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How to Train a Horse

Five Parts:Becoming a Good TrainerTraining GroundworkLongeing Your HorseDesensitizing Your HorseStarting Your Horse Under Saddle

Training a horse is a long yet rewarding experience. By training your horse yourself, you'll teach him to do things the way you like them to be done while building a strong emotional bond. Start from the ground up, and over time you'll have a good riding horse.

Part 1
Becoming a Good Trainer

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    Recognize your experience level. Training a green horse is an exciting prospect, but your excitement may mask an objective look at your knowledge and experience levels. Training is a long process, and should not be taken on by the faint of heart. If you are determined to train your horse but may not have many years of experience or have never done training before, look into hiring a professional trainer part-time or getting frequent advice from a friend with more experience.
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    Don’t expect your horse to trust you or bond with you immediately, even if you do have plenty of training experience.
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    Be a strong leader. For successful training to occur you have to show your horse that you are trustworthy and that you have their best interests in mind. Do what is best for YOUR HORSE- each horse is different and may need a different approach. Leading is different than bossing, though. When you step into training, make sure you give clear, strong signals without being aggressive or abusive. Your goals as a leader should be:
    • Be assertive but not aggressive.
    • Work with a slow yet steady pace to build trust.
    • Keep the horse’s safety (physically and mentally) in mind at all times.
    • Keep confident and calm.
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    Create a training plan. Even the best trainers still have a mental lesson plan in mind. Keep yourself organized with a step-by-step training schedule. Break down tasks into small goals, and gradually work through them. Each thing in your schedule should be building on things you’ve already trained, so that your horse is constantly having your training reinforced.
    • Stick to your training schedule. It is okay to take longer than you originally thought was necessary to teach something, but not to leave large gaps of time between training sessions.
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    • Get detailed with your schedule. Rather than starting ‘train groundwork,’ break it down into segments like ‘practice backing away from handler’ or ‘train to turn on the forehand.’[1]
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    Develop a consistent reward/discipline system. You won’t be able to properly train a horse if you aren’t consistent with your teaching system. As with all creatures, positive reinforcement is more ideal than negative reinforcement. However, sometimes a horse will require you to be very assertive before doing what you ask.
    • Immediately reward the horse once he accomplishes what you asked him to do. This includes an immediate release of the pressure used to cue the horse and sometimes verbal praise.
      • Don’t reward your horse with treats, as this can cause them to become expectant and bite-prone over time. Treats can be given occasionally, but should be reserved for one-on-one time outside of training.
    • Discipline the horse if he intentionally disobeys with a weak excuse. Understand that horses always have a reason for their actions, and quite often are only trying to communicate that there's a problem, they're in pain, or they're trying to tell you something.
      • Discipline should occur in the form a horse understands - the way a leading horse in its herd would ‘punish’ it for misbehaving. Assert your dominance by making the horse move either away or toward you, or by making the horse back or turn. Mix it up so the horse won't start expecting your decisions.
      • Never punish a horse by beating or whipping it. As a trainer, you need to show your power without jeopardizing the mental and physical health of your horse.

Part 2
Training Groundwork

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    Train your horse to let you touch him. Much of caring for a horse involves physical touch, and it isn't a good idea to start training a horse you can't take care of if he gets hurt.
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    Train your horse to tolerate the handling of his face. When you begin working with a horse, you want to be able to touch their head. Start by petting the neck or shoulder and work your way toward the head. If the horse gets nervous, just keep talking to them and keep touching that spot until they relax. Then praise them by returning to a less scary area.
    • Move slowly. Horses can scare from quick, unpredictable movements as a result of being prey animals and may become anxious if you move to suddenly.
    • If your horse becomes tense or anxious when you get to a certain part of their face, stop your hand and hold it there for a second. Reward them by moving your hand to a more comfortable place. Continue this a few more times, holding your hand in the nervous area for a little longer each time.
    • Don't remove your hand from his face if they spook or become anxious. By removing your hand you are reinforcing their his that your hand is dangerous/frightening and is something they should be scared of.
    • Continue this process a little each day until your horse doesn’t react in a bad way to you touching his face, even without leading up to it by touching their neck or body.[2]
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    Train your horse to walk next to you. When you are leading your horse, the ideal position is for you to be parallel to their face. Too far ahead of them and you are pulling and don’t have their attention, and if they’re ahead of you then you’re clearly the one not in control. Use a crop or whip to act as an extension of your arm, and therefore power/energy. Begin walking with them, pushing them away if they start crowding or drawing them nearer to you if they are keeping too much distance.
    • Hold the crop in front of the horse's chest to prevent him from walking too far ahead of you, and wave it towards their hindquarters to speed them up if they are too far behind.
    • When they begin walking next to you, drop the crop. If they begin to speed up or slow down, pick the crop up again and repeat the above process of slowing them from the front or speeding them up from behind.
    • Do this until they consistently walk next to you, even without use of the crop.[3]
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    Train your horse to stop. A horse that doesn’t stop on cue is a horse that doesn’t think you’re the leader. Walk next to your horse (using the techniques described above) and stop after a few feet. If your horse does not stop with you, repeat the process but next time turn to face them, which blocks their forward movement, as you stop. If your horse still doesn’t stop, repeat the aforementioned but stick a crop out in front of their chest as you turn towards them.
    • Do not take any additional steps once you’ve made the decision to stop. If your horse continues and you take any steps forward, it will think it can control you and won’t listen to your ‘stop’ cues.
    • Condition your horse to stop to the word ‘woah’ by saying it at the same time you stop.[4]
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    Train your horse to back up. Backing up is one of the basic movements required of a well-trained horse. Take your horse into an open area, equipped with a lead rope and halter. You will need to use a crop for this process. Start by holding the lead rope directly in front of them, about four feet from the tie on the halter. Focus first on getting their attention; they should be looking ahead at you with one ear turned towards you.
    • Tap the lead rope with the crop and say ‘back’ firmly (not aggressively). Wait for the horse to back up.
    • If your horse does not back up, repeat the process but tap the lead rope a bit stronger. Continue adding pressure with your taps; if your horse still does not respond tap them strongly on the nose or chest with the crop while saying ‘back’ firmly.
    • When your horse backs, release pressure by stepping back a few feet and dropping your eye contact. Then, step forward and pet them while praising them.
    • Train this into habit by repeating all of the above steps.[5]

Part 3
Longeing Your Horse

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    Longe your horse at different speeds. Longeing does several things - it gets the horse focused on you and your cues, it releases excess energy and adrenaline, and it strengthens conditioned cues. Start longeing by putting your horse on a 20’ longe line, and having them walk in a circle around you. After a few minutes, speed them up into a trot by simultaneously making a clucking noise and swinging the end of the longe line towards their hindquarters.
    • If they don’t respond, cluck and add pressure by running towards their hind quarters.
    • If your horse still is not responding, you can wave a crop at them towards their tail. The crop will act as an extension of your arm and cue them into going faster.
    • To get your horse into a canter, repeat the process but make a kissing noise instead of a clucking noise. This will allow you to cue the two different gaits from horseback later on.
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    Stop your horse while longeing. Put your newly-trained ‘woah’ to use and train your horse to stop while longeing. While they’re moving, take a few steps towards where they’re going, blocking off their path (without actually putting yourself in their path). As you do this, slowly say ‘woah’.
    • If the horse doesn’t stop, shorten the longe line and repeat the process. You can jiggle the rope as you do it as well, getting more aggressive with it until the horse responds.
    • When the horse stops, lower eye contact and step towards them to pet them. Give them words of praise as you do this so that they know they did what they were supposed to.
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    Change directions. Get your horse to switch directions while longeing without stopping. As they are moving in one direction, take a few steps towards their shoulder to cut them off (as you do when telling them to stop). At the same time, swing the end of the longe line in a spiral motion in front of their path. This sends energy to block them but tells them to keep moving, so they should turn around.
    • If they don’t turn immediately, take a few half-jog steps towards them in front of their path, while spiraling the longe line. Back away to release pressure once they turn.
    • Cluck as you do this to keep them in motion.[6]

Part 4
Desensitizing Your Horse

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    Use your lead rope to mimic reins. Get the horse used to having reins around its neck and you pulling back on its face by using the lead rope on the halter. Take your horse into a round-pen, and have it stand still. Hold the lead rope a few feet from the halter, and then fling the end onto the horse’s back. Wiggle it around and move it all up and down their neck.
    • If the horse gets anxious or spooks, don’t let it run off and don’t remove the rope. Instead, continue moving the rope around their back until they calm down and stop moving. Then remove the rope.
    • Do this on both sides of the horse, dragging the rope over their face as well. The idea is to get them completely desensitized to a rope or reins being on them and moved around frequently.
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    Sack down your horse. Desensitize your horse to having ‘scary’ things moved around it through a process called ‘sacking down’ Use a long crop or stick, and attach a plastic sack to the end. Wave it in the air around the horse; they will likely spook or become anxious. When they get scared, continue with the motion of the sack until they realize it’s not dangerous and calm down. Then remove the bag and crop, and pet them while praising them.
    • Continue this process until you’re rubbing the plastic bag all over the horse. Remember never to remove the bag while they’re scared, only ever take it away while they’re calm.
    • Substitute the sack for other items that might make a lot of noise or seem frightening. A black windbreaker jacket, for example, is a scary item to have behind many green horses.
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    Use the Jeffery method to desensitize the horse to your movement. After several days of sacking down, prepare your horse for riding by getting them used to you around/on their body. Get close to the horse and jump around, flail your arms, and do any activity that might seem strange or cause your horse to spook. As with the other methods of desensitization, don’t stop doing these things when your horse spooks; only stop when they recognize that you are no threat and calm down.
    • Rub the horse’s body quickly and move around them fast so that they don’t become bothered as much by quick movements.
    • As your horse becomes comfortable with all your movements, lean over their back on your stomach. You are preparing them for riding by adding weight, but doing so in a non-frightening way.[7]

Part 5
Starting Your Horse Under Saddle

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    Put on a saddle blanket. Starting a horse under saddle must be done in steps, starting with the most basic piece of tack: a saddle blanket. Keep your horse in an open area, a round pen or an arena work well, and bring the saddle pad in. Allow them to see it and smell it, and then lift it onto their back. Pat it and slide it around a bit to make sure they’re comfortable with it around them.
    • Walk them around with the saddle pad on. Because there is nothing holding the blanket down, it is important not to let the horse go faster than a walk so that it doesn’t fall off and spook them.
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    Longe them with a surcingle. The next step is to put on a surcingle; a type of bare-back riding gear that consists of a girth that wraps all the way around with a handle-like horn. This gives the feeling of the saddle without all the weight and bulk. When the surcingle is on the horse, walk them around a bit on a longe line. After a few minutes, cue them into a trot and canter.
    • Longe them with a surcingle several times over a week or two before moving onto a saddle to make sure the horse is really comfortable with having something tied to its back.
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    Move onto using a saddle. Choose a lightweight english saddle to start your horse under. This will be less frightening and heavy on their unconditioned back. Allow the horse to see it and smell it, and then slowly lift it onto its back. Set it down softly, and gauge your horse’s reaction. You can then tighten the girth, and walk the horse around.
    • Take the saddle off after a bit, and then repeat the process. Put the saddle on from both sides of the horse so they get used to you walking around them with it.
    • Longe them with the saddle on after a few days of simply putting it on and walking around with it.[8]
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    Put on a bitless bridle. Never jump into starting a horse with a bit; instead, use a bitless bridle to get them used to having something a bit different than a halter on their face. You can put it on over their halter to start, or leave it as the only thing on. Walk them around with the bitless bridle on, and if you have the halter on as well you can longe them with the bridle on.
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    Move to a bit. When you’re sure your horse is comfortable with a bitless bridle, try introducing them to the bit. Use a gentle bit, typically a broken snaffle, and ease it into their mouth by tickling their gums. Allow them to just hold it for a while, and then take the bridle off. Do this on a daily basis before every applying pressure to the bit; just allow the horse to get used to having something in its mouth.
    • Bitting a horse can take some time, so don’t ever rush it. If you have to stand there for 30 minutes trying to get your horse to take the bit, then do it. Patience is vital to getting the horse used to the bit, as this is the most potentially dangerous aspect of starting a horse under saddle.
    • When the horse has worn the bit for several days, you can begin using the reins to give it directions via the bit. However, do not longe the horse with a bit in its mouth as this risks damage and can be unsafe.
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    Put all the pieces together. Finally, put all the tack on the horse at once. Do this slowly and simply walk them around with it on at first; don’t rush them. Use a bitless bridle to lunge them with everything on, or lead them around at a walk and trot with a bit.
    • This should be done once a day for several days before any mounting or riding is attempted.
    • You can continue using the Jeffery method of desensitizing with the tack on so the horse gets used to the idea of you possibly mounting them.


  • Always be patient when training a horse.
    • Each horse will offer a slightly different learning experience; no two horses are the same. Horses have personalities too, and this definitely shows in training.
  • Show the horse you want your space. Don't let them rub against you and push on you. This creates bad habits in the future.
  • Spend time with your horse outside of training. Groom him often and work near him outside to develop a closer bond.
  • Be safe. Wear a helmet,proper shoes (riding boots recommended),an appropriate pair of pants/jeans,and an appropriate shirt.


  • Horses are prey animals and are thus prone to 'fight or flight' responses when spooked. As a result, be careful when they get scared and maintain your composure. Keep an experienced rider around to help you in these cases and to give you advice.

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Categories: Horse Training