Expectations of 'bonding' with your horse detrimental to horse ownership?

Chinchilla

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I have big issues with Parelli. In regards to 'bonding' specifically the imprinting of foals (issues with 'flooding' well documented) and the was they he withholds water. I'm sure there was a quote from him once about how a horse should beg you for water.

I found this old thread. I haven't re-read it yet. https://forums.horseandhound.co.uk/threads/water-deprivation-as-a-training-tool.538255/
I did not know parelli did that.... That isn't training, it's abuse.
 

DabDab

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Some definitely get to you more than others, most of mine and my livery horses respond to my voice in some way when out in their fields, some are far more interested than others and it is not all about food but there are a few that are almost shut down and I struggle with them.
I had one perfectly nice pony at livery that just took no interest, never looked up, never responded to very much, he ate, slept, was very easy to do in every way but just looked a bit dead in the eyes despite every effort to get a reaction, the only time he seemed to be happy was when he was jumping, he brightened up, looked where he was going and almost seemed to be having fun, I have no idea what happened in his early life, he came over aged 4/5 from Ireland sold by the dealer to a PC/ hunting home, sold to come here as an 8/9 year old so should have been treated ok but in the nearly 4 years here he never really changed, his owner liked him but never really enjoyed him because he gave nothing unless jumping and he had a different rider for that as she didn't jump, he was sold to a girl to SJ in the end as he was not a happy hacker.
Yeah I think that's the thing that gets me about Arty, and the other odd horse I've met like her, she gives the impression of wanting to work humans out. Most horses engagement with humans sort of begins and ends with, 'how do I get food' and 'what is that you're wanting me to do', whereas there seems to be some activism on her part over and above trained responses, instinctive reactions and 'normal' curiosity. I often catch her just stood staring at me as I wonder around the field, in a way that one of my dogs sits and stares at birds. Maybe she's wondering if I'm edible o_O:p
 

paddy555

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I do get “clicking” with a horse, or maybe “not clicking” with a horse actually. There are some horses I just don’t really get on with. Not that I wouldn’t, or couldn’t, ride them but just that they don’t really do anything for me and I suspect vice versa.
that is the same as with any animal or person. If you go to an animal shelter there will be a dog or cat that you just look at and that is it, you have to have it. Same with a horse. Horses that I have really got on with I have clicked instantly with. I bought one 2 yo arab who didn't even bother to get up in his box when I went to see him. Just took one look at him and we instantly clicked. Same with a Peruvian. I just saw him over the stable door and instantly I had to have him. I bought one horse from a single photo on the internet. Instant clicking. All three of those after that instant attraction have turned out to be my best horses.

It took me a bit of time and a few mistakes before I learnt that when buying a horse there had to be an instant connection. It could be perfect on papers but if it didn't have that "WOW" factor then no good. Wow didn't mean pretty or perfect conformation or nice movement it just meant instant attraction.
Like you there are lots of horses that just don't do very much for me.
 

be positive

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Yeah I think that's the thing that gets me about Arty, and the other odd horse I've met like her, she gives the impression of wanting to work humans out. Most horses engagement with humans sort of begins and ends with, 'how do I get food' and 'what is that you're wanting me to do', whereas there seems to be some activism on her part over and above trained responses, instinctive reactions and 'normal' curiosity. I often catch her just stood staring at me as I wonder around the field, in a way that one of my dogs sits and stares at birds. Maybe she's wondering if I'm edible o_O:p
Just like people some have instincts that go deeper than others, one pony here is very mannerly very responsive and wouldn't dream of being rude in anyway but when he changed owners it took him a while before he allowed his 'new' child to really get close, he never moved away but just remained slightly aloof for a month or two, as he stayed here nothing changed apart from the person grooming and trying to get used to tacking up, once he accepted her he just allowed a little more fussing and was more helpful when the bridle was going on, it was on his terms and only when he was ready, the more you watch them the more you learn.
 

Skib

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I started to share a horse last summer and staff began to talk of a bond between us. I was determined not to bond with her - She is not my horse. She is ridden by several different people - And I repeatedly reminded myself of what our RI said, that there are many different horses in the world.
What no one mentions on this thread is that the horse has a say in the matter.
The horse started working well for me - I reckoned I had deserved that - I took time to interpret her reasons for being uneasy about some things - I used Rashid and Kit Maynard techniques on her. The result was fortuitous, when she had the chance, she headed for me. I was her significant other.

This happens on busy yards where an elderly client has time to hang out with a particular horse. You start, as people have said, by manipulating the horse - using your skills of communication and your brain. The horse is drawn to one. And it is very hard to resist that favoritism if one is the object of it, the human involved. She has my heart. But she won it too by giving me those long lovely canters my favourite gave me and along the same stretches of track. She became my hacking partner. One starts to share experiences. And the shared history cements the bond. Just as it does in a human family.
 

Abi90

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I certainly feel I have a better mutual relationship with my mare than I did the geldings but I think that’s just because she likes people.

She runs up to me in the field but she runs up to everyone else as well. I can leave her anywhere with anyone and she behaves. She’s not too fond of the vets but she begrudgingly behaves.

So whilst she loves a good cuddle with me, she loves a good cuddle with everyone and behaves for everyone so I guess she just has good manners!
 

Berpisc

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That was the 4yo hand reared youngster that I took on as a freebie 6 years ago. 700kg of angry, no boundaries thug! She was a beautiful foal and everyone felt sorry for her so she was literally spoilt rotten.

So when people tell me these days that's she's really well behaved and their horses wouldn't tie up nicely to have a bath I grit my teeth and remember all the days when I was dodging hooves and teeth and wondering when to call the hunt.
Reminds me of losing my mare when she foaled and bringing up her foal. It was further complicated by getting a foster mare that turned out to be very ill, the foster mare's owners taking them back to theirs (having lied to me about consulting the vet) foal coming back home. Amongst all this I was warned many times of the dire consequences of rearing by hand but with care I managed (listening to those dire warnings but trying not to get too depressed). When she left me to grow on as a two year old to an experienced home I was quite proud to say she was pretty sensible. The people I sold her to were known to me and they knew her upbringing. I kept contact for long enough to know she was broken in and went on to be ridden etc as normal. As you say Sel, if I had let my emotions guide how she was handled when she was a foal she would have grown up to have a very uncertain future. The horse you took on was lucky to have you.
 

J&S

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Before I owned my own (adult owning) pony I used to get offered the ride on slightly quirky horses from the local E.C. One horse, a big chestnut gelding was particularly upset about going onto certain areas of "green" in the New Forest. Gradually I coerced him gently and he was fine with me. This I think had come about because he was used for the infamous "Sunday morning ride" where they galloped the horses over these greens and it had upset him. So, imagine my surprise when I began to find him left in the field on a Sunday morning. I asked the staff why he was not used any more.......... "we can't catch him" was the reply! I have to add this was a huge area, an old disused gravel pit and the best way to catch your horse and get them out was to hop on and ride back, this he allowed me to do whenever I went to ride him! I think he just needed a 1 - 1 relationship, happily he was sold to a person on the I of W.
Personally I can't abide the "bonding" thing, NH or the dreaded P word. You just need to do right by your horses and they will learn to trust you.
 

Winters100

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I don’t think it’s necessarily harsh or dismissive. I’m with Cortez that I want my horses to be respectful members of society rather than going gooey at the thought that I’m somehow “their person”. I’m always a little bit dubious of NH people as unfortunately those I’ve seen in real life have seemed to exclusively prey on the more nervous or novice owner. That’s not to say there aren’t some great ones out there, but there’s also a lot of charlatans making a quick buck from those that don’t know any better.
I am also (maybe unfairly) a bit dismissive of this trend for NH training. We have one lady on our yard who has a big young horse with no manners at all, despite the fact that she has spent a year working several times a week with a NH trainer. This horse is a nightmare to handle, in my opinion bordering on dangerous. All she talks about regarding the training is 'improving their relationship and communication', sorry to say that I would communicate with a horse trying to barge out of its box in the morning in a much more physical way. She sees a horse who needs more love and understanding, while all I see is a horse who needs firm handling, and on occasions a short, sharp lesson in what is and what is not acceptable behaviour. Coupled with the fact that he is overfed and under exercised I worry that it is an accident waiting to happen.
 

ponyparty

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I felt I had a bond with my boy; maybe im romanticising as I’ve just lost him? I don’t think so though.

I didn’t actually like him when I first met and started working with him; I thought he was rude, bolshy and grumpy. I was bringing him back into work after injury for a riding school, for context. However, the more I worked with him, the more I grew to like him - and him me, I’m sure of it.

He used to follow me around like a big dog. He would almost always come to me when I went to catch him; and my neighbours at the yard I moved him to last summer said he knew the sound of my car and would call as he heard me approaching.

He would come cantering over to me, even at that barefoot rehab place in a herd of others, when I went to visit (except just before I removed him, when he was too lame to muster a trot, let alone canter to me 😭); I have a video of him doing so 💔 and when I brought him home, even though he was on full livery and i wasn’t responsible for his feeding or care, he would still call and come ambling over to me in his paddock when he saw me (or heard me shouting to him asking if he fancied coming in for a bum wash 🙈🤣).

So yes I do think we had a sort of bond, or relationship, or something - but rather than being because “I was his special human” I think it was because I was consistently his 1-1 person for a good few years. He thrived on consistency and predictability, so it makes sense that he would favour one single person rather than lots handling/riding/caring for him. And giving him the odd Polo here and there..!
 

PapaverFollis

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I think it's perfectly possible to be a horse's favourite person and have them be demonstrative about. I knew I was Granny horse's favourite person. And to "click" with a horse if you just suit each other in some way. I feel that way about MrT, there's just something right about him to me. Whether he feels the same or not I cannot say!

But I think the OP is about new horse owners expecting to feel something magical, and utterly reciprocal, immediately and thinking that the "bond" somehow bypasses training, and hard times and effort and species appropriate care... so you get rude, confused horses.

Consistent handling and time will bring most horses out of their shells I think. And they do form attachments.

The problem when discussing is that the words used for the concept that is a bit silly and damaging are pretty much the same words that are used for the real thing. But the actual things being discussed are different.

And I think consciously trying to hurry along the process of getting the real deal attachment is often actually to the detriment of having a safe and trusting relationship because often it causes too much emotion and inconsistency in the process.

It's just kind of inprecise language (she says, waffling and probably spelling things wrong). "We haven't bonded" translation "I don't like him and he scares me" for example. "They have an amazing bond already"... the horse is terrified after the yard move and is shut down and quiet so us accepting all the fuss without complaint, give it two weeks.

But I don't think that means we can't and don't form deep connections with particular horses especially if we have them for a long time. I certainly felt that with Granny horse, there were many situations where it felt like she trusted me and I trusted her and we were working together. But it didn't stop her being a shit to load. She didn't trust my judgement on that one! Whereas the "special bond" folks (oh yes, they are definitely 'folks') would have told me that if I just "worked on our bond" she would trust me enough to load easily everytime. What she actually needed to load well, it turned out after a very long time spent playing very nice with treats etc, was another horse to load first or a stick up the bottom.
 

TheHairyOne

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If the word bond (which I am not a fan of!) was replaced by the word trust then it might cause more sensible reactions from people perhaps? For me trust goes both ways. I trust my horses dont want to kill me or see me and think something bad will happen and they trust that when I ask them to do something its not going to try and eat them/cause them pain etc.

Some of the daft behaviour the idea of bonding causes reminds me a girl who was on my yard who was a 1st time horse owner. Was trying to 'bond' with her new horse by feeding her horse with the bucket cradled in her arms... Funnily enough that stopped when the horse took a chunk out of her arm. The horse had actually had a pretty good early education and was fairly polite with anyone else, but when the owner was handling it was rude and bolshy and generally unpleasent.

I dont think any horse from a normal kind of upbringing should need a long list of instructions for anyone vaugley horsey to catch it, feed a premade feed and put it in a stable for the night! I could send my non horsey other half up to do that for all 6 of ours with about 5 mins of instructions...half of which being which field to find then in.
 

SEL

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This is SUCH an interesting thread! I think when the Appy came to me I was so busy focussing on safety that I couldn't have given a damn about whether we bonded. She just needed enough manners to get us to the stage where I thought there was a future she could be handled without me wearing safety gear 😩 - if not then it was a call to the hunt.

Yes we probably have a bond of sorts now, but it's more "mother and difficult teenage daughter" than anything where we gaze deep into each others eyes and share our innermost thoughts (hers would be food orientated anyway....)

Boy horse came from a working background and was really shut down. For him it's been about consistency and trust.
 

milliepops

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This is SUCH an interesting thread! I think when the Appy came to me I was so busy focussing on safety that I couldn't have given a damn about whether we bonded. She just needed enough manners to get us to the stage where I thought there was a future she could be handled without me wearing safety gear 😩 - if not then it was a call to the hunt.

Yes we probably have a bond of sorts now, but it's more "mother and difficult teenage daughter" than anything where we gaze deep into each others eyes and share our innermost thoughts (hers would be food orientated anyway....)

Boy horse came from a working background and was really shut down. For him it's been about consistency and trust.
funny isn't it. In the beginning Kira was so difficult that she was really quite dangerous and at the time I finally started to make progress was also destined for a one-way trip to the kennels. i truly feel that she only started to improve when we did something that you could describe as "bonding" but not in an eyerolly woo way, more in a "i like you y'know, you can stop trying to kill me and I promise not to kill you" :p I had to let her in ;)

Darcy was very very distant when he arrived, similar I guess as an ex racer who clearly didn't know how to be a pet at all. He didn't interact, he just allowed you to do stuff to him, nervously. Just being the same all the time has made him come out of his shell and explore a more informal relationship. Personally I find it easier to deal with the difficult training days when the ground-handling is more pet-like so I'm pleased he's figured that out.
 

JFTDWS

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I have two which were quite quiet, reserved and a bit shut down when they came. And one who was - and remains - the complete opposite. He's a bloody pest - he sneaks up on you while you're doing stuff in the field and breathes down the back of your neck and nibbles your hair. It's not a mystic bond - he's just got ADD and is a real people horse.

Both the others are now soppy lumps. Fergs is more of a worrier who, when upset, resorts to a bit of thuggery on the ground, and hysteria when stressed under saddle. He's pretty easy to deal with because I know him inside out, and he's now almost invariably polite on the ground and is a polite idiot under saddle.

Skye's a worrier who tends to clam up when stressed. I find her harder to deal with, although simultaneously easier. She's pretty safe, but sometimes I want her to show she's stressed so we can work through it, rather than just clamming up on me. Then she shows she's stressed about something and I worry I've screwed her over or she's lost her mind.

Dae is so easy in comparison because he's simply an opinionated idiot who rarely acts out, and when he does, responds positively to being told to get over himself. The other two encourage my OCD neurotic tendencies!
 

Fjord

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I adore my mare, she tolerates me. Mostly because she gets a polo for being good. I'm under no illusion that should I disappear from the face of the earth, as long as her needs are met, food is supplied and no one is mean to her, she wouldn't notice I'm gone. I trust her, she trusts me, I understand her and have learned to talk her language but it's not a bond.
 

Sussexbythesea

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I wouldn’t use the term “bond” but I do think horses like being with us for more than just food. My two are like lovable labradors and vie for my attention. There was a horrible experiment on baby monkeys that showed that they were more attached to the thing / caregiver that gave them comfort over the one that gave them food only. I know they’re monkeys not horses but certainly even when I’ve been on full livery my horses have always recognised me as “their person” even though I wasn’t feeding or mucking them out etc.

I think humans are arrogant to believe they’re the only ones with emotional attachments and they have “feelings” which animals don’t. I disagree. Human emotions of love, jealousy, fear etc. Are just chemical reactions in the brain same as animals. Where I do think there is a difference is the ability (although not always successful) to rationalise feelings and also the concept of something happening elsewhere than in the moment. So a human mother whose baby is taken to have an operation can understand that concept and although worried can rationalise it whereas an animal just knows you’ve taken it away and panics.

I don’t think they would outwardly pine for me though and would just get on an accept a “new person” because they’re both well adjusted.
 

J&S

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I bought a rather sensitive but very well schooled and handled ch m for my daughter. When said daughter left home I felt I would rather look after one pony really well than be a bit over stretched with two. So, I gave her to my very best friend who was at the time living in Scotland. It's a long journey from New Forest to Scotland so she stayed the night with Mrs Gillie in Yorkshire. When this pony eventually arrived the next day at my friend's farm the lorry was opened and the pony immediately whinnied to my friend. I, to this day, think she thought it was me! They got on from the word go (though nobody else would ride her!) and my friend absolutely adored her, however when I went to stay I could get out of my car and within five minutes be on her back and she was just the same as the day I sent her away. She had had a very chequered past (ex JA) and I think that my friend and I both gave her something that made her feel "safe".
 

LiquidMetal

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It’s not my favorite way to think of horse-human relationship. I think my horse likes me - i.e. he associates me with positive experiences. I am the bringer of the grain bucket, scratcher of the places he can’t reach and I work to keep all our training as stress free as possible so he enjoys spending time with me because it is not causing him distress. I am under no illusion that he is most happy with his horse buddy eating grass.

I’m a big fan of Andrew McLean’s work and this is an issue he talks about. Women especially want to feel they have a deeper connection to their horses. As seen in replies above, it can be quite dangerous. It also leads to anthropomorphism which tends to be dangerous for a variety of reasons. He writes that we should think of ourselves as our horse’s trainer and bringer of food. Horses are much more content left with their own kind and eating happily. The kindest thing we can do for our animals is to train them consistently so they respond to cues reliably. This creates safer, more predictable horses who are much more likely to have a happy life.

My horse does things for me because I have consistently taught him to respond to cues. Not because he wants to please me. If he doesn’t respond to cues reliably (maybe we’re somewhere new and he’s distracted), it’s not a personal failing on my part or shows a lack of leadership. We just need to go back and reestablish the cues until he’s responding reliably. I love the Equitation Science way of thinking about horse behavior because it totally removes the personal aspect.

I also get a little twitchy when I see people talking about being the leader, or applying the human concepts of trust and respect to horses personally.
 
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Flame_

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Isn't it really about being honest with yourself about what you like, what will suit in terms of type and personality, and about finding horses that challenge you and interest you enough without over-horsing yourself? I think developing a feeling that you and your horse are a team working together at life and not in opposition with oneanother, or worse, that your horse is just part of your sport/ hobby equipment, is the really enjoyable part of horse ownership. I don't know if the bond is exactly two-way but we can definitely feel bonded to the horse, or not.
 

minesadouble

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To my shame I have recently used the word 'bond' to describe the relationship between my 12 year old and her pony.

I've had more horses than I can count over the years, having been brought up in a horsey family" and I totally agree that some you click with and some you don't, some horses are 'peopley' while some just aren't and for me that's pretty much as far as it goes.

However, my daughter had a pony that knocked her confidence and I subsequently bought her a pony that I hoped would help rebuild it.
From the word go he singled her out massively. I look after him and am the bearer of food all weekdays while she is at school but he always whinnies when he sees her and never whinnies to me.
He can be little sod on the ground... But never with her. Once she took a tumble from him and was upset and he stood in the arena with his face pressed against hers until she pulled herself back together.
I've had horses my whole life (I'm 50 now) and I've never seen a pony behave like this, he behaved like this from the day he arrived at our home, before he even knew who she was really.
He doesn't just love kids because he doesn't behave like this for my smaller daughter. It's bizarre!
 

canteron

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I don’t see that having a bond means your horse means it doesn’t have consistently good manners, that is just bitchy ignorant snobbery.
I have met many a high achieving horses with appalling manners because it wasn’t important enough to the owner to bother to teach it any.
The link is tenuous.
 

PapaverFollis

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All I've personally been trying to say, in trying to tackle the subject in the original post, is that placing "create a bond" high up on your priority list with a horse can, potentially, lead some, not all, owners to behave in a way that can lead to a confused horse with bad manners. My experiences of people who talk loudly about special bonds have been of people I wouldn't want to leave in charge of my horses... and I certainly never wanted to deal with there horses without gloves, a hard hat and a stick to hand... perhaps my experience has made me snobby and bitchy but there you go.

Ps. "Manners" is another word I find quiet challenging as it is often, in my experience, used by people who inconsistently punish their horses in a somewhat over-emotional and 'for show' fashion. But again is also used in a sensible way by sensible people.

Going back to an earlier post...

While I think Skinner style behaviourism (input cue, output action, four quadrants etc etc etc) is a very sensible way to approach most aspects of dealing with horses I don't think that what comes out in the relationship between human and horse is limited to that. I think there IS a more social level of connection there because horses and humans are both social species with complex emotional lives. But I do agree that it is less than useful to focus on it as a goal or training method. It develops over time as a result of training and husbandry of the animal...
 

ycbm

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To my shame I have recently used the word 'bond' to describe the relationship between my 12 year old and her pony.

I've had more horses than I can count over the years, having been brought up in a horsey family" and I totally agree that some you click with and some you don't, some horses are 'peopley' while some just aren't and for me that's pretty much as far as it goes.

However, my daughter had a pony that knocked her confidence and I subsequently bought her a pony that I hoped would help rebuild it.
From the word go he singled her out massively. I look after him and am the bearer of food all weekdays while she is at school but he always whinnies when he sees her and never whinnies to me.
He can be little sod on the ground... But never with her. Once she took a tumble from him and was upset and he stood in the arena with his face pressed against hers until she pulled herself back together.
I've had horses my whole life (I'm 50 now) and I've never seen a pony behave like this, he behaved like this from the day he arrived at our home, before he even knew who she was really.
He doesn't just love kids because he doesn't behave like this for my smaller daughter. It's bizarre!
That's lovely, made me really smile.

I hesitate to call it 'a bond', but something has changed in my relationship with Ludo in the last six months. I suddenly felt I understood him, his lack of belief in himself, his need to 'get things right' and started to treat him slightly differently and to tell him how special he is. I feel quite strange about him, I can't really describe it.

.
 

JFTDWS

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I wouldn’t use the term “bond” but I do think horses like being with us for more than just food. ...

I think humans are arrogant to believe they’re the only ones with emotional attachments and they have “feelings” which animals don’t.
I agree and, on a different note, I feel similarly when people say horses aren't capable of being naughty. I think it does the horse a disservice - horses are capable of thinking their idea of what they want to do is better than their humans, and deciding to do it, without this necessarily being a reaction to pain or fear. That's not to say that a good proportion of unwanted behaviours aren't due to those things - but horses aren't machines and they do sometimes do things because they just choose to do it.

However, my issue with the "bond" is not that horses and humans share complicated relationships which are often hard to define in words, which I think is certainly true, but that people who talk about it as a "bond" are usually a bit on the "woo" side and not so much on the competent side of life. There are, no doubt, exceptions to that - I just haven't met them. But most of the people I know who talk about wanting to "bond" with their horse, using that word, are usually dippy teenagers, or daft middle aged women wafting carrot sticks around.

I'd never say I have a bond with my horses because I'm a literal bugger who wants to ask if they mean an ionic, a covalent or a hydrogen one. It doesn't mean I don't think my horses and I don't share a good working relationship, which goes beyond the basic "I say, you do, I bring feed" contract.
 
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