Trust? Or Safety?

Safety is very important to horses. While the most common horse training methods employ food or the release of pressure as a reward, it has recently been argued that safety is valuable enough to horses to be used by trainers as a resource during training to reduce fearfulness and increase learning uptake.

The goal of horse training is to reduce the expression of behaviour we don’t want and to draw out behaviour we do want, so that it is eventually offered on cue. Many behaviours that horses offer that we don’t like stem from fear. When a behaviour originating from fear is punished to make it less likely to occur again, negative emotions are likely to result, reducing effectiveness of training. Therefore, it is critical to understand fear responses in order to make better training decisions.

Fear responses are highly selected for because they promote survival. Fear is a kind of stress, and affects the animal’s behaviour in ways designed to make it easier to escape the situation. When fear is excessive or chronic, however, the physical cost of responding to the fear can affect health and behaviour. Animals may also react fearfully to things that do not pose an actual risk.

When a horse successfully escapes a fear-inducing stimulus (be that a plastic bag, a bush, or a rider), the behaviour that succeeded can be learned in a single trial, has the effect of reducing fear caused by the stimulus, and is resistant to being untrained. This suggests that the reduction in fear associated with performing an escape behaviour is highly reinforcing. Escape behaviour is in contrast to avoidance behaviour, where the animal receives warning about a fear-inducing stimulus and has the opportunity to avoid the stimulus by performing a behaviour.

In laboratory avoidance learning tests, when a ‘safety signal’ or neutral stimulus such as a light or a sound occurred when the animal had successfully avoided the fear-inducing stimulus, the test animals learned the avoidance behaviour much faster. The safety signal by itself reduced fear and held positive reinforcing properties. Once a stimulus becomes a safety signal, it rarely loses its meaning!

Other horses are probably the most common example of equine safety signals. Calm horses have the best effect, and silhouettes of relaxed or grazing horses have been shown to be recognized and greeted by horses. ‘Home’ is also likely to be a safety signal.

Reducing fearfulness should be a goal of horse training. It is possible that humans could also become a safety signal, depending on the horse’s previous experience of its handler specifically and people in general. The safety signal concept could be a better definition of the elusive notion of ‘trust’ in horse-human relationships.

If the horse’s trainer, handler, or owner can be perceived by the horse as a source of safety through consistent and careful training, learning could be enhanced and the risk of injury to horse and handler caused by a fear response could be greatly reduced.

McGreevy, P; Henshall, C; Starling, M; McLean, A; Boakes, R. (2014) The Importance of Safety Signals in Animal Handling and Training. Journal of Veterinary Behaviour, 9:382-387.

Building a Relationship with Horses

Horses are a blessing. Their patient presence has made a difference to countless lives. The therapeutic benefits for children and adults working with horses is undeniable, and the rewards of having a positive relationship with this lovely animal is worth the hard work it takes to build it.

Exactly how to build a strong and successful relationship with horses is a subject of debate. Some insist the horse must learn to show us ‘respect,’ while others say that the horse must be able to ‘trust’ us. The ideas behind these sentiments are valid, but it is hard to say objectively whether horses can respect, or trust, as we define and experience it.

What we do know is that horses don’t get to choose whether or not to be trained, how they are trained, or who trains them. This means it is our responsibility to build a relationship and a program that is best for the horse.

Every Interaction Counts

It is important to understand that any time we spend with horses is time spent training. Positive interactions help to strengthen the relationship and ‘negative’ encounters, that produce anxiety or fear, erode it. Thankfully, there are ways to build positive experiences for better training and better relationships.

Look at the Horse’s Whole Life

Frustration in one area of life affects other areas too. If a horse is managed in a way that produces frustration, like being in an inappropriate social group, or having insufficient time spent eating each day, training sessions are likely to also become frustrating for the horse. This is why making sure the horse’s environment is managed as naturally as possible is helpful for relationship building.

Using Learning Theory

Horses learn through the processes as described in learning theory. Making sure that every interaction aligns with the principles of learning theory will mean the horse learns faster and with less frustration as he understands what is being taught and what responses are expected of him.

For example, horses learn well from classical conditioning, allowing them to predict what will happen next. This is how horses learn to recognize their owners’ vehicles. When the owner consistently drives up, then feeds the horse, the horse builds a chain of positive associations and soon recognizes the sound of the car. In this way horses can learn, through good training, to respond to subtle cues consistently. This gives the appearance of trust and respect as they respond calmly, even in new situations.

Teaching New Behaviour

Positive and negative reinforcement, or, ‘addition’ and ‘subtraction’ reinforcement, are also part of learning theory. In positive, or ‘addition’, reinforcement something the horse enjoys is added to reward a correct response. In negative, or ‘subtraction’, reinforcement something the horse doesn’t enjoy, such as pressure from a leg aid, is removed or ‘subtracted’ to reward a correct response. Horse training is often based on negative reinforcement as most people use pressure cues from legs and reins. As long as pressure is removed at the right moment, horses can learn very well this way. Using positive and negative reinforcement in combination can speed up learning as well as improve your relationship with your horse.


In order to build a better relationship with horses, the horse has to get something out of it too. With proper care, interactions that are predictable and easy to understand, and rewards that motivate the horse, a strong relationship is possible. It is hard to define respect and trust from the horse’s point of view, but when a horse is attentive to the handler and becomes responsive to subtle cues, you can be sure there is a good relationship forming.

Teaching a Horse to Choose

A recent article looking for ways to improve research into the preferences of horses found that horses can be taught to communicate preferences to their handlers by using symbols. Mejdell et al (2016) used positive reinforcement training to teach 23 horses to choose whether or not to wear a blanket, and tested the efficacy of the training through weather challenges. They predicted that if the horses had correctly learned to discriminate the symbols they would vary their choices based on the weather.

Horses were trained over 14 days to understand the consequences of choosing the ‘blanket on’ symbol versus the ‘blanket off’ symbol both in their home box and outdoors. At first the horse was taught to touch a single board with their nose and were rewarded for this. Then the relevant symbol was shown to the horse (i.e. ‘blanket on’ symbol if no blanket was worn at the time of the training), the horse was rewarded for touching it, and the action was carried out. ‘Blanket on’ and ‘blanket off’ symbols were then presented together, and only the relevant choice was rewarded until no mistakes were made.

Finally a ‘no change’ symbol was added with the other relevant symbol. This was the beginning of introducing choice to the horse. Either choice was rewarded and carried out accordingly. A choice of ‘no change’ prompted the trainers to perform a sham handling of the horse as if putting on a blanket or taking one off to prevent horses from choosing ‘no change’ simply to avoid being touched. Random choices were then presented, with only the relevant choices being rewarded, and irrelevant ones being ignored until no mistakes were made. When horses passed this stage, they moved on to temperature challenge tests to ensure they understood the consequences of choosing different symbols.

For the temperature challenge, horses were rugged heavily indoors until they were obviously warm, then presented with the choices of ‘no change’ or ‘blanket off’ until they reliably chose the obvious answer (but all choices were still rewarded). The cold challenge was outdoors until mild signs of temperature discomfort were shown, then the ‘no change’ or ‘blanket on’ choices were given. After passing this stage, the horses were ready for preference testing.

On two warm, pleasant days and two cold, unpleasant days, the horses were taken from their paddock to the test area in a random state of blanketed or not blanketed. The symbols were varied in position and relative distance to each other. The horses’ responses were very consistent with the weather; all horses chose ‘blanket off’ on the warmer days when wearing one, or ‘no change’ when not. On the cold days, all but two horses chose ‘no change’ when wearing one or ‘blanket on’ when not.

The researchers concluded this kind of training is an effective way to study preferences in horses, and can be used in the field in place of less portable Y-maze testing that has been done previously to determine preference.

The article is open access and can be found with this reference:

Mejdell, C; Buvik, T; Jørgensen, G; Bøe, K. (2016) Horses can learn to use symbols to communicate their preferences. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 184 pp 66-73.

What does your horse want?

Horses have preferences, which they appear motivated to communicate with us when given the opportunity. Some horses enjoy firm brushing while others prefer limited grooming, and handlers well-versed in their body language can often determine what a horse is enjoying or wanting more of but it is often difficult to tell for sure. Researchers recently trained horses to use symbols to communicate their preferences about being blanketed or not in a much less ambiguous way!

It took all 23 horses used in the trial less than 14 training days to grasp the concept of bumping one symbol with their nose to have their blanket removed, another to have a blanket put on, and a third to remain as they were. This rapid uptake speaks well of the chosen positive reinforcement conditioning scheme the researchers used, and perhaps also of the horses’ motivation to make a choice for their own thermal comfort.

The researchers reported that once the horses began to understand that they could communicate their wishes, many horses even attempted to get the trainer’s attention from the paddock on a testing day and immediately chose blanket off. On removing it, it was found that the horse had become sweaty under the blanket, making the reason for the choice obvious.

On warm days, with temperatures around 20ºC, horses consistently chose to have their blanket removed if they wore one, or chose no change if they did not. On days where the weather was cold (~9ºC), wet, and/or windy, all but two of the horses chose blanket on if they did not have one, or no change if they did. This indicates that horses’ preferences are individual, with some horses having a higher tolerance for cold temperatures than others, with blanketing preferences to match. This was expected by the researchers, and confirms what we see in our horses every day.

For the owner looking for a challenging training project, teaching your horse to discriminate between symbols related to his management could take some guesswork out of the many choices we have to make for our horses. But for those owners who may not have the expertise yet to accomplish this, simply paying attention to your horse’s behaviour during routine handling can give insight into his preferences. Encouraging this communication by honouring it will help your horse to express himself more freely, building your relationship and mutual understanding!

The article is open access and can be found with this reference:

Mejdell, C; Buvik, T; Jørgensen, G; Bøe, K. (2016) Horses can learn to use symbols to communicate their preferences. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 184 pp 66-73.

Talking to your Horse

Horse people talk to their horses. We praise them, cajole them, complain to them, tell them our cares and worries, and sometimes even shout at them. Many of us believe our tone of voice, if not our words, affect our horses’ behaviour. Heleski et al conducted a study in 2015 to find out to what extent soothing voice cues versus harsh ones affect training.

How the Study was Conducted

Their hypothesis was that a soothing cue as the horse progressed through a potentially frightening task would improve the speed with which the horse was able to complete it calmly, while a harsh cue provided as the horse progressed would slow down the learning process and increase arousal.

Over 100 horses from different stables through Europe and the United States had five trials to cross a tarpaulin spread on the ground. The horses were randomly assigned to harsh voice treatment (quit it!) and soothing voice treatment (good horse). The handler led the horse towards the tarp using pressure and release on the halter, adding the appropriate vocal cue for each correct step towards the tarp. If the first crossing attempt took longer than ten minutes, the horse was considered to have failed. The goal was for horses to cross calmly within five trials. The time taken to cross each time, the horse’s heart rate, and its general behaviour were observed and recorded. 


Interestingly, their findings were exactly opposite to their hypotheses. There was no significant difference between harsh voice and soothing voice treatment groups in the percentage of horses that failed the learning task, in the groups’ average heart rates, or in the total time each group required to cross calmly. The maximum heart rate of the soothing voice group was actually higher than that of the harsh voice group.

There were no significant correlations with the horses’ ages when taken as an average. However, when 3-4 year old horses were compared with those 20 years or more, the older ones had much less latency to cross.

In the end, the harsh voice treatment group actually completed the learning task faster than the soothing voice group. The researchers hypothesized that these unexpected results may show that tone of voice is either not distinguishable to the horse, or is not as salient to the horse as pressure cues, and may have ended up being perceived as ‘background noise’. They also suggested that handlers who were more familiar to the horses might have produced different results.


This shows that while a soothing voice is likely not inherently calming to a horse in a novel situation, yelling at a horse for unwanted behaviour is equally ineffective. It is, however, theoretically possible with classical conditioning to teach a horse the difference between soothing voice and harsh voice. A soothing voice may additionally help the handler to remain calm, and correlations between horse and handler heart rates have been previously shown.

So, keep talking to your horse. Just realize that he is not taking in everything you are saying, and how you are saying it. Instead, make sure your training is clear so you get the responses you want.


Heleski, C; Wickens, C; Minero, M; Dalla Costa, E; Wu, C; Czeszak, E; and Köenig von Borstel, U. (2015) Do soothing vocal cues enhance horses’ ability to learn a frightening task? Journal of Veterinary Behaviour, 10(1):41-47.

Laddie: Horse Shy

As a five year old green-broke horse, Laddie’s only riding experience was alone on trails. When he was acquired for further training, the arena was a new experience and being ridden close to other horses was too. He shied at everything, and any time another horse came too close he would stop suddenly and run backwards, or shoot forwards. This anxiety made him tense and the rider often felt like he was about to buck until he got going.

Anxiety in a new situation is very normal. Controlling these reactions, however, is key to achieving relaxation and habituation (Principle 1). At first, when any correction of unwanted behaviour was made, no matter how mild, the anxiety increased and he seemed unable to trial new behaviour, showing a negative state of mind (Principle 4). Instead of starting directly with the shying and hyperactive behaviour, then, cues he already knew were used and his responses rewarded until he began to offer improved responses and show interest in figuring out what was required (Principle 3).

Then a new cue for ‘turn’ was installed using two light whip taps on the shoulder and transferred to the reins (Principle 7) so that any random turning, in a shy for example, could be corrected (Principle 6).

The ‘go’ cue was also re-installed, as sometimes it caused stopping or moving backwards instead of going forwards (Principle 9).

With these new cues, overshadowing was used (Principle 5) near areas of the arena that caused anxious responses until go and stop were light in those areas.

The number of horses in the arena was then increased and their proximity to Laddie was decreased using the same go, stop, and turn cues (Principle 8) until riding past another horse elicited no unasked change, and finally being ridden past produced no random movement either (Principle 10).

Laddie is now calmer about new situations, and is more willing to try new behaviour for a new cue, indicating a generally better state of mind (Principle 4).

Bailey: Aggressive Therapy Horse

This 22 year old mare had been used as a therapeutic riding horse for 5 years. During therapy sessions, she would not obey cues provided by the rider, requiring her handler to intervene. Her teeth would be grinding for the entire session, and periodically she would try to bite her handler, often resulting in an aggressive response from the handler. While being prepared for a lesson she would show signs of restlessness and aggression to the point where the Association wasn’t sure they could keep using her.

Aggression is always an alert to something being unclear or confusing in the horse’s training. The therapeutic association was right in questioning their continued use of her (Principle 1), but finding the cause would have been better. Responding with aggression typically makes the behaviour worse (Principle 2).

Bailey tended to grind her teeth when cued to stop, showing confusion about what the cue meant (Principle 9). The stop response was retrained, starting at obedience because she would slow a little bit when pressure was applied (Principle 8). Care was taken that there was no pressure when she was not being asked for something. The teeth grinding suddenly diminished, and the biting stopped entirely.

Next she was taught to ‘park’, an extension of the stop response. This was used in the tacking area, and when she realized that all that was required was standing still and not moving she quickly relaxed and even appeared to enjoy being groomed, wiggling her ears and lips when being brushed on the neck (Principle 5).

With the tension and conflict gone, she quickly became a favourite among the volunteers, and was able to continue serving as a therapy horse.

Hemi: Dirty Jumper

Although his behaviour had been growing steadily worse, no one expected this 11 year old Clydesdale- Thoroughbred lesson horse to begin running out at jumps. Students had reported his unpredictable shies, but this new behaviour began leaving them in the dirt. He gained a reputation of being ‘dirty’ when formerly everyone described him as a ‘teddy bear.’

The clue to this horse is his consistent behaviour. Shying and running out both demonstrate a loss of self-carriage of direction (Principle 10) when the shoulders suddenly turn without a cue, thus throwing riders (Principle 1).

Hemi was retrained to turn his shoulders from a rein cue using operant conditioning (Principle 6). To consolidate the new behaviour, he was ridden in areas where he was known to shy, and the retrained cue was applied during a mistake to bring his shoulders back to the rider’s line (Principle 10).

Upon approaching jumps again, Hemi lost rhythm immediately preceding an attempt to run around the jump, thus failing rhythm and straightness levels of the shaping scale (Principle 8). After training improved transitions within and between gaits, walking up to a low jump (underriding) was used to cause him to speed up just before a jump, producing a drawing effect on the approach and a clean effort over the jump.

Because running out was quite rewarding, the habit meant Hemi could not be returned to the lesson program immediately. However, with practice of the new behaviour by a rider using equitation science, he should successfully return to work.

Spooking and Anxiety

It often happens in a show situation. You and your horse are out of your comfort zones, when suddenly the flowerpot in the corner takes on menacing proportions. What can you do?

Well, not much, unless you have given yourself the tools you need before you get in that situation. Now’s a good time to train those tools. Then you can deal with the gremlins in the corner of your own arena, too.

Training Tools

To be able to effectively communicate with your horse while he is anxious about something he has seen or heard, your horse needs to know a few things so well that they happen almost automatically.

  • Go. He should go forward from either a light squeeze of your legs or from two light whip taps. Having either at your disposal in a scary situation is very helpful.
  • Stop. He should stop reliably from light rein pressure to the point that you can stop him in three steps from the trot.
  • Turn. Think about it: a shy or spook is jut a turn that you didn’t ask for. It doesn’t really matter what caused it. Being able to turn back onto your line without the horse just bending the neck and carrying on his line is essential. Train two light whip taps on the shoulders for reinforcing your rein cues.

If those three responses are installed, you’ll be able to address the scary object problem in any situation.

Approaching the Scary Object

Give your horse as much rein as is safe to move his head around so he can focus on the area or object that has caused fright. Tell him to go towards it. This is why it is important to have a light and well trained go response. Your horse is likely to rear if ‘go’ is not light.

Before he wants to stop himself, ask him to stop. Continue approaching the object in this manner, a couple steps at a time, until you feel he will no longer go straight if you ask him to go. In this spot, step back and forwards. You will find that his attention is taken with the object, and go and stop will be heavy. Continue backing and going just a couple steps each with clear releases of pressure for correct responses until go and stop are light again. You will now be able to approach closer.

Correct any sideways shoulder movements with your whip taps on the shoulder and repeat the forward-backwards procedure until it is light again. This process is called overshadowing. You are training your cues to be more powerful than (or to overshadow) the scary thing.

Investigating the Scary Object

The average time it takes a horse to begin to want to investigate something it startled at is 13 seconds. If you can keep your horse facing the thing for that long, he will likely begin to show inquisitive behaviour. If he offers to go closer to sniff, let him and reward him.

Once he is done sniffing, repeat the forward and backward overshadowing procedure until the responses are light again. Correct any sideways shoulder movements that you didn’t ask for with shoulder taps, but don’t force him to walk sideways towards the scary thing.

Leaving and Returning

Leave the scary object before your horse tells you he wants to. Right after he has sniffed and you’ve made sure stop and go still work is a good time to walk away.

Circle back in a fairly large circle. You are going to walk past it now. Don’t try to get too close to it yet. I also prefer not to insist on a straight line yet. Walk a wiggly line around your circle. If it is a right circle, turn one step to the left, go straight a couple strides, turn two steps to the right, straight a couple strides and so on to complete the circle. In this way you will ask your horse to step one step towards the scary object and as soon as he does, you will ask him to step away again.

When turning one step towards the object is easy and light, ask for two. Try a straight line past it, correcting any random shoulder movements with the reins and/or whip taps.

If you stop near the object, don’t stop for long and give scratches or a small food treat near it and then continue.

When Time is Tight

In a show setting you don’t have time for all of that. But if you have done this many times at home with different scary things, that experience will transfer to the new situation. If you and your horse have done this before, your command of go, stop, and turn should be good enough that you can ask your horse to go towards the object with slowing and going faster instead of stopping, and by keeping his shoulders very steady between the reins, correcting any random steps.

Training a better ‘turn’ is the single most effective way of reducing shying and spooking—so never fear, you won’t have to take ages in the warmup ring or pause your dressage test to do some training. With some practice of this, you’ll be able to feel the tiniest un-cued step and correct it before it turns into a shy or anxious response.


Horses explore things on their own in a round-about way. We can take advantage of this through wiggly lines and gradually getting closer. They also habituate to new things fairly easily through overshadowing because they can only pay priority attention to one thing at a time. It is either you or the object. We can take advantage of this to help systematically reduce fear and anxiety by diverting attention to your cues instead.

Catching the Wary Horse

The hard-to-catch horse can make you reticent to ride because it takes so long just to bring him in. Because running away is a fear behaviour and is rewarded because the horse can go faster than you can, it is learned quickly and can be hard to get rid of. See if your horse fits into any of these categories.

  1. The Wary: Hasn’t been handled much, or has had a couple bad experiences and not many nice ones with humans. If approached too fast he is likely to split.
  2. The Learned: Having practiced running away for years, he knows all the tricks. He gets the treats and still gets away, lets you pat him then spins and runs, and is master of using obstacles or other horses in his escape.
  3. The Insecure: Once caught, this one is just fine. But somehow the catching is a roadblock he can’t get past.

The following training ideas will help each type, but some will be more effective than others in different cases. For all, start in a moderately sized, safe enclosure. You don’t want it so small that the horse feels trapped, nor so large that you get tired out! Also think about what the horse gets once he is caught. Does he receive clear training that matches how he learns? Clear training reduces anxiety and improves his experience of being in with you, making him more likely to allow himself to be caught.

Technique 1: Approach and Retreat

This technique is helpful for all catching problems. It will just be significantly harder to apply to The Learned horse, because the body language he will give you will be very subtle.

Begin with no halter and no aspiration of riding today. You are going to very precisely reward the behaviour you want (standing still) so your horse doesn’t leave and feel the reward of distance between you.

Start walking slowly towards the horse. Pay careful attention for any of these signs:

  • flicking the ear farthest from you back
  • looking away from you
  • shifting the weight away from you

When you notice any of these, stop walking immediately. If the horse stays where he is, step back a step or two to release any pressure. The signs are listed from least obvious to most obvious. If you stop moving when you notice an ear movement, your horse probably won’t leave. If you don’t notice the signs until his head is away and his weight is shifting, you’ve probably lost him.

If your horse leaves, never mind. Both of you need to learn this new exercise. Pay attention to what happened just before he left and try to catch yourself and stop a little earlier next time. Just trail behind your horse, not catching up, until he stops and stop too. Then begin again.

If you succeed in keeping your horse still, he will probably turn his head back and look at you. This is your signal to begin approaching again. Go slow and watch for any signs, stopping immediately and retreating before he moves. Once you’ve done this a few times without a halter, try bringing one along and see if there is any difference in his behaviour. You may find, especially with The Learned horses, that you start again from the beginning—but that’s ok, it will go faster the second time around!

Remember, do not retreat if your horse does move. You do not want to reward moving any more than it is inherently rewarding. Just trail along until your horse stops. Do not chase him in any way with actions or words. Be patient.

Technique 2: Counter Conditioning

Most effective for The Wary and The Insecure, this approach used in conjunction with Approach and Retreat can make being caught a great thing. If being caught only ever leads to being taken away from buddies or into a stressful situation, not many horses will continue being good to catch. If, however, it means itchy places are scratched and food is received (as long as aggression is not an issue) and the training is clear, your horse’s opinion of catching may change.

When you get up to your horse by Approach and Retreat, start by visiting. Try to find itchy places and give them a good hard scratch. Starting by the withers is usually good if you’re not sure what your horse will like. The shoulder and chest are often enjoyed by horses too. If your horse shows signs of wanting to leave, leave first. Walk away a bit, and try again.

Bring some food with you (just in a hand, not in a big bucket; we’re not going for a bribe here, but a reward). If your horse lets you visit for a bit, offer a tidbit of food. For The Learned horses, this could be their cue to cut and run before getting haltered, so you can reward being haltered instead, or omit the food.

If your horse finds being alone stressful (most do), bring a buddy along or have a buddy waiting where you’ll be taking your horse. You won’t have to do this for always, it just helps to give your horse a new idea of what being caught means.

Technique 3: Train ‘Come Up’

Best for The Learned horse but helpful also for the other types, here is something to replace the unwanted behaviour of running away with.

When you have your horse caught, it would be a good idea to train something that will make it easier next time. You don’t even have to leave the enclosure you are in. If your horse is food-motivated, don’t hesitate to learn about clicker training and use that to reward your horse’s approach. Otherwise use your voice (same words, same tone, every time) combined with a good scratch in a favourite place. This pairs the word with the scratch, eventually making the word rewarding.

Make sure your horse understands how to step forward from pressure on the halter. Don’t start walking, just put pressure on the halter and see what happens. If he moves immediately, you can carry on to the next step. Otherwise train a couple steps forward from light pressure on the halter by releasing pressure for correct steps and using your voice/scratch for positive reinforcement.

Stand a couple steps from your horse now with the lead rope in your hand. Make the noise (whistle) or say the word (come up) that you want your horse to recognize and come to. During/just after this sound, pull on the lead rope. Click and treat when your horse steps towards you, or reinforce in some other way. Repeat this until your verbal cue elicits one or two steps forward without needing the lead rope. That’s good for a first session. In later sessions you can reward for three or more steps, stand farther away, stand in a different position, train in a different area, and keep teaching your horse that moving towards you is a great thing to do.


Getting rid of running behaviour takes patience because of how rewarding it can be for the horse. Don’t take it personally and keep working on it.

None of the techniques outlined here involve any chasing of the horse to make him realize that moving away from you is more work than coming to you. This may work in the short term because he’ll get tired eventually, and if you are skilled at releasing the chasing pressure when the horse shows signs of coming towards you he will learn eventually. However, because of how horses are wired to learn, any chasing can be very frightening and is likely to perpetuate your catching problems rather than solve them. The faster and farther he can go, the more rewarding it is. So I focus instead on going slow and rewarding him for what I want instead of chasing him for what I don’t want.