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Spreading the Love: Tips for Bonding with Your Horse – with Ashley Clock and Scott Reinartz

In honor of Valentine's Day, Ashley Clock and Scott Reinartz discuss ways you can bond with your horse to build your connection as a team.

It has been said that a good rider can hear their horse speak to them, but a great rider can hear their horse whisper. The goal of a horse and rider relationship is not one-way; the most successful riders tend to share a close bond with their horses.

We wanted to highlight that connection by speaking with champion trainer Ashley Clock and champion amateur Scott Reinartz to get their insights and tips for increasing our bonds with our horses.

The Importance of Connection
Both Clock and Reinartz believe that establishing a connection with your horse is critical to your success as a team.

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I think building your horse’s trust is a big part of what we do,” Clock explains. “And, if you gain that trust, when it’s time to ask for more from your horses, they are more willing to step up.

Reinartz believes that building a relationship with your horse not only helps the horse learn to trust, but is incredibly beneficial for humans as well.

Overall, I believe bonding with our horses is healthy for our minds and spirit. It’s great for both human and animal. He emphasizes, “Doctors of different fields have developed programs to bond with horses for many types of physical therapy and mental health treatments for humans. That, in and of itself, speaks volumes for the benefits the connection with horses can have for us as well.  

Indeed, Winston Churchill has been credited with saying, “There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.”

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Quiet Time
Both Clock and Reinartz believe that spending quiet time with your horse can help calm your mind when you are frustrated or nervous. They hope that the same can be said for their horses.

For me, just spending time with my horses and handling them helps me to build a bond with them. And lots of pets and treats,Clock laughs.

She continues, “I do occasionally hang out with my horses in their stalls. Sometimes, if it’s been a rough day, just hanging with them helps things calm down in my own head. Horses are my therapy. So, hanging with them in their stall really helps me to feel I am building a bond with them.

Grooming & Spa Days
Reinartz enjoys spending time with his horses on their days off in order to focus on their needs and simply spend quality time together.

He explains, “I will do spa days where they get bubble baths, clipped, turnout, apples, and carrots. It’s a great to spend time with them with no work involved, just having a relaxed day. I think they can sense the serenity and they appreciate the low-key time together.

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Horse behaviorists agree that grooming can have a big impact in building the bond between horse and rider. According to Dr. Robin Foster, Ph.D., wild horses will groom each other within their heard structures, which increases social bonds and establishes hierarchies.

By grooming your horse, you will begin to develop a real sense of trust as they become more comfortable being in your presence. This can translate to success in the show pen as your horse will likely become more responsive to your instructions.

In addition to allowing the rider to examine their horse more closely and spot any potential health issues sooner, a grooming session can help a horse relax and feel more comfortable. A horse that is in a good mood is likely going to be a better ride than one that is scared or stressed.

Let them be a Horse
Clock is a firm believer in letting your horse have time to be a horse. She hopes this reward for hard work will help the horse find their version of work/life balance such that they are more willing to be an engaged partner when she does ask them to give their best.

She explains, “My horses get lots of turn out time in their grass pastures. I think it’s great for their digestive systems and great for their minds.

According to the Journal of Veterinary Equine Science, regular turnout, even if in a small paddock or run, can have huge positive contributions to your horse’s digestion, hoof and leg health, while also decreasing the transmission of disease. Another huge health benefit is the contribution to your horse’s mental health. Pine Ridge Equine Hospital notes that turnout can help decrease the chances of a horse developing stereotypic pacing, cribbing, weaving, and other boredom-induced behaviors.

Clock believes that giving her horses time to be horses helps them enjoy her company more when she’s around. “I want them to be happy when they see me coming not mad that they will have to go to work when I’m around.

Focus on Groundwork
According to Reinartz, “Ground work definitely helps build a bond. We learn how to read body language and get to know how they will react in different situations, without the restraints of the saddle and bridle.

Groundwork is known to establish a solid foundation between horse and handler. Specifically, it is credited by amateurs and trainers alike with creating good manners, establishing safety, and building trust and communication.

The horse and handler can establish trust through groundwork by setting useful boundaries around personal space, which can make the horse safer to be around. It is hard to build a bond with a horse that is scary and unpredictable. In the same way, it is unlikely a horse will bond with someone they don’t have a healthy respect for.

Therefore, ground work is often a low-stress, less physically difficult way to bond with your horse that still reinforces respect and proper manners.

The Key: Periodically Removing Expectations
Both trainers and animal behaviorists credit the removal of expectations with allowing the bond between humans and animals to grow.

In the human context, if you were asked to work your hardest every time a certain co-worker was around, then chances are you wouldn’t be too fond of their company. Horses are the same – if you ask your horse to work like they are showing every time you are around them, it’s likely you won’t be their favorite person.

Reinartz jokes, “I feel like I mostly ride my horse around for fun, not really worried about collection and frame – just ask my trainer.” He explains, “Horse shows are a different thing, I am more focused on frame and collection. I feel like, by not always asking them to be on point all the time, it gives us time to bond and feel at ease with each other and they seem to be happier. Nobody wants to be in work mode constantly.

At the core of nearly all our tips, whether spending quiet time together, grooming, turnout, or focusing on ground work, a common thread is that by removing expectations and focusing on your horse’s needs and mental well-being, you can build a bond with them where they actually enjoy your company. And it may help to have a few treats in your pocket…


About the Author: Megan Rechberg is a World Championpleasure horse enthusiast who works as a full-time mom, part-time litigation attorney, and owner/operator of Bred N Butter Equine Management – a company that focuses on social media management for stallions, consulting, and sales and breeding contracts. She currently shows her APHA filly SmoreThanA PrettyFace under the guidance of Double A Performance Horses.
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