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How long does it take to "bond" with a new horse?

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  • How long does it take to "bond" with a new horse?

    When I sold "The Big Horse", I was relieved. Loved him, had him 9 years, and he had the biggest, friendliest, personality of any horse I've ever met, bar none.

    The new horse, is a champ in the field, I love riding him. He's an insurance policy. But I don't feel any real affection toward him, and he's not a cuddle bunny type. I miss that feeling, far more than I expected and it bothers me far more than I thought.

    I've been in the horse business and at the track for decades, and while I like all horses, obviously, you don't "love" all of them equally.

    Now this horse is an honest, useful sort, fairly cute, but largely, except for food, doesn't seem to crave people the way my former horse did.

    Any tricks to get over a bruised heart and learn how to care about one that doesn't bond quickly? I've had him about a month now, and he's more tolerant of my presence in his stall (better in cross ties actually) but is kind of a "do what you need to and stop messing with me" kind of guy. I've had one before, a great horse, I guess I didn't realize how much I'd miss that feeling.

  • #2
    I have one like that. Sort of a cool cucumber, even trainer remarked on it. Just not into cuddling. After 1.5 yrs I know he recognizes me, will walk up to me in big pasture and does what I ask (most of the time). However, he's reserved. And at 17.2, maybe he knows he's too big to crawl into my lap. Give it some time. Winter could provide more time for grooming and groundwork to build the relationship.
    pace, path, balance, impulsion and ??

    Don't panic! Ralph Leroy Hill

    Comment


    • #3
      Probably like any other relationship, you'll have to earn each other's respect and trust. I had a tremendous amount of respect for my previous horse. Despised his personality, but respected his athletic ability and natural balance. Current horse has 1/16th of the athletic ability, but a million times more heart and soul and when he gets his game face on, I am confident he will do anything I ask of him. These feelings come from on the ground (some literally) experiences with both and the relationships developed over time.

      Perhaps a glass of wine and some chocolate pie to get over the bruised feelings..........
      Alison Howard
      Homestead Farms, Maryland www.freshorganicvegetables.com

      Comment


      • #4
        It took my new (chestnut) mare about a year to really let herself down with me. She was extraordinarily well mannered, but very reserved, except when I touched her girth area. Then she just couldn't help herself and would lay her ears back and toss her head. Other than that, it seemed like she was holding her breath, waiting for me to leave her alone. Now, when I am in the pasture or barn, I turn and she is at my shoulder, wanting scratches. She runs to the barn when she sees me pull in the driveway. She still can't help herself sometimes and starts to leave when she sees the halter and lead, but she kind of gives herself a little shake and then stops and lets me halter her. She really didn't want to love me, but she does now. She can't help herself, LOL. Give it time. You can't force a connection, but I bet it will happen.

        Comment


        • #5
          I have one that took a long time to come around.

          I picked him up off of the track and he just wasn't terribly interested in people....and I noticed at the track that he was really standoff-ish with his trainer/owner too (who had bred and raised him). I brought him home and started working with him and he was always the same...kind of an ass on the ground and definitely not interested in bonding with a person. Because of that he remained on my sales list (which is why I bought him in the first place...as a sales prospect). Funny thing was that he was the nicest and most compliant horse under saddle in my barn. We started progressing through the levels and I realized that he was a pretty decent Grand Prix prospect. He remained on the sales list, but the timeline kept getting pushed out because I wanted to maximize his value.

          Somewhere along the way, maybe 3 or 4 years into his training, it was like a switch flipped and he "claimed" me as his person. He's now the funniest guy I have. He's totally into cuddling and being scratched and fed and petted and he loves my 3yo daughter and even nickers for treats from her. He's still standoffish with other people, but I guess I finally earned his respect. Or maybe he realized that he wasn't going anywhere or that I wasn't going anywhere?

          Anyhow, he's definitely not a sales horse any longer And my take home message is that sometimes it takes a long time for a horse to really bond with you (and vice versa). I've had others that I instantly bonded with, and still others that took a more normal amount of time (a few months to a year). I'm not sure there's any GREAT way to hurry that along....it's just part of the journey.
          __________________________________
          Flying F Sport Horses
          Horses in the NW

          Comment


          • #6
            Try clicker training to build the relationship

            Your new fellow may never have been asked to bond, just told to do. It takes some time to develop a relationship, when it isn't in the background.
            I use body language and clicker training to change the dynamics of the interaction. I reward the baby steps in the direction I want ("shaping"). Once they know that I'm listening to their working through the mental puzzles of learning clicker directions, they get very excited and stimulated to play the new game with you. Then they search for every chance they get to play with you. It is easy and fun for both of you.
            I've taught mine to open and close gates for me, pick up things from the ground and bring them to me, and now I'm working on kneeling for me to mount. They know and can touch to my hand various of their body parts, stand on a block for x-rays, stand exactly where I need them. It is great for quickly explaining new movements, since you can "mark" the desired behavior. The frustration level goes down for both of you.

            (The version of clicker that I use is the one that is used for marine and zoo animals.)
            Intermediate Riding Skills

            Comment


            • #7
              TTouch of course!

              Books and videos here: www.ttouch.com

              Also:
              www.carolynresnickblog.com
              www.dancewithhorses.com

              These work really well for me!

              Comment


              • #8
                I don't have an answer here, but I am so very glad to hear that your new guy is starting to work out for you. I know that my previous horse was not particularly affectionate, I always felt that she'd never become fluent in "human", she primarlly spoke horse. My current pony speaks human much more, responds to my voice (and of course to treats!), and she seems to recognize my moods. Our bond was strengthened when she required lots of hands-on care after surgery. Spending that time, just grooming and caring for her without any expectation of her in return seemed to help our bond as well.

                Comment


                • #9
                  I have this theory that horses, dogs, etc just learn to react to people in a way that people perceive as human characteristics when they are repeatedly exposed to said human. I have had horses that took a couple of years to respond personably to me and others that had already had similar conditioning when I got them. The ones that were new to the human/animal thing just have to learn.

                  I also have found that the smarter ones catch on faster. For instance those that mug and make faces have at some time gotten a human reaction to such behavior and repeat it when that behavior is reinforced. All of mine that I have now are very responsive to human affection because I've had all of them for so long. Many people have remarked when they visit my barn that my horses are all so friendly. The only one that was really stubborn about people was my rescue pony mare who took a couple of years before she was keen on lots of attention and she still tries to bite my husband occasionally.

                  Just give it a bunch of time. It really just takes a while, especially if no one has really paid much attention and were just schooled and turned back out forever.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    IMO - I feel sorry for a horse that acts like that...his past "people" probably just used and treated him like a horse. Affection is a two way street. Maybe no one ever offered to bond with him. I believe that good care and affection can turn such a horse around..at least open a door for HIM to react to YOU!! I got a horse about a month ago...A lovely 17 hand TB who was probably "used" as transportation for most of his life. In just this short time he has started nickering when I walk in the barn and starts to react when I reach to pet him. Time may turn your cold guy into a warm fuzzy!! Hoping for both your sakes he does. I like a "personal" relationship with my horses, not just a "working" relationship. (Especially for a foxhunter where your life often depends on how well your horse "likes" and cares for your butt!!) Good Luck!
                    www.crosscreeksporthorses.com
                    Breeders of Painted Thoroughbreds and Uniquely Painted Irish Sport Horses in Northeast Oklahoma

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Even my Fenway—and if you've ever read his blog, you know how much we enjoy each other—was aloof at first. It took two years to get to the point where he liked being groomed, enjoyed a backrub, or wiggled his lip when I found his itchy spot! Now, he comes cantering up, braying, when I call.

                      I don't know if I've got any advice, except to love him and get to know him. Do things he enjoys. Spend time together when you're not in a hurry to get somewhere.

                      Good luck!
                      My ears hear a symphony of two mules, trains, and rain. The best is always yet to come, that's what they explained to me. —Bob Dylan

                      Fenway Bartholomule ♥ Arrietty G. Teaspoon Brays Of Our Lives

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Not being a catch rider type, it takes me about a year to learn all the zigs and zags. I like to spend a lot of time on the ground, making very small commands to get the horse tuned into me - making them more and more subtle. But lately my horses have been home-bred, so it is not the same. Once you start depending on each other the bond will come, I'm sure, and when you get past your old horse? I don't treat them, to buy their love, but I am their caregiver. She even whinnies when my car comes into the driveway - hoping for hay, I guess.
                        Proud member of People Who Hate to Kill Wildlife clique

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Maybe he misses his previous owner and can't understand where they went.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Howardh,
                            Good point. He has to deal with a huge life change and a new herd.
                            Intermediate Riding Skills

                            Comment

                            • Original Poster

                              #15
                              So, we had a little breakthough last night

                              I decided that perhaps, I wasn't been quite fair to Trooper. I took him from the only home he'd known, one of a large herd, then made him an only horse. And we've had little bobbles, I didn't quite trust him. Then it hit me, he didn't trust me either.

                              So, I approached it differently. I gave him the benefit of the doubt. Lately, when go out to bring him in, I give the treats, head rubbing, goood boooys. Been taking him a big apple out in the field for no reason. He's been coming to the gate when I call. All good.

                              Last night, we needed to get past the trailer loading issue, he's confirmed, but it was dark, we rushed a bit, then fought.

                              So I took the truck and trailer into the indoor, turned on all the lights. Got a big bucket of sweet feed and his feed tub. And gave him all the time in the world. Loaded him in the side ramp, walked him through. Loaded him in the back and walked on through. Finally put up the chest bar, then pushed him over with the divider while he had his head buried in his feed tub. He looked at me, kept eating. I put up the butt bar, and, here's the good part. He turned and looked over his shoulder at me, and just gave a big sigh. As if to say "you're ok, it's all good".

                              I'm tickled to death. It's still a work in progress, and he's sort of like a giant, super-sized pony, but it's better.

                              Thanks guys.

                              Comment


                              • #16
                                Originally posted by 2ndyrgal View Post
                                I decided that perhaps, I wasn't been quite fair to Trooper. I took him from the only home he'd known, one of a large herd, then made him an only horse.
                                This is key..... he may never have had his own person, and as a result, is not quick to bond. He will come around, and your affection for him will grow as a result of his trustworthiness and reliability in the field.

                                It will just take a little time. And in fact you might find that in the end you prefer the "strong, silent" type as opposed to the needier guys.

                                Good luck and hang in there. Oh, and post pics!!
                                We couldn't all be cowboys, so some of us are clowns.

                                Comment


                                • #17
                                  Having him solo might help with the bonding process.

                                  My guy was a stallion before I bought him and gelded him. After he started going out with the herd (once gelded) he couldn't have given 2 flips about me. After 1.5 years we still hadn't bonded despite my best efforts, homemade horse cookies and sitting quietly with him.

                                  A couple years ago we had to move and he was pastured alone again. Now he is my best friend... I guess I just came second to equine companions. These days he nickers at me, nuzzles me, (he's even laid down next to me while i read a book!!) and loves to play tag. Go figure? There is hope!!!

                                  Good luck and congratulations on the trailer accomplishments!

                                  Comment

                                  • Original Poster

                                    #18
                                    and it seems to just get better..

                                    Last night, another successful trailer loading session, progressed to me sending him in and throwing the leadshank up over his back, even with DH and the wee Corgi watching from the arena door. Good progress.

                                    Today, he came from the farthest field over the hill (out of sight) at a gallop when I called him. Now, it was raining, but he has a run in and the grass is wonderful. Right into the arena, and without an hesitation, self loaded on the trailer. Stood great for his bath, after which I discovered he adores having his entire head, especially under his jaw, rubbed with a rough towel. If he was a cat, he'd have been purring, so great was his delight. First time he seemed willing to share "his space" with me without being grumpy about it.

                                    Just got back from last check, he's dry, happy, and moved away from his hay for a face rub.

                                    I think he's starting to like me.

                                    Comment


                                    • #19
                                      Just sayin'!!

                                      Whoa....waaaayyy too much anthropomorphizing here IMHO!!
                                      Be careful putting human emotions & values on animals. It doesn't always work. I agree that how he's been handled previous to you will influence his behaviors towards you. His "bonding" behaviors may just not be as demonstrative as other horses. Doesn't mean he doesn't do it.....like a famous trainer said once.....He's not being "bad" or "good"....he's just being a horse!!
                                      This is about you; not him. Your need to be "loved" or something. Why not accept him as he is? right now! Some pets just don't always give us what we want. Sometimes they just be who they are!! Go with it!!
                                      Not all horses become "pocket pony"s. They are individuals with their own "personalities" - like us! My feelings are not meant as criticism of the OP; merely my opinion that sometimes horsepeople get silly using emotions on horses and it doesn't work.
                                      ' JMHO!!!

                                      Comment

                                      • Original Poster

                                        #20
                                        WG, I'm not being silly but..

                                        Let me share this little story. In the early 80's I was grooming for a STB trainer. I took care of a pacing stallion named Deadly Breeze. He was, until the day he died, the meanest SOB you ever met. You could not, when I started, walk in his stall without a ball bat. The short version is, it took me months to win his trust, years to win his affection.

                                        When I left the barn suddenly to take care of my father, the trainer called me. He wouldn't eat, and turned on anyone that tried to enter his stall.
                                        For over 4 days.

                                        I've only known 2 horses that I didn't like, who truly hated everyone, and other horses.

                                        I've had horses that bonded as closely with me as a dog.

                                        So perhaps, I just prefer my horses to enjoy my company as much as I do theirs.

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