How to Tame a Horse

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Wild horses have an innate distrust of humans.
Wild horses have an innate distrust of humans. (Image: BananaStock/BananaStock/Getty Images)

Horses are flight animals and have an innate fear of predators. They will respond to unusual or frightening situations by running away or kicking. Taming a horse involves working with the animal to help suppress these instincts and accept human contact. It is a lengthy process that involves a lot of patience. Any attempt to pressure the horse and rush the training will damage the trust bond. The initial work should take place in a safe work area that is large enough to allow the horse to retreat if necessary, but not so large that it can avoid contact with the handler.

Things You'll Need

  • Fenced and gated work area
  • Assistant
  • Helmet
  • Gloves
  • Strong boots
  • Halter
  • Food rewards

Make sure the work area is safe and securely fenced and does not contain anything likely to cause injury. Drive the horse in with the help of an assistant. Leave him to settle down and take stock of his surroundings, which may take several hours.

Put on helmet, gloves and boots and enter the work area. Ask your assistant to stand outside and hold the gate closed but do not shut it properly in case you have to leave the area quickly. Stand in the middle of the arena and keep your eyes turned to the ground, as the horse may interpret staring as the sign of a predator and become agitated. Wait for the horse to become used to your presence, which may take several sessions.

Take the halter into the arena. By now, the horse should ignore your presence and remain relaxed when you enter. Take two steps toward it, with your gaze lowered, holding the halter low in one hand. If the horse stays still and watches you, take a further step. If it retreats, wait until it settles again before taking another step. Never try to chase after it, as this will invoke the flight instinct. Again, it may take several sessions before you can move toward the horse without it reacting.

Continue to walk calmly and slowly toward the horse and stop when you are three to four feet away. Observe the horse's body language. If it is tense, with head up and ears pricked hard, or possibly sweating or quivering, then take two clear steps backwards. Wait until it has relaxed before walking forward again. Once the horse remains relaxed with you in proximity, walk slowly up to its head. Stand still and allow the horse to reach out to you. If it retreats, calmly repeat the process from the beginning. Once it remains relaxed, move the halter to beneath the horse's nostrils and show it to the horse before lowering it again.

Retreat to the middle of the arena and let the horse relax. Walk up again and show the halter. If there is no reaction, touch the horse gently but firmly on the side of the neck. This is a big step and the horse may retreat. If it does, start the process again from the beginning. If the horse accepts the contact, give it a reward of food. Gradually touch the horse around the head and neck area, rewarding every time the horse accepts a little more contact.

Rub the halter over and around the horse's head and neck, and gradually pass the rope over the neck and wrap it out of the way. Give a reward of food, then pass the halter over the nose. This is an important part of the training and should not be rushed; if the horse becomes agitated stop and go back a step. Fasten the halter on properly, and remove the rope. Leave the horse to get used to the halter, monitoring it to check that it does not get caught on anything. Continue to work with your horse to strengthen the trust bond between you. Once it associates you with food and attention rather than fear, your horse is ready to move onto more advanced halter work and intrusive attention such as grooming.

Tips & Warnings

  • You can help the horse get used to the sight and smell of the halter by leaving it in the arena. Make sure that it is coiled up and not likely to cause a trip hazard.
  • Horses are unpredictable animals and should be treated with caution. Always wear appropriate safety clothing and have an assistant nearby.

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