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Bonding Time


liberty training bonding time

Connection exercise 1, also known as “Bonding Time” is the most important exercise to do with your horse.

Most people place too little attention on this exercise because a lot of people have the feeling that they always need to be “doing something”. If not, they feel nervous or they think they are wasting time…  But during this exercise you are not supposed to do anything.

You just have to BE THERE.

What is the goal of  “Bonding Time” ?

Horses are herd animals and forge strong bonds with the other horses in their herds. By regularly being a part of your horse’s group, a herd feeling grows.

liberty training bonding with your horse

Because of Bonding Time, horses become more curious and will look for contact with the human from their own initiative. And naturally, that is what we want: that the horse looks for contact himself, instead of the human always having to step towards the horse.

After a while, a stronger sense of belonging grows. Your horse doesn’t see you as someone who always wants something from him but as someone who is regularly present in an unobtrusive way. The horse will start to appreciate your company and the bond with your horse will become stronger. This exercise is the foundation of everything you will ever want to do with your horse! Without enough Bonding Time, your relationship with your horse will never reach its full potential.

Where do you do this exercise?

You can do this exercise in the meadow or in a paddock. You can separate your horse from the horses, but you don’t have to. I advise against doing this in a small space like a stable, because the horse can’t go far enough away from you if it feels the need to.

HOW do you do it?

It’s very simple. Sit on a chair, on a log, or on the ground, and don’t do anything. Just enjoy the environment: the view, the sounds around you, the sun on your skin or the wind blowing through your hair. You are just supposed to be together with your horse in the same meadow or paddock. You ignore the horse, which means that you don’t step towards it, look at it all the time or keep hoping that the horse comes to you.

liberty horse training

If you find it difficult to do nothing, try reading a magazine, meditating, writing in your journal, knitting a scarf, or anything that can be done while sitting down quietly.

Another way to spend your Bonding Time is by strolling through the meadow or paddock — just like horses do. You walk through the grass and through the meadow, sitting down whenever you feel like it.

How often do you do it?

Ideally, you would spend time on this every day, but if that is impossible, you should at least make time for it a few times a week, even if you can only do 10 minutes each time.  However, the more and the longer you can do it, the better. The more natural your presence becomes, the stronger your bond will become.

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    Comment Section

    25 thoughts on “Bonding Time

    By Michaela on 22 August 2014

    Thanks for this article! I think I need to try this out. I just have one quick question, should you discourage your horse if he likes to “nibble” on or mouth you while you’re sitting out in the pasture during bonding time? Is simply brushing him away a strong enough correction?

    By Karine Vandenborre on 8 September 2014

    It’s a good thing if your horse gets curious. So I would advise to let him smell and nibble. BUT if your horse starts to be TOO pushy, then you ask him to take a distance. It’s important to be assertive but still friendly. So you stand up from your chair and move your arms and whip to show him your intimate space. If your horse keeps being pushy then you can ask him to even go out of your personal space (a bubble approximately 5 meter diameter).

    By Shauna on 24 January 2016

    I like to keep my horse elbows length away. If I’m minding my own business I just bend my arms (elbows out) and wave them around. If he’s close enough to get whacked then he’ll learn to give you some space

    By Barbara on 17 January 2015

    Dear Karine, thank you so much for these information. Could you please help me with some advice ? I have a 20 y old horse, whom I adopted from the riding school 8 months ago. I started to ride her, and lunging etc. , however, she had a break for almost 2 months now as she began coughing. She is fine by now, but I can feel some strange changes: she refuses to go on a lunge line, she was even resistant (never happened before) when we tried to lunge her. I have a gut feeling actually that she is just fed up with the work, fed up with being driven around and so on. Meanwhile therefore I decided to re-establish our relationship with some ground work with a rope halter and a lead rope – however, I still have the same feeling that it is not by her will either. By reading your Liberty Training it now became clear that actually I keep pushing her around, and so that I have to re-start the whole thing from liberty following your eight exercises. What do you think about this? Can I re-build this relationship with such an old school horse, what can I expect? Do you suggest not to ride her, not to lunge her now, just go step by step starting with liberty – even if she knows pretty well lunging etc.? And how long should I “repeat” liberty exercises before I move on to the ground work? Of course others tell me to push her, not to leave her go away with that refusal behaviour, to show her who is the boss etc. However, I just feel there are blocks missing and in the same time I am lost in deciding how to react to her refusal, get aways and feel tool-less. She by the way lives in a huge pasture, fed by ad libitum hay, forages, gets herbs for her coughing issues and has two horse-friends with her, so I think she lives pretty well (in terms of the environment). I love her very much. Thank you very much for all your help and reply in advance! I keep reading your docs 🙂 Best wishes Barbara

    By Karine Vandenborre on 24 February 2015

    Yes Barbara, of course you can rebuild the relationship with your horse. This is possible with every horse, no matter how old they are! And yes, I advise you to stop all the other training, only focus on liberty training and the connection exercises. The best thing is to only do liberty training until the first 6 connection-exercises are confirmed. Don’t listen to people who say that you have to push your horse and show her who’s boss. Your intuition already says that this is not the solution… Focus on liberty training for now. And then work from there

    By Laura Joseph on 23 March 2017

    The place where I board my horse the lady there got mad at me for not being pushy to let him know I am the boss . Now she told me to find another place. We are having a hard time finding a place that is priced so we can afford it. Any suggestions. I have till March 31st. Thanks

    By vera on 23 January 2015

    hello! I love reading your articles and think they are very interesting! I have a few questions though. how long should you spend on “bonding time” before you move onto the next step “greet and go” and so on?

    By Karine Vandenborre on 24 February 2015

    If your horse comes to you during “bonding time” and makes contact, then it’s time to begin the other exercises.

    By hannah on 29 May 2015

    So glad I found your website! My pony has a sore back at the moment (physio and saddle fitter are booked in!) so I was looking for some different things to do with him while we cant get out riding together. Reading about this first excercise reminded me of something I saw at the weekend. The young teenager who’s horse shares my ponies field, was lying in the field messing about with her camera. I turned my boy out and he spotted her instantly. He walked towards her but in a big arc and finally walked up to her, sniffed her foot, walked along side her body, sniffing her all the way, sniffed her face and she stroked his nose and he walked away over to his horse friend. It made me smile to see, partly because of his curiosity but it also reminded me of when I was younger and without the pulls on my time from work and day to day life, I used to spend time just sitting in the field not unlike this teenager! Reading your article has made me see how important this time is! So I will make time to sit with my ponies as often as I can. What’s 10 minutes after all!

    By Jack on 6 June 2015

    Hello, I loved reading all your liberty training articles. I have two Shetland ponies that recently I have felt very distant from so I have decided to try some of your techniques. Today I have spent probably around 4 hours reading in their paddock today and I am wondering when to go onto the next step? They don’t walk over to me intentionally but if they are grazing and they end up next to my chair they will sniff me and scratch on the chair! sometimes one of them will breathe onto my nose, I return! So what do you think?

    By Karine Vandenborre on 17 June 2015

    It is ok to move on to the next step! From the moment a horse shows it wants to make contact you can start with Greet&Go. After that you continue with the other exercises.

    By Luara on 8 June 2015

    Thank you for this website!
    Do you think it could be a good idea to do this excercise in a dry lot (or a riding arena), where the horse won’t have food to hold it’s attention and, thus, favor his curiosity towards the human around? Or this would be cheating the process?

    By Karine Vandenborre on 17 June 2015

    Yes, it is. But it’s also good to do it both, to experience the difference in your horse’s reaction to you and interest in you.

    By Farrah on 5 October 2015

    My pony is in a field attached to her barn they can go in and out as they please, for bonding time should I close the gate on the barn keeping her and her horse friend out in the paddock with me? They seem to go there once the initial interest of me walking in ends.
    Should I go into the barn when they do? Not approach but just br present in their line of vision.

    By susan on 14 November 2015

    This is so interesting! I am currently working with a big Warmblood who wants to be sweet but can’t seem to help himself from getting rather nasty while tacking up (kicks out, ears back, threatens). No sign of physical issues – is perfectly fine (just skittish) once I have mounted and moves well under saddle. Any ideas what could be bothering him – why he is so angry about the saddle pad/saddle going on? I’ve only been with him for about 7 weeks, not sure of what his past experiences are other than lots of hunter/jumper shows. THANK YOU.

    By Jen on 13 November 2016

    No idea if this is still being monitored, but I enjoyed the articles and thought i’d tale a chance on asking a question. I just adopted an 18 year old Percheron who had a hard life as an Amish workhorse. He was completely shut down to humans (just braced himself when trying to lead, went to the far end of the pasture and ignores you when you go in the pasture, etc). I’ve been working with him for a few months and earned a little trust back. Now when I groom him and ride him he seems to bond most. He will initially move away from me when I go out to catch him, but once I have him and am in the arena after grooming or riding he follows me around without a lead. He will stand there and rest his head into me to get scratches and give off happy contented energy. He loves exploring the trails (riding or being led) and doesn’t leave my side once I initially catch him. When I put him back he hangs out with me for a bit before grazing and moving away. My question is this – do I stop working with him at all until he responds to the first few liberty exercises? No grooming or riding until he comes up to me in the pasture? I started just sitting in the pasture when I first started working with him and was there about an hour while he stayed grazing at the far end acting completely oblivious to me. I’ve done it a few more times and he just doesn’t seem to even acknowledge me. The pasture is huge – if he moves away should I at least stay within his sightline? I’m nervous to go a long time without out grooming or riding since he seems so bonded after that. Advice?

    By Jayden on 29 July 2017

    If your horse seems to bond most to grooming I would think that doing the greet and go and the greet and groom exercise would work best.

    By Valerie on 5 April 2017

    Also have a question- what should I do if my horse stands in the farthest corner of her paddock every time I come and comes up to me only when I call her? Should I just sit there anyways (even if I did this for a couple of months and the horse never came up to me unless there’s hay near me) or should I do something? Thanks in advance

    By Julie on 28 April 2017

    Hi thank you so much for sharing this info. I have tried to bond with a certain horse for 4 years with no luck. I tried the bonding time excercise and the very first day after sitting with him for 2 hours he finally came up to me and acted very interested. This is the first time he has ever shown any interest in me other than when I have food. Thank you!

    By Morgan on 17 January 2018

    Hi, I’ve been thinking about doing some liberty training with my Quarter Horse gelding. He can be a bit pushy but not enough to where it’s concerning. I just had a couple questions. First, would a round pen (probably 25 ft across) be suitable for this step? Even if it is, I probably wouldn’t be able to do this until summer, but I’m just preparing for then. And second, if I train my horse for liberty will it confuse him if we continue regular riding? Just curious because he’s a show horse.

    By Kathy Waite on 3 June 2018

    It’s very cold here so hanging in the meadow isn’t an option. Would these exercises work in an indoor arena 50 x 100?

    By Karine-vandenBorre on 29 January 2019

    Yes, if your horse arena is 50 metres X 100 metres it’s perfect!

    By Personal on 5 January 2019

    If your horse comes to you sometimes, and when he does it’s for a second (sniff) then he walks away and doesn’t look at you twice no matter how long you sit there is that ok? He doesn’t stay and sometimes he doesn’t ever come up. What should I do?

    By Karine-vandenBorre on 29 January 2019

    yes, that’s ok. You’re still developing a feeling of togetherness, a “herd” feeling. When you are together, when your horse is aware of your presence, you are developing a bond.

    By Lynette on 16 August 2019

    I have two ponies that we adopted. I grew up around big horses but these two are interesting characters. They love to come to us as soon as we walk into the field. They love to be pet and groomed but they (especially the mare) are very temperamental! They are young, three years old. I don’t think they have had any proper training. They both like to try to bite, the mare likes to kick….and the mare is also 5 months pregnant! Now I believe both, although “friendly” enough have not ever bonded with anyone and have major attachment issues. I love the thought of the bonding exercise however my problem is that they have zero understanding of personal space nor are they at all worried or concerned about a whip to get them away from your personal space. These guys seriously are boss. Thoughts????

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