Bonding Mistakes

I was so excited when I bought my mare. She was my first horse (at the tender age of 42) and I couldn’t quite believe my luck – it had finally happened after so many years of wanting and waiting.

But I was a very inexperienced horse owner and, with the benefit of hindsight, committed a grave error very early on in our relationship.

Quite simply I didn’t give us a chance to bond. I didn’t give us a chance to get to know one another. And for her especially, I didn’t let her get to know a new place to live, new horses to live with (she was now in a herd of a dozen or more horses after being paddocked with only one other), a new environment, new rules and routines and a new owner.

Six weeks after I bought her I took her on a 20km endurance ride. It was the first such ride for both of us. I’d never been before and didn’t know what to expect. My horse hadn’t been before, was completely out of her depth and I didn’t have the knowledge or skills to make it better for her.

It wasn’t the best ride I had ever had, and she ended up bolting a couple of times on me. We were both complete messes by the end of it. But it was cold hard proof that, while I needed to work on a lot of things with both of us, the main issue was our relationship. I needed to get to know her and she needed to get to know me.

But finding time to just bond proved to be incredibly difficult. I couldn’t visit her during the week due to work commitments and I only had the weekends to see her. Too bad if it was raining or I had something else on.

And then I had well-meaning encouragement from others to ‘just ride her’. This attitude didn’t sit well with me but I tried to keep up, to be a tough horse person. But it was my downfall.

After two falls, one ending in a mild concussion, I let go of having to keep up with the others and went my own way. I stopped riding and just started spending time with her. Grooming, feeding (of course), groundwork and taking her for walks.

Tiny bit by tiny bit she started to relax around me and I around her. She came to know my routine and I came to know her attitude and responses, her likes and dislikes. I decided to let us both just be.

Gradually I started getting back in the saddle but I took my time. I wanted to enjoy my riding and not feel pressured into doing it. If something went wrong, I would stop riding and look at our relationship – chances were I was pushing her and me too far and too fast. I would go back to our little bonding exercises and start again.

There have been a couple of occasions since then, when she has been ill or injured, where I couldn’t ride and, while I was disappointed, I took the opportunity to just be and bond with her. It took the pressure off both of us to perform and I could feel that she was more relaxed being around me.

It certainly isn’t a quick fix but I am grateful that I took the other path, that I listened to myself and her, and slowed down enough for each of us to get to know the other.

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Allyssa Carlton

I’ve loved horses forever but only in the last few years have I owned a horse. Now I belong to a grey Arab mare named Aine. When I’m not horsing around, you’ll find me writing, cooking, reading and drinking coffee and wine. I share my home with my barista husband, one of my two daughters and her tiny dog Patrick.

One thought on “Bonding Mistakes

  • July 28, 2017 at 3:35 pm

    Hi Alyssa!

    Good for you! I do wish other new (and returning) horse owners/riders would follow your (eventual) path. Really getting to know and understand your horse is so important. The more time you spend connecting with your horse, the better off you’ll both be!

    I, too, have a (relatively) new mare. Although I’ve had horses all of my life and have been an instructor and trainer for about 40 years, I’ve mainly trained geldings and stallions since I had my first horse (a lovely former ranch horse from Montana). Now in addition to my 27 year old gelding, I have a 9-year-old OTTB mare, Bella. Mares are a whole different story than geldings, and although not the easiest horse for me, she’s definitely the exact horse I needed at this time in my life. I’ll be chronicling our story here on

    Congratulations for working hard to make it work – it is hard to fit everything in with a M – F job, not to mention family commitments and little things like eating, sleeping and taking the occasional shower 😉

    I look forward to reading more of your journey with Aine.

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