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Horse Training Basics for Novices
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Horse Training Basics for Novices

Before one can qualify as an expert in horse training, they need to have accumulated a number of years in experience. Many accomplished trainers in this field have attend professional workshops and training to reach an expert level. However, when you have acquired a new horse but you are not in a position to readily access a professional horse trainer, you will have to teach yourself some horse training basics.

You could observe a seasoned owner handle their horse, and be sure to work with a safe and sane animal to learn. In horse training, safety is a critical. If you are not sure about something, seek professional help.

Understand Your Horse

Be sure to understand the abilities, the physical limitations, as well as the instinctive and reactive behavior of your horse. Being prey animals, horses’ brains are hardwired to be very sensitive to threats. This enables them to easily detect and flee from predation, a behavior dubbed “fight or flight”. But if you do not startle them and remain quiet and calm around them, they soon learn not to worry around you.

Your Safety as a Trainer

Keep yourself safe by wearing protective clothing. Closed, hard-toe shoes shield you from painful and possibly injurious hoof steps; these will definitely happen a few times during horse training. You also need to wear a helmet, even when you are not training on riding. A horse with minimal or zero training is actually concerned about themselves and not you. For instance, they could accidentally and innocently hit your head when raising their hind leg in a bid to drive away some troublesome fly. You should also wear leather gloves to safeguard your palms from rope burns in case your horse pulls at you as you lead them by the rope.

Nature has allowed horses to look out for threats and predators by seeing only from the sides, and never from directly in front or behind. You should therefore also stand to his side, adjacent to his shoulder, and keep one hand on his body as you move about him. This way, he will always be aware of where you are and not be aggressive.

Leading Your Horse

The success of this training exercise will depend on how your horse responds to pressure. If it comes from a lead rope, they learn to release it through forward motion. If tethered but they try to move backward, then they learn to relieve that pressure by moving one or two steps forward and standing still. Put on their halter and leave it on for a couple of minutes, or even hours, provided they remain calm and in a safe location like a stall. Make sure the halter does not get hung up or caught by fence posts or branches of trees by not turning them out towards such obstacles. Taking it on and off regularly helps them get used to it.

Once halter-strapping becomes routine for your horse, fasten a long lead rope sufficient enough to reach their hindquarters and wrap around them. Using the end of the rope held in your hand, exert some pressure on the end affixed to the halter, just enough to make them take a step forward. Then release the pressure. With time, they will learn to respond to this pressure from the halter-attached lead rope by moving forward, starting from the hind end.

Horse Tying

Once your horse has gained confidence and is at ease leading, you can begin tying. To avoid injuries, always tie them either on a ring or a post placed higher than their withers. You could also tie a tire tube, or other piece of rubber, to the ring, then tie the lead rope to it to allow them some give if they pull while you are still securing them. This also helps prevent them from being injured on the neck if they pull really hard. Do more daily practice on this by tying for longer periods of time. Remember to quit when they are still rather than when they are either moving or pacing.

Basic Horse Handling

It is paramount that your horse gets acquainted to people handling them during training, regular vet care sessions, as well as in daily life. Routinely brush them, every time talking quietly. Train them to lift up their feet for cleaning with a hoof-pick. Stand by their shoulder facing their rear. Then reach down to their leg and touch it just above the hoof. If they respond by raising the leg up, hold it up there for a minute or two. But do not wait until they try to yank the hoof away by force before setting it down gently. Try this a few more times, every time holding it for much longer than before. In case they try to balk, just apply some pressure on the inside of their leg by gently squeezing it until they calm down. Do this to all their feet. Soon they are going to get used to this such that they will be immediately picking up their feet whenever you bend over and touch the lower part of their leg.


Image source: flickr.com

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  1. MReynolds
    Great training advice...thanks!
  2. jst4horses
    This is a good article BUT, I get a lot of clients from people who have gone out after a year or two of lessons, or showing and buy a horse. Even some celebrities have done the same thing, one noted one broke his neck because he was on a horse he was not really well equipped for, and he was a rider, NOT a trainer and certainly not a horseman. Get the books, get the videos, audit clinics, and practice practice practice. I have seen many a rider horribly injured or killed because they bought a horse they were no where near handling or training. AND a professional trainer and rider could have trained that horse in an hour or two to avoid the part that injured or killed an inexperienced person well beyond their level of expertise. FIRST: A horse needs to be joined up or it is a danger. This usually happens in less than 15 minutes. whether you call it partnering, or join up, or that foolishness stupid natural horsemenship people made up..........it is real, and it works. SECOND: learn the steps and DO THEM. If you can not lead your horse, you should not have your horse. I trained racing babies, and also cooled out racehorses for showhorses, most of them were NOT trained to lead when they came in. You would think a race horse would be trained to lead, NOPE, it had been stud chained, and managed by expert grooms and riders, but the horse really had not saavy as far as being a partner with a human. THIRD: DO the steps, they are in the article on grooming..........to be able to touch and calm your horse and to know your horse from every angle and point on its body. AND NEVER leave out the steps. If you fail to find out what side of the stall your horse got up on, you might set your behind in that saddle for the last ride of your life. A friend of President Reagan went to ride on his ranch, he failed to do the simple, ROCK THE SADDLE test before putting his big foot in the stirrup and mounting. There was a small sticker, or grain of oat under the saddle blanket, when he sat down, the horse was stabbed and bucked, the man was killed. THIS was an experienced rider, but NOT a horseman. Give yourself an extra two or three years volunteering if necessary with a REAL trainer, NOT someone who had a few years of riding and showing and bought themselves a big barn and put out a sign.........and GO to the clinics, most audit at $25 to $100 and just watching others do it wrong and learn and listening to the real horseman correct is worth much more when you DO buy a horse that is just right for YOU and YOUR abilities.

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