Communicating With Horses

To work with horses successfully, we must be able to communicate adequately with voice, touch, and body language.

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To work with horses successfully, we must be able to communicate adequately with voice, touch, and body language. The horseman must be sensitive and sympathetic, with an intuitive feel for what is right for that particular horse at that particular moment. Successful horse handling makes use of tact and persuasion, only using force when absolutely necessary. A good horseman always thinks first of the horse and thinks ahead to possible long-term results of the handling method rather than just the convenience of the moment. The horse has an incredible memory and abusive handling will affect him a long time.

Use horse sense when introducing new things or performing routine care tasks that a horse might perceive as uncomfortable or frightening. If you are doing something new or unusual, choose a nice day and a time of day with the least distractions. Having his first foot trimming on a windy day with everything in motion and scary will make the task harder since he’s already suspicious. If things go less smoothly than planned, his bad feelings about what you did to him may last awhile.

Use good judgment in rewarding proper behavior and thwarting improper behavior; make sure the horse always understands why he is being punished. He will respond by becoming easier to handle, when he knows what is expected of him. Always ask a horse to do something in a way that makes sense to him. He should be rewarded for a proper response in such a way that he’ll repeat the response the next time he is asked. Often the only reward needed is praise and encouragement.

When you ask the horse to do a certain thing, such as stop or turn on cue when being led, often the reward is just a release of pressure (from the halter). When the horse starts to respond properly, release the pressure immediately. The next time he is asked, he gives the desired response because he knows it will result in release of pressure. If he realizes that stopping immediately when you say “Whoa” will result in no pressure on his nose from the halter, he will stop before you have to reinforce your request with a pull

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Written by:

Heather Smith Thomas ranches with her husband near Salmon, Idaho, raising cattle and a few horses. She has a B.A. in English and history from University of Puget Sound (1966). She has raised and trained horses for 50 years, and has been writing freelance articles and books nearly that long, publishing 20 books and more than 9,000 articles for horse and livestock publications. Some of her books include Understanding Equine Hoof Care, The Horse Conformation Handbook, Care and Management of Horses, Storey’s Guide to Raising Horses and Storey’s Guide to Training Horses. Besides having her own blog,, she writes a biweekly blog at that comes out on Tuesdays.

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