How much time do you invest in relationship-building with a new horse prior to riding?

This is a great question! I love how people in general are thinking about the relationship more these days especially before swinging a leg over!


The short answer to this question is: as long as it takes…


The long answer is this:


There are many things I would consider prior to riding a young horse. Not just the relationship.


More broadly I consider the three fundamentals:




And all three of these things help to build the relationship. I don’t specifically work on the relationship as such.


For example: I don't specifically set out to work on my relationship with my husband. We do fun stuff together, we communicate clearly with each other, we each have our own needs met, and I feel safe that I can share my feelings with him and he will listen. As a result, our relationship deepens. When we have new, even challenging experiences together, our relationship deepens further.


I know that obviously a horse/human relationship is different to a human/human relationship but I’m just using the metaphor to demonstrate that we don’t need to specifically/directly ‘work’ on the relationship to improve it.


With horses, I work on the communication & confidence and the connection/relationship develops.


There are definitely things you can do to help the relationship, and I talk about this using the Relationship Bank Account analogy in the free Connection & Communication mini-course (link in bio).


For a young horse, I need the communication and confidence to be very good before I will risk my body on their back:



  • Can I clearly state a boundary with that horse?
  • Can they happily lead with me way out in front keeping the same distance?
  • Can they happily lead with me by their side with little use of the leadrope?
  • Can I move them backwards with light touch?
  • Can I move their hindquarters and forequarters with light touch?
  • Can I lower their head with light touch?
  • Can I move them backwards with a body language cue?
  • Can I move their hindquarters and forequarters with a body language cue?
  • Can I laterally flex their neck left/right?
  • Can I get an appropriate response to all the ridden cues on the ground (before trying it when riding)?



  • Can I rub my hands, stick, and flag all over the horse without them worrying?
  • Can I swing a leadrope/string over their neck, back, rump, legs?
  • Can I wave my stick flag around the horse, in the area of the saddle etc. without them worrying?
  • Can I do the above in motion? 
  • Can I take the horse into new areas and the communication doesnt break down?
  • Is my horse 100% comfortable with the tacking up process- bridle, halter, bit, saddle, saddle-pad, birthing etc.
  • Is my horse relaxed and happy at the mounting block, able to stand still and can put some weight in the saddle without them moving off?

If the answer is no to any of the above, that is the thing that I work on until it is reliably good. That is, it’s good every time I bring them out- not just once. But consistently good.


This is also not an extensive list and by no means is a list of steps to start a horse under saddle- this is a whole topic in itself and not my scope of practise.


Once those the things are reliably good, the connection is usually there. 


Clues for me that the CONNECTION is there are:

  • The horse looks to me for guidance.
  • The horse responds to the lightest of cues- both from light touch and body language.
  • The horse is interested in the conversation rather than zoned out/shut down/bored.
  • The horse is relaxed in my presence and confident/curious about new things.
  • When I reach out my hand, the horse physically connects, like saying hello
  • If I were to take the gear off, the horse would be comfortable staying with me


So in answer to the question, I would take as long as it took to get all the above good before I ride that young horse. That way I’m taking less of a gamble when I swing the leg over because I know that horse and I have a solid relationship based on the fundamentals of CONNECTION, CONFIDENCE, & COMMUNICATION.


And then, on any given day, I don't just assume that those fundamentals are there. Just because they were there yesterday, doesn't mean they are there today. Especially with a young/green horse, they need to be established and checked over and over before they are reliable.


In general, before I hop on any horse, I ask myself these this:

Is this horse relaxed and responsive?

If there is any hesitation to answering yes to that question, they're not ready to ride and I need to keep working on the fundamentals until they are.


And if you want to learn how to actually do the fundamentals, I teach them in Horsemanship Fundamentals Academy (click here to learn more)







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