Signs Your Horse Trusts You
by Parelli Natural Horsemanship on Jan 04, 2023
Many horse owners and trainers discuss the importance of gaining your horse's trust. Creating a trusting relationship with your horse improves everything from staying safe during dangerous situations to enhancing your communication and training. Once you have become a good leader and gained your horse's respect, they will trust you when you put them in unusual situations or ask them to do new things.
What is Trust?
Trust is the firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something. Establishing a trusting relationship with your horse takes quality time, hard work, and patience. This is a foundational piece of natural horsemanship methodology. If you take the time to lay the proper groundwork to become your horse's trusted leader, you'll be amazed at what you can accomplish together.
Signs Your Horse Trusts You
There are many ways to determine if your horse trusts you, including the horse's behavior and body language. Here are some tell-tale signs that you've gained your horse's trust.
Your Horse is at Ease Around You
As with any relationship, everyone needs to feel comfortable and relaxed. A horse's body language can tell you a lot about how relaxed or not they are. When your horse trusts you, they should show signs of being relaxed when you are around. Comfortable horses will have an overall calm demeanor. Most horseback riders innately learn to read their horse's body language after years of working with their horse.
A relaxed horse will:
- Lay down and stay in that position when you approach
- Lowered head
- Relaxed (airplane) ears
You can also tell if they are stressed based on the horse's body language. If a horse isn't at ease, they will show signs of:
- Tense lower lip and nostrils
- Body tension
- Quick, agitated tail movements
- Horse's ears pinned back
- Always moving to stay alert and facing you
Your Horse Listens to You
Being a good leader takes more than giving orders. Leadership means creating a strong bond and gaining your horse's respect. A trusting horse will look to their leader for cues and feel confident responding to you.
Some of the most common things we ask of horses, such as trailer loading or being tied to objects, are pretty scary for horses. As prey animals, being confined feels like a dangerous situation to them. If a horse is restricted, they are easy prey for other animals in the wild. A horse needs to trust you to follow instructions, like getting into a trailer or being tied to a fence.
Your Horse Approaches You
When you head out to get your horse, what do they do? Do they run to the pasture fence or stall door to greet you or run in the opposite direction? If your horse approaches you or stands still while you approach, they are showing trust. If your horse does run in the other direction, don't be deterred. This is an excellent opportunity to build a stronger bond with your horse.
Your Horse Respects You
Horses are herd animals and establish a natural pecking order when out with other horses. If you watch horses in a herd, you'll immediately notice the other horses respect the head mare. She is a good leader, showing affection and discipline when needed within the herd.
We can learn a lot by watching horses relate to each other without human intervention. They understand the delicate balance between affection, reward, and discipline. If you practice being kind but firm, you will establish this relationship with your horse and become the leader they need.
Your Horse Lets You Touch Them
Being prey animals, horses have strong flight instincts. You'll notice a horse's body tension if you try to touch them and they don't trust you. Some will even move away from you because it instinctively feels like a "dangerous situation" for them.
Spending quality time creating a strong bond and demonstrating you are a trustworthy horse owner are some of the easiest ways to get your horse more comfortable when you touch them.
Your Horse Engages With You
When you've been around horses for a while, you'll notice equine body language is very expressive. You will start to see the signs and understand how your horse feels during daily work and unusual situations. Horses who are excited to be around you will often show it with affection, gentle nudges, and even horse nickers. Nudges and gentle grooming are sure signs your horse trusts you and wants to spend time with you.
Engagement can also happen during training sessions. If your horse is looking at you, tips his ears toward you, or moves his head in your direction, they are trying to see what you are doing and learn about the situation. This is a different form of engagement, but one you will start to notice as you build trust.
How to get your horse to trust you?
We've covered some ways to deepen the trust relationship between you and your horse. In natural horsemanship, becoming a good leader and spending the time to build a bond are foundational pieces to every element of training.
Become A Good Leader
It's always helpful to lay down the groundwork and become a good leader from the start of your relationship. This is even more important when working with a new horse or a young horse. However, if you notice signs of distrust in your horse, you can make changes to ensure a better environment for you and your horse.
Becoming a good leader means being fair, caring, and firm. It's not about controlling your horse, forcing them to do things, or being aggressive. Reward them when they achieve the movement, or even for small attempts at the "right answer."
Put in the Groundwork
Groundwork and natural horsemanship techniques are great ways to establish trust. Using consistent exercises and guiding your horse through the Levels takes dedication and perseverance, but in the end, it's well worth it. As with any type of horse training, consistency is critical. Stay consistent with your workouts, and your horse will consistently progress.