Trust is such a big issue when it come to horses and riders. You will hear one person say, “I trust my horse’s judgement better than my own on the trails.” Another may say, “I could never trust my horse in a new situation.”
When there is a strong bond between the horse and rider, it seems all is well; when there isn’t – the picture isn’t pretty.
I just read an article that was published in two different magazines showing how the horse and rider or leader are intertwined. According to the article, there was an experiment with 10 horses and 20 people. The first group of 10 people were to ride the horse. Both the horse and rider were wired to pick up the heartbeat. The riders were told to ride the horse past a group of people four times, but on the fourth pass, several of the bystanders would open an umbrella. Watching the monitors, the persons who were conducting the experiment say BOTH the riders and horses heart rates increase on the fourth pass. Some of the horses were getting fidgety. Why? Only the riders knew about the umbrellas, which, by the way, we never opened! But, the riders anticipated and the horses responded to the feeling they were receiving from the rider.
Next group only led the horse with a halter and lead line. They were told the same thing. Walk by the group of spectators four times, on the fourth time some on the people will open an umbrella. The results were identical! The horse not only feels our energy when we are on their backs but when they are being led as well!
At our arena, we tell the parents and riders that we will dismount if there are severe storms or thunder storms. The parents always question whether the horses are afraid of thunder. Our answer has always been, “No, but if the rider gets scared, the horses wil get scared as well. No matter how much we try to desensitize the horses, they will still respond to the rider or leader.
We witnessed this just the other day. We had three adult riders in the arena. Two were on lead line, one was riding independent. It was not a particularly windy day, but, in the middle of the class, a tree in the woods behind the arena decided to fall. One of the riders on lead line head the rustle, tensed up, then decided it was nothing. Her horse did a little jig for one or two steps and immediately quieted down. The second rider on lead line was in deep conversation with the leader. Neither of them were aware of the noise; their horse did nothing. The third rider saw the tree as it started to fall and began to react to the anticipated noise. Her horse reacted to her anticipation and trotted out about 30 feet. The rider was able to regain composure and bring the horse to a walk. The horse that did nothing is our newest horse and has had the least amount of desensitizing.
Which makes me wonder – how important is it for the rider to trust the horse and the horse to trust the rider?