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Training Your Horse’s Mind: The Importance of Doing Things Quickly

Updated on June 26, 2011

Our schedules are continually getting busier and over-booked, leaving less time to spend bonding and communicating with our horses on a level they can understand. When it comes time to do something they have not experienced regularly or have bad memories from, like clipping or trailer loading, they resist.

At home or horse shows it is important to learn to do things quickly. It not only frees up your time to do more fun things like riding, but it also helps to train your horse’s mind.

Far too many times I have heard people calling their horse a jerk and other expletives I shall not repeat. OCCASIONALLY the horse is being a jerk. MOST of the time the human is the jerk…plain and simple. But, here’s how to start to fix it.

Not everything has to be a big production.

The Goal:

To convince your horse or pony that certain tasks will not take long and they are fun. Even if you know it will take a little bit longer, you will have convinced them repeatedly to think it will only take a minute and that they will get justly rewarded! In a matter of time, they will start behaving in a more positive way and you will be a happier human.

The Importance of Doing Things Quickly

Put yourself in your horse’s shoes. Skip what you know about proper hygiene for one moment. The next time you go brush your teeth you are going to be made to stand in front of the sink for 2 hours. It does not matter whether you are done brushing, you are hungry, have to go potty or you are tired – 2 HOURS. How highly would you think of teeth brushing the next time you have to do it?

Now, try this one. The next time you go brush your teeth; upon completion, you are given $1000 cash and a great big hug from a loved one. How eager would you be to go brush your teeth again?

…Exactly! Now, let’s train your horse the same way!

How to produce a willing horse:

#1 Golden Rule. Your lack of planning does not constitute your horse’s emergency!

Be an opportunist whenever you are at the barn. Teach them the behavior or action that you need at a time when you don’t need it, so that you have it when you do need it. That sounded vaguely important, so I will say it again! Teach them what you need when you don’t need it, so that you have it when you do.

#2 It is called training. You do not need a fancy trainer. All you need good timing, common sense and kindness. If you do not have any of those, then get a fancy trainer. (Or take up another sport)

The MOMENT they think about doing what you want, reward them; and remember, the best reward for your horse in the world is to put them away and leave them alone! Be smart. Quit while you are ahead. If you do, your horse is more likely to be even better tomorrow.

#3 Work with a horse’s natural instincts and appreciate them. Always! They need to run from anything scary and they need to find food. Did I mention common sense?

#4 Baby steps and Repetition. Work your way up through more advanced steps over several sessions, but re-visit step one occasionally. Your horse will absolutely love you for it!

Warning: Do NOT attempt any of these training exercises if you are a beginner horse handler. Ask for professional help!

Here are some ideas to get you started…

Here two of my horses, each only 5 years old, happily march on to an unfamiliar trailer all dressed up for a 4th of July parade.
Here two of my horses, each only 5 years old, happily march on to an unfamiliar trailer all dressed up for a 4th of July parade.


Opportunity: Someone from your barn gets home from a show. Ask them if while the trailer is still hooked up you can walk your horse on and off the trailer once. Or at least let your horse sniff it. If they say yes, cherish your privileges. Once = 5 minutes!

Your horse learns: Not every time I get in the trailer do I have to go for a long, bumpy ride. I may just hop in and get a treat! (My horses now guide ME towards open trailers!)

Wash stalls

Opportunity: How many times a day do you walk by it? Walk in, turn around, stand for 10 seconds, get a treat, and go home.

Your horse learns: Not every time I go in that noisy echo chamber do I get poison sprayed all over me and stand there shivering for 2 hours. I may just walk in and get a treat!


Opportunity: Keep a pair of clippers nearby while grooming. Plug them in, turn them on, and turn them off.

Your horse learns: Not every time I hear that buzz am I going to get a twitch on my nose and 3 people sitting on my head as they scalp my ears. I may just get a treat!

Mane Pulling

Opportunity: While grooming, pull one chunk of 4-5 hairs.

Your horse learns: Not every time my human yanks at my neck am I going to see enough hair on the floor to stuff a couch. I might just get a treat and continue my body massage.

Vet or Farrier

Opportunity: Your stable-mate has one of the two out for a NON-emergency. WITHOUT disturbing their appointment or endangering anyone, take your horse out to a nearby area with your handful of treats. Pick up their feet, pinch their neck, look up their nostrils, in their ear, in their mouth, and place your hand on a ticklish area. Treat and put them away.

Your horse learns: Not every time I that I smell burning hooves do I have to stand on 3 legs for an hour being pounded on. Not every time I see that truck and smell antiseptic am I going to get poked in the neck or a hose up my nose. I may just get a treat and some love for good behavior!

See the pattern? I hope so! Taking the time to apply these techniques to any sort of task we need to do with our horses turns it into play and a fun experience for them. Then, when the time comes to go to a horse show or there’s an emergency, your horse will be the super-star. And, when the jealous people complain that their own horse is a jerk, you send them to my articles!

The moral is, have fun with your horse. Love them and spend as much quality time as you can with them while they are around. I share these tips because it is important to make working with these majestic creatures a safer and more enjoyable experience.

Until next time…Happy horse handling!

© 2011 Megan Carl - Mane Alternative


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    • Suzanne Winfield profile image

      Megan Carl - Mane Alternative 6 years ago from Utah

      Thank you so much Bluestar. Precisely the points I was trying to emphasize. Agreed. Appreciate the vote up! Thanks!

    • thebluestar profile image

      Annette Donaldson 6 years ago from Northern Ireland

      Well written informative hub. I especially like the emphasis on common sense. We have few bad horses, but many bad handlers. Do it right, a little knowledge is dangerous, learn all you can from the onset. Voted up.