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Marbles in the Marble Jar- Building Trust with Horses.

Updated: Feb 6

True leadership is only attainable through gaining your horse’s trust.

Imagine you have an empty marble jar and a handful of marbles. Each marble represents a bit of trust.

A marble goes into the jar each time you make a nice gesture like letting your horse scratch an itch, not jerking on the head, or spending time hanging out without judgement. There are a thousand ways to put marbles in the jar and there are thousands of ways to have them tumble out. The more marbles in the jar, the higher the level of trust.

When the marble jar is filled with trust marbles you will find you have gained a true friend- someone that will show up when things go wrong and will work together with you through a bad situation.

What is the Webster definition of trust?

"Assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something."

To achieve trust your every action needs to be attuned to the things they value:

  • Clarity

  • Comfort

  • Connection

  • Protection

  • Resources

  • Safety

Marbles and the Horse’s World View

Since horses are a prey species, they have evolved to value safety above all else for survival. They are constantly evaluating their surroundings and asking, “Am I safe?” and “What space do I have to negotiate this situation?”. This inborn drive to constantly evaluate their safety is their marble jar. Knowing this and learning how to put trust marbles into their jar is a powerful tool in bonding with a horse.

Feeling safe lowers anxiety and allows the horse to concentrate on what is expected of them and the job they are being asked to do.

Trust is earned through small acts/moments (one marble at a time), not through grand gestures.

A Small Gesture might look something like this:

Your horse hears something behind both of you and wants to look around. Instead of jerking their head or ignoring their concern you both turn and really look, listen, and wait for the resolve.

The small gesture has great long-term value to the horse based on their world view and their need for safety. Looking and really acknowledging their concerns puts a marble in the jar.

A Grand Gesture on your part might be:

You come to the barn and decide you are going to bring a bag of carrots and give them several extra- just because.

The grand gesture will indeed put a marble in the jar, and is great for the moment, but has little lasting value. The horse will come to expect treats and might even get a bit annoyed if you do not bring them. Then you are faced with marbles being taken out of the jar. It is a zero-sum game.

Why is Trust Between Your Horse and Yourself So Important?

Imagine you are at a show or going down the trail and something surprises your horse. The choices for an emotional reaction are “Rear”, “Bolt”, “Turn and Spin”, “Take Off Running” or “Spook in Place and Wait”.

Which option would you prefer? Me too. “Spook in place and wait” is a lot less scary and a lot safer for both the horse and rider than the alternatives..

That reaction gives both of you the opportunity to calm down without the danger of a wreck. (This process of calming down is also known as down regulating or “Going to Zero” in Horse Speak®.)

When you build trust one marble at a time in different situations you both learn you can count on each other in a stressed moment. The horse’s tendency to react rashly and dangerously is minimized. Since they trust you to be aware and do the right thing, they are less likely to stay panicked. Building this trust is, necessarily, a gradual process and takes both time and patience, but horses really want to trust you and will reliably respond when it is offere