• Yahel Applbaum

Rapport with Horses

Rapport part 2

How can we build rapport with horses and what does that even mean- rapport with a horse?

For those of you who have been following, we have discussed rapport, it’s meaning and how we can be more aware of its existence or lack of it. If you are new or just need a little recap of what rapport is we are going to briefly go through it (I recommend checking the Part 1 post for more).

Rapport- You Approach, You match, You catch.

This is my favorite way to describe it, and I find it easy to remember and tell ourselves in many situations.

Try and imagine these two scenarios, and I bet we have all been there once or twice during our journey with horses; the first one- you grab a halter and walk to the pasture/pen to grab your horse. The horse is having a good time, eating and relaxing in the sun, you enter the pasture happy to find out that your horse is close by and you don’t need to waste time looking for him or running around, you get closer and your horse is looking at you and takes off as soon as you are right by him.

The second scenario- you get your horse in the arena, saddling and ground-work go great and you climb up. Your horse is ‘fresh’, ready to run and “doesn’t want to listen to you”- you are trying to bring him down, collect him and get him to cooperate with the plan you had for today’s ride and goals that you need to achieve.

Now, what do you think is missing?

Rapport is the answer.

Our horses always tell us and show us when we lack rapport and need to work on not only the way we match our horse but also on the positive intention (attitude) that is behind our approach.

Both of the scenarios described above demonstrate a situation in which we are trying to force our ideas on our horse and struggling to communicate; present our message and most importantly listen to other side’s message (active listening).

Maybe, if we had taken the time in the pasture to try and work on matching our horse and not just going to get him- he wouldn’t have taken off. Maybe, if we had been more aware we could’ve noticed the signs of our horse being fresh from the minute we brought him in, and the biggest maybe of them all, maybe, if we had changed the plan we’ve had, and practiced more flexibility we wouldn’t even get there, maybe it would help us change our approach entirely and deliver our message in a better way.

When trying to build rapport with anyone, being fixated and self-focused will only drive us further away from mutual understanding- it doesn’t matter if it’s a horse or a human, we have to respect the other’s map of the world and actively listen to discover what is the positive intention behind their message- what’s in it for them?

We can not- not communicate, so as our horse, we just need to get better at listening.

What can we do to improve that?

Here are 3 fun exercises you can practice in order to improve timing, awareness, feel, communication and more.

1. Approach horse- just walk around the barn or pasture and approach the horse; while doing that try and pay attention to what you are thinking about and your body language, also you want to notice how the horses react to you- are they looking at you? Walking away? Maybe, it is smaller than that, and you’ll just get a slight weight shift away? implying that the horse is not interested in being petted or approached.

Try and back up, go to another horse, work on your approach- from what you are thinking about to breathing, smiling, softening the shoulders etc… and check if there’s any difference.

Practice that everytime you walk in- halter or no halter- and you’ll see the difference.

2. Match the horse- the matching foot-steps is one of my favorite exercises to improve timing and creating awareness.

Lead your horse from the shoulder mark, and as if you're halfway longing your horse.

Ask for forward motion and try to match your feet to the horses- it will take a lot of looking and stopping at first, but you’ll notice the once you get it it will change not only your timing from the ground but in the saddle too. If your horse wants to stop or even run that is okay, we are practicing matching, so join them and see how they feel about that; some horses will get a little uncertain once you start running too, try and be aware of that and don’t pull them back or chase them, let them show you.

3. Catch your horse's attention- it doesn’t have to be a big stop it can be an ear moving towards you. Reward them not only for acting as you please but most of all for thinking and listening- watch the ears, the breath, the eyes- these are all signs that tell us if we have our horses attention or not.

For example, every time I ask my horse to bend to the right I want the right ear to come first- indicating that the horse has switched the focused and is now “listening” to the right side, the next will be the eye- if I can see the white and the eye is wide open, my horse is still experiencing uncertainty and is not sure about what I’m asking- I will wait, not force more pressure. Last but not least is the nose, mouth and breath- if the lips are tense/ horse chewing the bit restless/ heavy breathing that is a big neon light sign that tells me- I am not following your idea.

Catching our horse’s attention doesn’t mean doing more- I described the ear movement first since it is smallest easiest to miss signs- it is about doing less and being more aware. Release more for less. Not less for more.

This is all for today.

For full videos check my IGTV - Pepper is starring that one !

If you have any questions and would like some more info let me know through the contact page and social media platform of your choice.

See you soon,