So, you have a horse!! You want this horse to do everything
you ask, when you ask and without question (is there a boogie man
behind that tree?)
Horses learn what we or someone (or another horse) has taught
them. They learn wrong things and rights things, but they don't understand
the difference. They may have been taught to pull their foot away from
you because they find it easier to stand on 4 feet instead of 3 feet.
If you allow them to do so, you will reinforce that this is the right
thing to do. If you make pulling their foot away more difficult for
them to do, or you require them to pick it up again and again until
they stop pulling it away, they will eventually figure out (learn) that
this is not the right thing to do. Only we know right from wrong!!
So, whenever you are working around your horse, make what you
want to be the right thing, easy for your horse and make the
wrong thing (what he wants to do) more difficult, or, lacking
A horse learns to give certain answers to any given request. He
can give you 6 basic answers: Go right, go left, go back, go forward,
go up, go down. In order to get the horse to give us the answer we
want (and make sure you know what that answer is), we must keep
asking until he gives us the correct answer (or response). I call this
"annoying" the horse until he gives me the right answer. Once you
get the correct response, you must immediately stop annoying your
horse or he'll go through the whole litany again!! Only after the horse
has given you the correct response repeatedly (because you've
rewarded him quickly by no longer annoying him), will he have
learned the correct or right response. Note, however: There is
a cycle that he will go through to check to be sure he has the right
answer (and we thought he learned something!). Today he will do
it well, tomorrow great. The day after next he'll appear to have
forgotten what you taught him and then finally he'll do it good again.
Horses seem to go to their stalls and think about what they learned!!
Then the next time you try something you worked on, it's as if they
thought up another way to avoid doing what we thought they had
learned!! But, don't despair..they relearn quickly and consistency
works!! Go back to: Make the right thing easy and the
wrong thing difficult.
We started with the foot. Let's go back there. How do you pick
up your horse's foot?? My horses pick up their feet usually when I
say "lift" and I touch the leg for the foot that I want them to lift.
Sounds simple?? It's certainly convenient!! To teach your horse
what you want, annoy him!! Go to the left front. (That's where
the farrier starts) Lean down and start massaging his leg, poke
his tendons with the tips of your fingers, use your hoof pic if
neccessary, but get his attention on that left front foot!
Annoy him (while saying "lift") until he lifts. As soon as he
lifts, stop annoying him and praise him verbally. Now remember
to teach him to put his foot down only when you say it's okay.
Repeat this with the left hind, right hind and right front (same order
that the blacksmith works on his feet). Eventually, by being consistent,
you'll get your horse to lift his front left by just touching it and saying
"lift". He'll start picking up the rest of his feet without you even
touching him because he'll remember the order in which you
clean his feet!!
Everything you do with your horse, you are teaching him
something!! If you want him to stand still while you groom,
teach him first to ground tie so you can annoy him each time
he moves and pick a verbal cue you want to use to reinforce
your correction, for example, "stand". Eventually, you can
get rid of the ground tie. This ground work certainly comes
in handy when you go to mount and your horse walks off
while you're mounting! Reinforce the verbal command,
Leading is another area that folks have difficulty. They think
their horse leads just fine!! But, alas, the horse keeps walking
when you stop, gets ahead of you, behind you or into you!!
Decide what you want but minimally, the horse should walk
when you walk, stop when you stop, stay out of your space
(you decide how much personal space you want), move forward
when you move forward and stand when you stand!! Most
frequently, leading is just a matter of teaching a horse that you
are the most important thing around and he must pay attention
to you!! This is gentle persuasion and annoyance at it's best!!
Your horse can not be looking behind every tree for a boogie
While working on the ground with your horse, remember this:
If you never give your horse a reason to be afraid of you, you
will be able to gain his trust. Your horse's trust in you is what will
make him a safer mount.
Now, horses are horses!! (Like people are people??) They
make mistakes, have a bad day, or don't feel well. You can
never say a horse never does this or that!!
Now go practice, make your horse a happy horse
and I'll start working on new tips. Let me know if you feel
I need to change something, add something, or delete something.
I would love to hear how you feel this #1 training tip has helped
you and your horse. Any ideas for discussion, email me!!