The First Steps to Training a Horse

You might think that the first steps of horse training will depend on what type of training style you want to employ. When you search “how to train a horse” on Google you’ll find lots of buzz words and quick approaches.

You might have heard the term “natural horsemanship” for instance. There’s also training specific to types of horse disciplines (i.e. race horses vs. barrel horses vs. dressage horses). There’s also fun things like “clicker training”.

These are all very valid approaches. My thinking on how to train a horse is not really a specific approach as much as it is a system. A system of communicating with horses.

When I think of horse training, I like to stick with the basics. I don’t train particularly for any one thing but rather I train for a general ability to communicate clearly with my horse. That way you establish a relationship and you can do anything you like. This may not be the fastest or most efficient way to train a racehorse for example but for my purposes it works well and I think it’s important to establish a general understanding with your horse because you can build on that with any specific training.

How do I do this? I like to employ a mish-mash of different styles. This is based on 2 things:

  1. Horse psychology
  2. My #1 principle of interacting with horses:
If you can clearly communicate to your horse every time you’re around them that you have a plan along with the willingness and ability to enforce that plan, you’ve become the leader your horse craves and you’ve essentially learned the principles of horsemanship.

In my way of looking at things, horsemanship is the knowledge base that you have too have in order to train your horse. Once you learn horsemanship, you understand the principles of communicating with horses and thus can expand on that in order to train a horse from the ground up.

I suggest that you learn horsemanship first and implement it to confidently communicate with trained horses. Once you’ve established that you can use that to start horse training from the very beginning.

The 3 Belief Systems of my Approach to Horse Training

I have 3 beliefs that I adopt when I think of working with horses in any capacity help me to communicate with them.

When it comes to horse training, it helps me to remind myself of these things when the horse isn’t doing what I would like. This helps especially when I’m frustrated to stay patient and remember to wait the horse out. By the way, you can solve a LOT of your training problems by learning patience while you’re training. If you wait your horse out, the horse will guess right eventually in terms of what you want. But we’ll discuss that later

For now, the 3 beliefs I want you to consider are the following:

#1: Horses are much more than “prey” animals. 

#2: Horses are constantly trying to have a conversation with you.

#3: When the herd consists of you and the horse, one will become the leader and one will become the follower.

If you don’t agree with me that’s okay. I just invite you to consider these ideas and as you learn more about horse training and start implementing it yourself, keep them in the back of your mind. You will eventually come up with your own belief systems anyways (and this is the goal!) but it’s nice to have somewhere to start.

How Committed Are You to Training a Horse?

The saying “green + green = black and blue” is common in the horse industry. You’ve probably heard of it.

Essentially, if you’re a beginner yourself, it’s not a good idea to get a “green” horse. That is, you don’t want a horse that’s not well trained. Rather, you’ll want your first horse to be a well-trained horse that you can learn to communicate with.

You can learn so much from an experienced horse. You can learn the basics of horse communication, of ground work, of all the subtleties of riding and of handling. I would be very surprised if you ended up with the perfect horse who listened to every single cue and had no difficulties anywhere.

Most horses, even experienced ones with a lot of training behind them will have some things they need refreshing on. Some struggle with trailering. Some struggle with cantering smoothly. Some struggle with being caught in the field.

These are all things that you can work on and that you can build your confidence off of.

Once you know how to fix these issues and you learn the basics of communicating with horses, you’ll start to understand the system to training a horse from scratch. You’ll also quickly understand how much time, patience and dedication it takes.

How much time exactly?

This depends.

It depends on your experience. It depends on how well you’re able to time your cues and your corrections. It depends how firm you’re going to be. Most of all it depends on how well your horse responds.

If you’ve ever trained a dog, you’ll know that some dogs can be house broken in a day whereas others take months and months.

Why Train a Horse from Scratch?

The more you’re able to communicate clearly with your horse, the stronger that bond becomes.

If your horse listens and learns from you, there’s a natural respect for your leadership that has to emerge. This is a very strong bond.

I want you to think back to your favourite school horse or that one horse that you learnt to ride on that you always think back to because they were your favourite. Remember that?

Why was that particular horse your favourite?

For me, when I was learning how to ride, I had a little black feisty pony named Satchmo. He would kick almost every single day and no one else liked to ride him. He also hated leading in group lessons and would routinely kick at other horses behind him. I just happened to get assigned to him. Initially, I was a little annoyed at how difficult he was.

Then I started to learn his little quirks. I learnt what made him kick and how to avoid it. I learnt the exact rhythm of his canter. I learnt how his ears would behave right before he got mad at another horse.

Eventually I was able to communicate with him well enough and establish sufficient trust in order to do things like:

  • lead with him
  • ride him bareback in a group lesson
  • ride him bridleless
  • get fairly close to other horse without him kicking

The more time you spend with a horse, the better the connection. There is nothing like the connection and understanding of training a horse from scratch. It’s basically like raising a child.

The more you invest in the horse, the better the returns.

Without further ado, let’s get started…

Understanding Horse Psychology

Another important step to training a horse is to understand his or her instincts. It is very important you know learn how your horse behaves in different situations. It will not only help you to understand the behavior pattern of your horse. But, it will also help you easily train your horse.

Understand the instinct of your horse

Horses are peaceful herd animals. They like to live in a peaceful environment and they are usually scared of other animals and humans. A horse will interpret the actions of human or other animals and then he will modify his response according to the situation.

Usually, if you reach a horse in a peaceful and friendly way, he will also behave accordingly. Due to being a herd animal, horses have this innate desire to lead or to be led by someone. If your horse takes you as a leader, he will follow you.

You should understand the instincts of a horse first and then try to establish a relationship of trust between you and him before starting the formal training.

What should be the training schedule?

A baby horse or a foal gets mature when he becomes 2 years old. You should not ride a horse until it is mature. But, if you want to ride him when it becomes 2 years old, you should start working on him from the first day. Ground work is very important.

If you want your horse to participate in different racing competitions, then 2 years is not the right age. Three or four years horse is more suitable for these types of competitions as compared to a two-year old.

A horse should not start formal training until he becomes two-year old. But, you can teach him many other things such as how to behave properly. Here is the schedule that you can follow for our horse:

From birth – One-year-old:

After the baby horse is born, you should put a halter on him. It is important that you do it within the first few days because he should learn to get used to the halter. Another thing that can be done within the first year is to tie your horse.

It is preferable to teach him tying by the end of the first week after the birth. The sooner you do it, the better because when he is big enough to resist trying, he might hurt himself. Another thing that you can do within the first year is to groom him.

From One year – Two years:

Now that you have introduced your horse to tying, halter and grooming, it is time to move forward. Within this time, you should introduce your horse to a bit and saddle. We have a complete guide about bits. Click here to learn more about it.

As far as the saddle is concerned, allow your horse to get familiar with a saddle. Make him comfortable with a saddle to that he does not fear it.

From 2 years

Now that your horse is comfortable with the different equipment and is two years old. It is the time to ride and start the formal training.

Click here to read How to Measure For a Saddle.

Types of Horse Training

You can train your horse in different ways. Here are some of the common types of horse training:

Training by routines

Types of horse training

A horse can be trained by following different common routines. You can train him by repeating activities until they become a habit for the horse. For example, when you first introduce him or her to a new equipment such as a bit, he will be scared of it. But, after some time, he will get used to it.

Reward or punish

In this type of training, you reward your horse for something that he did correctly and negatively reinforce for something that he did not correctly.

Teach him to face his fears

In this type of training, you slowly teach your horse to face his fears. By doing this for some time, he will no longer be afraid.

Click Here to Learn More About Different Horse Training Methods

The best ways to train a horse

Now that you know what are the first steps to train a horse, you might be wondering that what are the best ways to train a horse. Let me tell you, the best way to train a horse is to start early. The sooner you start, the better. By starting early, you will give your horse a chance to trust you and to bond with you.

Another important thing is to teach him that he should not fear humans. Horses are strong creatures and they can really hurt you if they think you are harmful to them. Therefore, love him and get emotionally attached to him so that he thinks you as a leader instead of an enemy.

Here is a quick video on horse training:

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