Horse Training That Builds Trust

Touching your horse all over with a stick and with your hand can build trust.

From AQHA's Fundamentals of Horsemanship

It’s very important to earn your horse’s trust and help him to accept humans. If your horse really trusts you, he should allow you to touch him all over his body. He should also accept your tools without fear.

Rubbing Your Horse With the Stick

Sometimes a tool – such as a stick – is the best way to introduce a horse to touch. Think of the stick as an extension of your arm. You should be able to rub the horse all over his body with the stick. But if he was sensitive somewhere and kicked at the stick, you’d be glad that it wasn’t you that was getting kicked. You can get into the more sensitive areas with the stick and keep yourself out of harm’s way.

To begin, stand at your horse’s shoulder, with the lead rope short enough to control him without preventing him from moving. To prevent the mistake – the horse walking off – is to prevent the horse from learning. You’ll want to keep the horse’s nose tipped slightly toward you, for basic safety reasons.

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Initially, just try to touch his withers. To help your horse become comfortable, use the approach-and-retreat concept. Approach the horse with the stick, and before he gets too worried, move the stick away. Slowly approach the area again. Soon the horse will become desensitized and will allow you to touch the area with the stick. If the horse moves, just keep touching him with the stick. As soon as he stops, take all the pressure away.

This approach-and-retreat method is especially important in the horse’s blind spots, where he can’t see the stick, and the sensitive areas, such as his legs. The length of the stick should enable you to remain safe while touching a moving leg until the horse stands still and accepts the contact.

Keep your body language relaxed and confident, and remember not to blame the horse for acting like a horse. His reactions might seem wrong to you, but to him, they’re perfectly natural. Take your time and reward the tiniest sign of relaxation with a moment’s rest. You’re building gradually toward your objective.

You’ll know you’re successful when the horse accepts the contact of the stick all over both sides of his body.

Using Your Hand

This exercise is fundamental in establishing a relationship of trust. If you can touch all parts of your horse’s body, it will be much easier to groom him and otherwise take care of him. And it will help him to more easily accept being fly sprayed, shod, clipped and examined by the vet.

Start by draping the lead rope over the elbow closest to the horse’s body and tipping his nose slightly toward you. Rub your horse, starting on the easy parts like the neck or withers where horses love to be scratched. Rub, stroke or scratch, but do not pat him because horses do not enjoy patting. Keep your body close to the horse, and keep an arm, elbow, shoulder or hip in contact with him at all times.

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Gradually, using wide strokes, move toward the more sensitive areas, moving a little closer with each stroke. If your horse reacts, stay calm and relaxed, and keep rubbing. If necessary, lighten your touch a little, but try not to stop altogether. Do not try to stop your horse from moving, but just keep rubbing on him. As soon as he stops moving, take all the pressure away.

Try to find your horse’s “sweet spot,” where he most enjoys being scratched. This is often the neck or the withers, but every horse is different.

Don’t touch the really sensitive zones, such as the head, ears, sheath and stifle, until you have obtained a very good result with the rest of the body. You should be able to lift his tail, touch him around the ears, and touch around his muzzle. The horse should be confident enough with you that he allows you to do that.

It’s important that you don’t sneak around the horse; move around him with confidence. The horse needs your confidence to find his own.

AQHA Video

Being able to touch your horse all over is essential for grooming, veterinary care, shoeing and is a sign of trust. This lesson from AQHA's Fundamentals of Horsemanship guides you through the zones to rub and scratch to get your horse comfortable with being touched.

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