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How to teach your horse what you want and how he knows he got it right!

How do you ask your horse to do something? And, how does your horse know if he’s done the right thing? Horses can be taught to respond to body language and voice cues very effectively but key in teaching a horse anything is knowing how to ask and when to stop asking.

In addition to this you also need to know if your horse is physically up to the task. It doesn’t matter how well you ask or when you stop asking if your horse simply cannot do the thing you’re asking for (or he isn’t ready for it).

How to ask..

When teaching your horse something it helps to have a very clear picture in your mind of how you will ask them. Lets take a simple one, asking a horse to go forward when riding, going from halt to walk. I will start by lifting the energy in my body and squeezing with my legs, if nothing happens i.e. my horse doesn’t move I will then either tap my horse with a stick or use my legs a little more if I didn’t have a stick. As soon as my horse moves I will then relax my seat a little to match my horses walk and relax my legs, so take my legs off. I would then assess whether the walk is what I wanted, and adjust from there.

How your horse knows he did it right...

It’s the release of the legs by taking your legs off that let’s your horse know that he gave the correct response to your legs. If the legs continue to be on, one of a few things will happen

  1. The horse will get faster

  2. The horse will learn to ignore the leg (known as being ‘dead to the leg’) thinking it doesn’t mean anything and you will need twice as much effort to get the same result next time.

  3. The horse will get irritated and object, this is often where nappiness can start, see my blog ‘On the road to nowhere - napping, why it happens and what to do about it’

The same idea can be applied to lots of different tasks both on the ground and ridden including loading, leading...

On using food and treats

Used well and carefully food is a brilliant added incentive for many horses and can create positive associations to things that they are scared of, don’t like or don’t want to do. If you have a particularly food orientated horse it can be a game changer.

A couple of things to be careful about

  • If you are using food to build a positive association with something that is scary for example the trailer, once it’s going well I believe it’s also important to try without the food motivation to see if the horse is really confident to go on or just over-riding his fear to get the food.

  • Try to reward good behaviour rather than bribe your horse to do something. There is a big difference between loading your horse on the trailer where he finds food to asking him to follow a scoop of food up the ramp and hoping he doesn’t notice he’s getting in a trailer!!

  • Lastly don’t reward your horse for being in your pockets! Teach your horse to stand quietly and wait for the treat rather than mug you for it.


Before trying any training technique it is important to rule out pain or discomfort. Saddle fit, teeth, back, hoof balance and lameness issues should all be checked by a qualified professional before applying any training.

If you have questions or need idea's to help with a specific problem feel free to get in touch with me on


Lyla has been helping riders and their horses in the UK, USA and Europe for over 10 years. She has prepared horses for crowds of over 6,000 people with no calmers or ear plugs for venues including Birmingham NEC, Aintree, Bury Farm EC and Hartpury.

Lyla specialises in horse psychology and behaviour problems with a specific interest in dressage and has worked with horses from grass roots to Grand Prix across the UK and Europe including international competitors and Olympians from Spain, the US, Canada and the UK.

See or email for more details.

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