Trust & Horse Play

A guest post by Summer, one of our Cowgirl Yoga Ranch Hands! She’ll be facilitating a new horse activity on our CY retreats, called “Horse Play”. 

Trust. Trust is something you earn. The length of time it takes to earn it is what differs. Imagine trying to earn the trust of a 1200 lb. prey animal. Horses’ natural instinct is to run from anything that even remotely seems like a threat. Building trust can be a daunting task.

With some horses, trust comes easy. More than likely these animals were raised around good people and know that they’re safe. And there are horses that are just born so unbelievably curious that they are willing to risk what harm may come their way. They just have to figure out what in the heck that crazy jumping lady in the yoga pants could be! (More on this later.) They’re brave and fearless. Now for the opposite scenario – the horses that are so scared it takes years to gain their trust. You could have the sweetest soul and still they fear you. They believe you will kill them. Some people think these horses can’t be helped. If they’re not “in your pocket”, they’re not worth it. That my friends, is when you lose an amazing opportunity to learn and develop the bond of a lifetime. When I first told my friend I wanted to buy my horse Roany, she told me I was crazy. “That horse will kill you. She’s crazy. All she wants to do is run over people”, she said. I saw in her what others couldn’t, so I bought her.

One day, while I was working with a horse in the Cowgirl Yoga program named Skywalker, I noticed that Java, his best bud, was comfortably taking a nap. It’s rare to be able to approach a horse lying down without them becoming uneasy and standing up – remember they are a prey animal. It takes a whole other level of trust to be able to cuddle with them while they’re in that vulnerable position. Imagine if you were 1200 pounds and you had to stand up – it’s no easy task. So when I approached Java, I was slow and steady. I said to him: “Java, I just want to cuddle you and take a photo. Please let me do that. Then I’ll be out of your hair.” (Yes, I talk to all horses, all the time.) And by golly, I walked right up to him and gave him some pets, left to go set up my phone to take a timed photo, and then settled right back down next to him for the picture. All of this happened while my two year old lab was running circles around us. IT WAS AMAZING! I hadn’t been working with Java at all up until this point. I said hi to him, sure, but never more than that.

The lesson: I learned that sometimes all it takes to earn trust is consistency. You don’t have to give them constant attention. You don’t have to be “training” them. You don’t have to love on them the most. All you have to do is be there. Be predictable. I was there about three times a week. That’s all it took for this horse to trust me in his most vulnerable position. That’s pretty amazing if you ask me! And it’s just one example.

Trust takes time. It takes going through several situations where you prove that you will be there time and time again. You will be the rock when they’re unsteady and you will take care of the situation in a way that is calming and reassuring. Horses like my Roany, they need time. They need patience. They too, need consistency.

Trust is an important piece of any relationship and there are many ways to cultivate it. Here are a few of my favorite (and super simple) ways to gain trust while while working with horses:

  1. First and foremost, just spend time with them. I don’t mean working with them, riding them or really doing anything with them. I mean time just being present, together. There is no agenda. No learning. I repeat: just presence. I like to practice this by simply going out to the pasture and hanging out. In fact, as I am writing this I’m in the pasture on my bright blue beach chair typing away. I have a large, hairy, brown horse nose fiddling with my screen, a trusting visitor named Roany.
  2. One of my favorite things to do with my horses is PLAY. I mean it! An example of a game that Roany and I like to play is tag. We work on boundaries in a fun and interactive way, and I make sure we keep a horse length between us to keep the exercise safe.
  3. Do the silliest things you could ever think of! Jump up and down while wearing your yoga pants, make weird noises, dance around. At first they may be wary, but once they get used to it they learn to trust that no matter what goofy thing you’re doing, you’re not going to hurt them. I’ve found that doing this also helps foster more curiosity and equine enthusiasm.

With trust comes respect. But I will save my thoughts on that matter for my next go at this writing thing. Thanks for reading!

Yeehaw and Namaste.