A lot is spoken and talked about the trust of the horse and how to build it. We are looking for techniques and methods and training tools and appropriate and suitable ways to make the horse feel safe, comfortable and secure in order to strengthen his trust in humans. And don’t get me wrong: this is great and absolutely necessary!
But… what about our own trust? Our trust in general and in the horse? As in any relationship, trust is needed from both involved. How can we expect the horse to trust us if we do not trust: in the horse, in ourselves, in our environment, in life, etc.?
One reason why we may put our emphasis on the horse in this regard could lie in the nature of the horse. As a prey animal which is prone to respond with flight in situations that trigger fear, it is obvious that we need to develop the horse’s trust to make it easier to overcome his natural instincts in unknown situations. But it does not mean that we are generally a more trusting species. Many of us carry a lot of fears and insecurities inside us. Only we have learnt to hide them and cover them up; sometimes even from ourselves.
This approach may work well with our human surroundings and may even be necessary in certain social settings and environments. However, it hinders us when working with horses who are by their nature able to pick up on the subtlest cues we emit to the outer world. You may have experienced yourself that an issue you have with a horse resolves the moment you let go of some sort of control or tension you held onto out of fear and because you were not fully trusting your horse.
When working with horses, of course safety always comes first. We will need to have some sort of ‘control’ of the situation to avoid us or the horse getting hurt. However, do we exercise this ‘control’ from a place of fear and anxiety or from a relaxed and confident inner state of mind that has trust in the horse and in ourselves but is aware of the limits and boundaries as well as of any risks involved in the given situation. If we are worried and afraid the horse will pick up on it and respond to it. If we trust in the capacities and abilities of the horse – while being aware and conscious of the particular circumstances of the individual horse and situation – we will give the horse the freedom and chance to respond to the resulting feelings of calm and safety and to be assured that it is safe to take the next step. Having trust in our horses; asking them to perform tasks they are mentally and physically able to perform without harm to themselves; and allowing our horses to make mistakes by not punishing them but asking and showing them again with more clarity; form the basis for developing the trust of our horses.
Trust is a two-way street.