Reward and relaxation
Horses are excellent at reading even very small changes in body language – theirs and ours, and if we give them the chance, they will respond willingly to tiny cues. But to achieve this, we need to become very aware of the small try from the horse, and to stop asking and reward the horse as soon as we see it.
I recommend stroking and scratching the horse as a reward. It is more reassuring and calming than patting, and corresponds more closely to the way horses communicate in a friendly way with each other.
In fact, scratching the mane, withers and shoulder area has been shown to significantly reduce a horse’s heart rate. We often see them grooming and nuzzling each other, but patting is a purely human invention.