As any experienced equestrian knows, there’s nothing quite like the bond between a horse and their person. When that bond is solid, communication is strong, and training has a good foundation, working together is a true joy.
And if you’re an experienced rider, you may be thinking of training a horse for the first time.
However, training a horse and riding a horse are two different things. Here are a few essential tips on how to train a horse, whether you’re new to training or you’re looking to start fresh with a brand new horse.
How to Raise a Horse (and Train a Horse): Build a Bond
Whether you’re raising horses or training a horse as an adult, building a bond is essential.
Think of it like building a bond with a person who doesn’t speak your language. For example, you should always be firm in your direction, but also fair and consistent. If the horse tries to go to the center before you tell them to, make them stay out until you ask them to go to the center, even if it’s just ten extra steps. Do this every time they move to the center of their own accord, and praise them for doing what you ask.
The key here is to find a horse that’s the right fit for your personality and skill level. Start with skill level first. There’s a saying among horse trainers: green on green makes black and blue. In other words, an inexperienced rider plus an inexperienced horse is a guaranteed disaster.
If you’re an inexperienced rider or you’ve never trained a horse before, look for a well-broken horse—the horse will be able to compensate for what you don’t know. On the other hand, if you know your way around the stable and are comfortable with training unbroken horses, you can handle a young horse.
From there, think about personality, which may be a question of complements as much as matching. A skittish or high-energy horse, for example, often benefits from a calm partner to counterbalance them.
Start Horse Training with Groundwork and Basic Manners
Once you have a bond with your horse, you’re ready to build on that bond with some groundwork. This might seem boring, but it’s the foundation of everything you’ll do in the saddle, and the behaviors you reinforce on the ground will crop up every time you saddle up.
There are lots of groundwork exercises you can try. The best basic groundwork exercises include:
- Training your horse to stand still
- Training your horse to lead
- Training your horse to trot
- Training your horse to canter
- Training your horse to go in a circle
- Training your horse to flex and release
- Training your horse to move its front-end and hind-end independently
However, the real point of groundwork is building trust, comfort, and cooperation between you and your horse. A horse will always receive training more successfully from someone they like and feel comfortable with.
Always Do Horse Training with an Experienced Local Trainer
Last but not least, you should always train a horse while working with an experienced local trainer. Unless you’re an experienced trainer yourself, this part is non-negotiable.
For one thing, a good trainer can consult with you on training issues to focus on. They can also help you establish goals and a realistic timeline for building skills with your horse. They can also identify any problems you’re having (or unwittingly reinforcing) and help you correct them.
You can supplement an in-person trainer with online resources, like Horse Liberty Training. Think of it like studying outside of class—it’s a great way to introduce new concepts.
Want More Horse Training Tips?
Ultimately, figuring out how to train a horse is a truly personal experience. It depends a lot on the horse in question. But once you have some essential skills down pat, you’ll be able to build a strong relationship.
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