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Creating stronger connections between people and horses

Updated: Feb 5, 2023

Whilst science based approach may sometimes be seen as a clinical and cold approach to training, this is in fact, furthest from the truth. I wrote this to give you a little more insight on how an evidence based trainer thinks, when for example, investigating the term "Connection", a term commonly used by people that are interacting with horses.

To give you one example; many horse owners believe that when a horse momentarily follows them during a round penning session, they are "connected". I like to dig a lot deeper than this.

First, let's figure out what connection actually means;

When researchers refer to a concept of social connection, they mean the feeling that you belong to a group and generally feel close to other people. Scientific evidence strongly suggests that this is a core psychological need, essential to feeling satisfied with your life. Indeed, humans are profoundly social species species; our drive to connect with others is embedded in our biology and evolutionary history. Horses are no different. They need, what we call a connection, with other horses. It's one of their very basic primary needs.

Now we have a defined what connection is and establish the fact that it's essential. So how do we create a connection between a human and a horse?

To me, the first and foremost, we need to recognise the fact that horses are different species to humans. We need to be in a clear understanding that the horse's ethology ( the Science of Animal Behaviour ), cognitive abilitities, mental and emotional capacity, are different to ours. So, to create a connection with a horse, we must learn to understand how the horse views the world and most importantly, how horses learn.

You can only connect with someone once you understand them well. In a sense, connection is about letting go of outdated theories such as dominance and/or trying to force "connection by being the leader". Is about letting go of the idea that horses are "stubborn, willing or keen" and other anthropomorphic beliefs. It's about letting go of the perceptions that aren't real and learning to understand about the true nature of horses. From that point on, a true connection becomes a possibility.

To me, connection is simply just a byproduct of good training and not something you can train as standalone event. From the viewpoint of any animal undergoing training, the more it can give consistent responses to the variety of signals, the more predictable and controllable their world will be. The deeper the animal’s knowledge of training in terms of consistency of response - the greater the rapport between the trainer and the animal. This is because of the absence of stress and presence of predictability and controllability. This, in fact, is the reason animals are able to learn cues, mild signals and aids in the first place. Horses are no different.

Clarity creates understanding. Consistency and predictability build trust. Connection is a by-product of those two things.

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