I have to check if my horse has the courage, the confidence and the strength to do it. There are horses which cannot cope with the hustle and bustle of the competition, despite habituation. It is simply too much, because from the horse's point of view it is completely unnatural. In order to build a deeper relationship with our horse partner, it is important that we align our needs and desires with the needs and potential of the horse. If we encounter the horse without demands, we will encounter it equally, as a respectful herd member. If we embody a respectful herd member, we do good things for the relationship with the partner horse by adjusting to their respective individual way of communicating. Then it feels understood by us. Some horses need a clear language. Rather in black and white thinking. Others need whispering and there are gray areas. In order to adapt to the respective communicative ability of the horse, we have to "feel" how the horse partner feels, what its personality tells us. Then we adapt specifically to the horse.

For example, if we are dealing with an insecure, sensitive, and slightly nervous horse, we need to follow our feelings. We need to find out if this horse needs to be handled and communicating with in a soft and gentle way. Or is it precisely this type of communication and the handling which creates even more insecurity. Then this horse needs a clear guidance for its welfare. We have to prove clearly to an insecure horse that we understand it, we adapt ourselves to it, but also that we are a trustful herd member. Insecure horses ask again and again who has which job in the herd constellation. A herd always organizes itself dynamically and hierarchies are variable. The uncertain horses keep asking about the organzation of the herd, jobs they have to do or the ones, others have to do. Simply, to be secure. The insecure horses ask this also in humans, as a potential herd member. They do this by moving and controlling the human being. So finely that most people only perceive it when the horse begins to take the personal space of ​​the human being. Taking in the personal space means that the horse claims the space the human is standing in. For the moment it is ranked higher in the packing order and must focus on the next job. For example, exploring the area in which horse and human are. Then it is in principle already too late, because the "Question" about the jobs starts much earlier on body tension, energy and energy shift. It is so fine that man hardly perceives it because he is not used to the sensible way of communication. Being able to "feel" what the sensitive insecure horse needs from us, we can show him that we are a valued partner. Then it does not need to follow its instincts and exert pressure. We can prove this through various language or communication exercises. The language and how these exercises are developed must be fully adapted to the horse's personality and emotional level so that we can satisfy the individual horse. Applying one method to all horses is a mechanized mechanical path that leads only to a limited or short-lived success.

Exercises for the procedure with a tendency to nervous, insecure horse

Halt (standing and walking in calmness and in the neck extension posture)

It sounds almost a bit simple, but if you pursue this task in a certain way, it has immense success in relaxing the horse and making it receptive. "Relaxation" is first taught to the horse on the ground. The prerequisite for this is that the horse sufficiently respects the personal space of ​​the human being and does not exceed set boundaries. By "standing and walking in neck extension", while the human being embodies a natural sovereign inner attitude and thus a high-quality leadership position, one solves potential tension in the horse.

It is initially made in a sensitive way of pressure on the poll. Elementary, however, is how, where and with what this pressure is applied. All of this depends on the sensitivity and stress level of the horse. It can be applied purely by simply putting the hand on the poll, using pressure by the hand, fingertip pressure or by a dosed pull on the rope halter. This should by no means be done in a mechanical way, because, in spite of the attitude, this has a negative and restraint effect on the horse instead of calming it down. Above all, the horse must first learn, what "relaxation" means. Short sequences help to slowly gain more experience in relaxing. The environment, the atmosphere, the feeling and the intention in this work is crucial. If this happens with the right feeling of peace and security, the horse will relax and an automatic response of the parasympathetic nervous system (subsystem of the central nervous system: rest and digestive system) will be established. The neck extension establishes inner peace over the external state of rest of the body. In other words, a psychic and instinctive connection (cross-coordinative action) is combined with a relaxing posture (grazing, drinking, sleeping). The extension reaches the dorsal line (top line) towards the hindquarters and thus relaxes the nerve area and the connected muscles of the sympathetic nervous system (subsystem of the central nervous system: flight and fight mode).

Control of the hindquarters (yielding of the inner hind leg)

The control of the hindquarters deepens the rest mechanism in the horse. Controlling the horse's legs by letting them cross one gains positive control over its entire escape movement mechanism. In this exercise, the horse can no longer move forward, it can only turn around the forehand. So, pressure from the natural front load of the horse is taken by more mobility in the hindquarters. This has an external and internal loosening effect.

Following (The horse moves harmoniously with the human – side by side and toward the human being)

If the horse is in a balanced state of relaxation, we are able to request the "following". This is about a harmonious equal and joint sequence of movements - side by side, but also towards each other, primarily the horse towards the human. This results in a partnership and security of both bodies and thus a high potential for trust.

Contact (Close physical contact)

Close body contact is an increase in mutual trust in following. When the horse approaches the human body in respectful perception and vice versa, this closeness leads to a deeper inner connection with each other.

These are the most important exercises for a good relationship, on which much more can be built.

My work is based on helping the horseman to better read his horse partner and understand its individual language. If we know what the horse needs in order to understand its human being, a communication can be established that leads to more connectedness. A common language leads to team spirit, belonging and togetherness. Horse and man can master challenges together. They are strong together and grow together. It creates beautiful and every second in the life of horses, becomes a second of learning, feeling, experiencing, life itself.

Nicole Weinauge

Photo Credits: © Mireta von Ranzau,, ©, © Rabea Koop