What do you do in the first 10 minutes you’re with a horse?


Well, I had one of those questions that you don’t expect and that sends you down the ‘rabbit hole’. One that really makes you think! Or at least one that made me have to think really deeply about the answer.

Let me explain.

A lady from Europe came for a private clinic and after we sat down and discussed what she wanted and expected, we went out to the horses.

She first wanted to see a demonstration of me working the horses. She said it was to see what the end result was supposed to look like.

But, after watching me work the horses for a short time and seeing how connected we were and how well we communicated with each other, she asked the usual question of “How do you do that?”.

“Well that’s some of what I’ll be explaining to you over this weekend”, I said.

“No”, she said. “I mean, what did you do in that 10 minutes that made the horses so interested, connected, and willing to start a conversation with you?”.

Hmmm, she had me stumped with that one as what I do is not something I usually think about.

Of course what I do is based on a lifetime of experience and a lot of trial and error which has resulted in my body and mind doing what they do automatically.

Like learning the two-step to the point where your feet just move naturally when you hear the music instead of having to think about what to do next.

However, that didn’t answer her question. We talked it through during the weekend, but I’ve thought about it hard and deep ever since and this is the best answer to her question that I’ve been able to come up with…

The first thing I do is build rapport with my horse in order to get him, and us, ready to start whatever training, games, or adventure that we are going to do that day.

In that first 10 minutes, no matter what is on the agenda for the day, I am working on building a rapport. That is the spark that lights the fire of our foundation. Then I add kindling to that spark to grow the trust, connection, communication, and cooperation. But it all begins in the first few minutes we’re together.

You know the old saying, “You don’t get a second chance at making a good first impression”?

Well, it’s the same with horses.

So what kind of first impression do you give your horse?

Rapport means a total responsiveness, connection, or spark.

I’ve heard top notch relationship experts say that in order to have a good relationship you need to have a good rapport with that person. It can even go deeper than that.

Tony Robbins says, “People like people that are like themselves or who they would like to be and they don’t like those that are NOT like themselves.”

So, if you are trying to build rapport with your horse and according to Tony Robbins, “Rapport is created by a feeling of commonality”, how can you do that with horses? What do you have in common with a horse?

Well, let’s dig down a bit deeper. Most people usually try to create rapport through words only. They try to tell similar stories or have similar experiences, so during a conversation with a new friend you may often hear, “Yes, me too”, or “I had a similar situation, let me tell you…”.


7% of communication is words
93% of communication is NOT words
And 55% of communication is physiological – body language

Those are the stats for humans but I bet you can see one very important aspect that we have in common with horses…

93% of our communication is NOT made up of words.

Even though 55% of our communication is body language, it is more important to horses and so they are usually better at reading it than we are.

So, in that first 10 minutes or so, this is what I do to gain rapport with a horse…

Teddie and JazzMatching and Mirroring

The term Matching and Mirroring was coined by psychologist Dr. Milton Erickson about 35 years ago.

He felt that our subconscious mind was more powerful than our conscious mind and described ways in which our subconscious mind reads and interprets body language of others and how this could make people feel and behave.

It’s fascinating stuff, but I’ll keep this blog short and just go over some basics and how this relates to what I do with my horses to gain rapport very quickly.

Because my intentions every time I go in with a horse is that I want them to know that I am not going to hurt them in any way. I want them to know that I’m not going to force them to do anything against their will, and I’m there to have a two-way conversation with them so we can do whatever we do as friends and partners.

This is how I get that across:

Ways to Match and Mirror: Biofeedback

Facial expressions – watch the eyes, the ears, the movement of the head.
* If there is any trepidation in the eyes or the facial expressions, or the head turns away, then back up or stop doing what caused this and show reassurance.
* If there is any fear in the eyes or with the ears, calm down, back up, and start over.

Tone, tempo and pitch of voice – listen for any snorting or whinnies
* If the vocalizations are showing fear, back off. If they are showing pleasure, continue and reassure.

Body language – posture, gestures, tail
* If the tail is really swishing, there is agitation, slow down and be careful, possibly walk away.
* If the body language is showing aggression, walk away and try again in a bit.
* If the body language is showing eagerness and excitement, or even curiosity, keep going and show the same interest.

Energy levels – varies from low to high
* It’s possible to match the same energy as your horse, if you want to. But if you want to lower or raise your horse’s energy, you can change yours and ask the horse to match you.

Intentions – agenda
* The initial intention is to find common ground and gain rapport.
* Intentions will change due to the immediate situation and can vary due to what you and your horse needs.

Eye contact – focus, attention
* Know where your horse is at all times, but you don’t have to stare at your horse constantly to know this.
* Watching your horse can add pressure, so if you see the head turn away, stop staring for a bit.

Breathing – the rhythm of breathing
* This is a great calming technique for you and for your horse when you want things to become quieter and calmer.

Proximity – spatial acceptance
* We all have a “safe space” where we feel comfortable having someone close. Horses do as well. When you get close and you notice the ears go back or the face turn away, or your horse starts to walk away, stop moving towards him and maybe even take a few steps back. Stop the pressure of moving into their “safe space” before they are ready.

Touch – petting, scratching, or grooming
* You need to use your sensory acuity to watch for your horse’s acceptance or not. Allow your horse to tell you when he feels comfortable with your touch.
* Use the same parameters as used above with Proximity.

There is actually a lot to think about and a lot that happens naturally in those first few minutes together and matching and mirroring can help build rapport quickly with your horse.

According to Dr. Erickson, after matching and mirroring comes pacing and entrainment. This is when you spend a lot of time together and things become in sync (physically and mentally).

We women know this, right? How often have you heard about women who work together eventually having their period at the same time!

So, gaining a rapport is the first thing I do with my horses and then hanging out with them to become more in sync is the next thing. Then after both of those is showing and gaining a sense of trust.

So that is my condensed answer to “What do you do in the first 10 minutes you’re with a horse?”.

I hope it helps you as it helped the kind lady that came to a clinic and stumped me within the first hour.

Kit + Danny Boy Update

If you’ve been reading my last few newsletters then you’ll know I’ve recently been given access to 2 gorgeous Egyptian Arabians.

Here’s Kit in his new stall. I was a bit nervous moving him from where he’d been for 3 years, especially as a mare in a nearby pasture had gone into heat.

However all went well and he is settling down there nicely which is good as I can now more easily make sure he eats properly to really bring him back to his full glory.

Meanwhile, I am also making progress with Danny Boy. I was able to groom his whole body and do his mane and tail at liberty and even get as far as putting a halter over his nose but stopped short of doing it up all the way.

Baby steps are what is required with these boys as they have been without human interaction and socialization for so long. It’s a journey for all 3 of us and I can’t wait to see how we all develop as a result!

As always, I’d love to hear your comments and questions in the Comments below!


Please Share

  • I always when feeding would watch them while they ate or when approaching the gate also made sure there were no signs of lameness brushed them dalily weather or not going to ride that day as well as interacted with them through out the day when possible but always fed morning and evening time to see for any signs of distress .

    • Our habits with them before we do anything are more important than we know sometimes. 🙂 Good work Connie.

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