In the past I’ve had people ask me what the most important step in training your horse. Is it the ground work? Or teaching them to whoa or back? To me the most important thing you can do to create the best possible horse, is simply spend time with him. What do I mean, “spend time with him.” I mean, make it a point to go out and hang out within your horse like you would any of friends. A time when you do nothing but just spend time with you horse. This is a time that you don’t ask anything of your horse. Much like a marriage, if you don’t spend time together, it is hard to maintain a good bond.
What to do with this “quality” time? When I go out to hang out with my horse, I typically go into the pen with him. I usually bring him a treat of some sort, whether it be a handful of grain or a horse cookie (yes I feed my horses by hand, but if they respect you it isn’t a problem). Normally I don’t take a halter with me. I will just go in and brush him or practice my equine massage. I hug on him and touch him all over his body. Other times I’ll catch him, take him to the arena or round pen, then let him go, and we just play. What do I mean by play? I literally play with my horse. If you ever watched horses in the pasture, you’ve seen them running around chasing each other and kicking up their heels. That’s what I do with my horse. I’ll start out in the middle of the pen and ask him to move out. Then I’ll cut him off and make him switch directions. I’ll run after him, then run away from him. My horse loves this. You may think this sounds like I’m just ground working my horse, but believe me it is different, and he knows it. During this play time, my normally mellow gelding will kick up his heels as he runs along, put his tail up in the air, snort and just have fun. Then when I relax in the middle of the pen, he comes right up to me wanting some love.
How much quality time do I need to spend with my horse? Really this depends on the horse. Some horses like to have you hanging around them as much as possible, others will stand by you for only a couple minutes then be done with you. I go just hang out with my horse at least once a week. In the winter it is a little more often, because riding conditions aren’t always the best. I will spend anywhere from 5 minutes to an hour with my horse.
What if my horse doesn’t want to hang out with me? This could be because he doesn’t realize that you are there just to spend time with him. Maybe every time you catch your horse, you’ve made him work. If your horse won’t just stand freely for you in the pen, the first couple of times you go out you may need to tie your horse up. Then the next couple of times halter your horse and just throw the lead over the fence and see if he will stay. Next let the lead sit on the ground. Then try just going in without a halter. If you do this you will be amazed at the difference in your horse. He will start becoming more excited to see you, and want to hang around with you. There are times now when I’ll feed my horses grain, and one of them will wait buy the gate while the others are eating just to get a little bit of one on one time with me. I’ll pet him on the forehead and give him a quick hug, then he’ll go over and join his horse friends.In the pictures on this page are a couple of the horses I’ve had in the past. See how at ease they are with the kids walking around them. Their bodies are relaxed and they would follow these kids anywhere and let them touch them anywhere. These are kids that have never been around horses, so they were a little noisy and made tons of quick movements, but these horses couldn’t get enough of them. Spend some quality, none work time with your horses, they will become better for it.