How to Get You to the Top of the Pecking Order

How to Get You to the Top of the Pecking Order

Another area I see is people giving positive reinforcement when it isn’t deserved and often happens when they go to catch their horse. I know not all horses are easy to catch and I fully understand that sinking sensation when you walk out to the pasture when you have only 60 minutes to spend with your horse and he gives you a dirty look and heads for south end of the property. At this point you walk all the way out there hoping once you get there he will give up and let you halter him. This is where I see things go wrong: the person walks on out to the horse and starts crooning, “You are such a good boy and I love you so much.” At the same time the horse is glaring at the person, maybe pinning his ears back and worse, turning his butt to his owner. You want him to feel good about going for a ride so what is this person doing wrong? She’s telling her darling love bug that it’s OK to display herd-dominant behavior and treat her like she is the lesser horse in the pecking order. Don’t do this to yourself.


We obviously don’t want to get too negative and chase our horse away, but we can teach a small lesson here and be successful. I will admit however that this is hard to do on 10 acres. If you have a horse consistently hard to catch you may need to design a catch pen or give him a smaller paddock for a while. Given our method of using positive and negative reinforcement this is what we should do. If your horse gives you a nasty look or pins his ears back you need to make a negative noise back. I’m not real keen on using the word ‘No’, because it rhymes with ‘Whoa’.

Instead I’ve created my own negative guttural noise that my horse perceives as nasty. When I use that negative sound it’s not loud enough to scare him off, just loud enough so that he knows he didn’t just get praised for being nasty. If he goes to turn his rump to you keep a handful of small rocks in your pocket (one in your hand) and when the butt turns make the noise and toss the rock at his tail. He will quickly learn that something “gets him” if he turns his back on you. It doesn’t have to hurt him, just surprise him. Be aware of your positioning. If you are handy you can tell where to place yourself and where to move your arm to cut him off from moving past you. Your goal is to get him to face you with his ears forward, not backwards. As soon as he looks at you with a curious look, rather than a nasty look or perks up his ears, or licks his lips, this is the time to say “good boy” and sound happy about it. After awhile your horse will be much more likely to face up to you when you go to catch him rather than be nasty about it. It will take lots of repetition but I promise it works!


That said, and if your horse is very green, you may wish to read the other article on our site about How to Catch Your Horse. But no matter if your horse is green or well trained, he or she should learn from the beginning to respect you by facing you and not giving you threatening looks or actions. Again, horses learn very quickly when positive and negative reinforcements are given them correctly and consistently. When your horse does something wrong, get after him quickly, but forgive him instantly when he or she does good. Praise him – instantly and quietly. Horses are not too gracious over exuberant praise. Leave that for the family dog! Happy trails and safe riding!

Working With Your Horse – Horse Training Tips

Working With Your Horse – Horse Training Tips

In my last article we discussed how making our horses “feel” good, or right about what they are doing helps keep horses to retain their training, and makes our training processes easier. In this article I discuss the importance of positive and negative feedback and how they affect our horses’ training. People do not always give horses the credit they deserve for how their minds and memories work. Horses will remember something for life that repeats itself only THREE times! After 10 times that action is not only remembered but becomes a habit. To then undo that habit takes up to 28 instances of positive repetition. So always doing things properly is very important when dealing with horses.


Positive and Negative Feedback

That’s why positive and negative feedback when a horse yields under the right circumstances and at the right time is crucial to helping our horses learn. Horses are just like people – they feel good when praised and bad when they get negative feedback. Since horses learn through feel…we want them to feel great when they do something right. But I often see people giving horses the feel good feelings when they should give them the negative ones.Let’s consider picking up feet. As a trainer I get a many people asking me to make sure the horse will pick up its feet well for cleaning out its hooves. I agree this is very important however, about half of all the horses I train pick up their feet well…for me! So, then I know that when the owners come back I’m going to need to teach THEM to pick up their horse’s feet.

Getting a Horse to Lift a Foot

Here is the first mistake I see: Most often this happens with people who feel a bit uncomfortable with the fact that they are that close to their horse’s hoof. They tentatively run their hand down their horse’s leg all the while crooning “good boy, good boy.” Then they get to the horse’s pastern and squeeze but the horse still hasn’t picked up its foot. Then they start pulling with both hands, puffing for breath, still saying, “Good boy, good boy.” What have they taught their horse at this point? That if they stand there like a rock and don’t budge, they are a ‘good boy!’ In reality the person is doing this because it gives them comfort and security by making them feel like they are keeping the horse calm so as to avoid the possibility of being kicked. So at this point I have to address several things. If your horse is the type to kick or strike, you should not be bending over trying to lift a foot. If that is the case, you have to go back to step one which is of course training them to safely allow having their feet handled. This is something we can address later. In this article, I’m dealing with the horse that is already known to be safe to handle.


Rather than make your horse feel good about being bad, this is what we will do instead: Run your hand down the horse’s leg. If you get to the pastern and they have not offered to pick up their foot for you, squeeze the tendon above the pastern joint at the same time saying “Pick”. We should always have a precise one-word command for things we want our horses to do. I like that word because it does not sound like my other commands and the horse will learn to recognize it. If you do all this and the foot stays on the ground we have to up the ante…but at this point we have still not said anything but “Pick”. If the foot is still on the ground I take my hoof pick and gently press the point against the back of the pastern. I start pushing harder and harder until he gives in and lifts the foot, at which point I hold it up and say “Good boy!” Then and only then do you give that praise. With consistency picking up feet will be easy. “Good boy” is the praise; the hoof pick in the pastern is the negative reinforcement.

Horse Training Tips

Horse Training Tips

Let’s consider a question: Let’s say you’re in 3rd grade. Your teacher is teaching math today but your teacher isn’t exactly clear on how to approach the subject. The teacher knows what it means to add numbers but doesn’t quite know how to relay the process that would lead you to arrive at the correct answer. Worse, if you happened to get the answer right your teacher then didn’t affirm that you had answered correctly. Can you imagine how confusing such a situation would be? Now, if your teacher had the math lesson planned out, understood how to teach you the process of addition, you’d be far more likely to arrive at correct answers. Clearly, a teacher must know the process of how to arrive at the correct answer, and what the correct answer is, otherwise how could they effectively teach it?”I am astounded at the number of horse owners that try to teach their horses something that they themselves don’t know the answer to, nor what it is that they’re trying to teach.”As in our example above the teaching experience results in confusion and possible student anxiety. You see, if you’re going to teach your horse how to leg yield his hindquarters in a particular way, then you must know exactly how you want your horse to do it.


Yesterday I was inspired to write this article because I gave one of my assistant trainers a task on her worksheet that said “Work on leg yielding.” with a particular horse. As I watched her perform her tasks I noticed that she was picking up the horse’s feet and having the horse do more than it needed to do at one time. I mentioned that she did not need to work on that task in particular and she said: “My assignment sheet says to work on leg yielding.” I apologized and explained in detail what leg yielding was in this case and she went about doing the task correctly.

What to do (and not to do).It’s important to make sure your horse understands his assignment. Thus, if you are trying to teach him to move his hind-quarters away from you and you want him to cross the inside leg in front of the outside leg as he steps over, then that is precisely what you want and precisely what you ask your horse to do when you teach him. If he doesn’t do it, you keep asking him until he does. When he does, leave him alone.

When teaching, don’t over praise with your voice. If the horse does something right and you get overly chatty with “…good boy, good boy, good boy, good boy, oh what a good boy you are.” the horse will not have time to think. Let him chew and lick and think about it. Problems when the horse isn’t given time to figure it out – at least, he doesn’t know he did. In other words, what you want to have your horse do is think about it and ask himself: “What just happened that got him/her to leave me alone?”The trick here is to not drill him on it again and again because then he’ll think what he did wasn’t right after all. Thus, he won’t ever get it right. Move on to something else and come back to that task again later during the lesson. Then if you get him doing two things really well you can then combine tasks.  For example, you get him to move his haunches over in just the way you want then you go to the front and get him to step over just the way you want. That accomplished you can go to the simple side pass by applying pressure to both of the areas you just trained simultaneously and he will side pass by moving both his front and hind over at the same time. It may not be perfect but you will have put one and one together. When teaching ask yourself if you’re asking the horse to perform a sequence of events.


Training your horse may only be one step at time but be sensitive not to over train. Remember to train from both sides of your horse and when he gets it right move on to another task. First and foremost, know what you want him to do and look for it; when he gets it, stop asking. Just stop and smile and say “Good Boy.” one time. Then give him a minute or two to lick and chew on it so that it sinks in. As well, be sure you’re not asking for too much too soon. For instance, if you want him to step backwards two steps and then move his hindquarters, that combination may be too much to do all at once. He has to first learn to step back when you ask, then you can teach him to move his hindquarters.

Before trying to teach remember to first ask yourself if what you’re trying to teach is a sequence of events and decide if it is best to break down sequential tasks into simpler single events that you can later combine after your horse has mastered individual parts of the sequence.Next time we will talk about the controversial saddle fitting issue. Have a happy, positive, productive training event!-