Behind the scenes at Tokyo 2020

Equine Good Manners: Would Your Horse Pass the Test?

13 November 2021
Patricia Salem
Patricia Salem
(Patricia is a former professional equine massage therapist
and recreational rider. )

A quick list of etiquette skills your equine partner should be able to perform reliably

As a horse owner, your horse is a reflection of you. Around the stables, does your horse act like a naughty child? Are you nervous when you attend shows that your horse will play up and cause you stress?


If you answered yes to either of these questions, it’s time to work on equine good manners. Here’s a quick list of etiquette skills your equine partner should be able to perform reliably.


1. Being Caught and Accepting a Halter

Before you can do anything with your horse, it has to come willingly to you. If being caught in the paddock or pasture eats up your riding time, you need to work on this skill.


A horse that refuses to be caught is probably exhibiting undesirable behaviour elsewhere too. Work on creating a bond with your horse, and make being with you fun.


Also, your horse has to accept being haltered easily as a matter of course. If your horse is head shy, make sure there are no veterinary reasons for fighting the halter, and work with a trainer or equine behaviourist to make the process matter of fact.


2. Walking Attentively on a Lead Rope

Once your horse is caught, it should walk attentively on a lead rope, “attentively” being the key word.


A horse that pulls or balks is not acceptable, nor is one that bumps you or stops every few metres to grab a mouthful of lawn. When you tap your horse on the chest, it should back like a sailboat on a pond, not a 600 kilo sack of stones.


If you’re having issues with the lead, stop and go back to this skill. Forgo sessions under saddle and work in hand until your horse’s manners improve.


3.  Standing Tied

Your horse needs to be willing to stand tied calmly for a variety of reasons, such as waiting at shows, vet exams, farrier visits, grooming, tacking, saddling, and washing. There are a variety of reasons why horses don’t like to stand tied:


  • Past trauma or fear

  • Reactivity (easily distracted or irritated by nearby activity)

  • Eagerness to do other things

  • Physical discomfort (including neck pain or biting flies)

  • Barn sourness or separation issues


Your job as the owner is to uncover what’s making your horse uncomfortable and train to reverse that.

is vital

4. Allowing Touch All Over the Body

You’ve probably heard at least one stablemate say, “Oh, my horse doesn’t like to have his feet touched.” This isn’t okay, though, as a horse should welcome full-body touch, including the feet. Otherwise, grooming, farriery, and vet exams will be a nightmare, and you can put yourself or stable workers in danger.


Like with the horse that won’t stand tied, some detective work is in order. Very young or green horses may simply need to become more accustomed to touch.


However, older horses that refuse to be touched probably have a good reason: pain, past trauma or abuse, etc. You need to make touch pleasant, so the horse associates it with feeling good. Regular massage sessions can help with this.


5. Permitting Mouth Exam Without Biting

Some horses don’t like having fingers or other things in their mouths, but this makes many aspects of horse care difficult. Your horse will need examination and work by the equine dentist.


It should also allow gentle mouth touch for the administration of paste dewormer or other medications. If you show, your horse may be required to undergo a bit check entering or exiting the arena.


As with the feet and the rest of the body, your horse needs to connect touch around the mouth with something positive.


If your horse won’t get out of hand with it, a sugar cube, peppermint, or other treat can often facilitate this. Gradually wean your horse off the training treats once the skill has been learned.



6. Being Considerate with Food and Treats

Speaking of treats, is your horse pushy in this area? This is another place where good manners are essential. Your horse should wait patiently for grain and take treats gently. No digging in pockets or head bumping for peppermints allowed!


Ideally, you want to train your horse to be more well-mannered around food. But if your horse can’t be gentle with treats, switch to a reward system like clicker training. If you board, be sure to put a notice on the stall, telling others that your horse cannot be given treats.


7. Not Reacting to Other Horses When Working

Your horse should be focused on you when you’re working, not other horses nearby. Don’t permit your horse to visit with other horses or otherwise react when it’s supposed to be concentrating on riding or groundwork.


This is a skill that will be easier to teach once your horse has a bond with you; pleasing you will become more rewarding than sniffing out what that other horse is up to. Other ways to reduce reactivity and potentially unwanted interactions:


  • Groom, tack, saddle, and wash your horse in a tranquil area of the stables before joining others.
  • Teach new skills and work on things like spooking when the arena is quiet and there aren’t other horses around. Avoid training with horses you know to be provocative.
  • Gradually increase the number of horses around your mount rather than bombarding it with too many stimuli at once.
  • Bring your horse to shows solely to school in manners, not to compete.
  • Pair your horse with a calmer horse who takes everything in stride.
  • Use tail ribbons, and pay attention to other horses’ ribbons indicating a mare in season, stallion, nervous horse, etc.
  • Work on your horse’s self-confidence and gradually introduce new things, so your horse learns the skill of calm investigation (jumps, spooky corners, etc.) and isn’t constantly in fight or flight mode.


8. Loading Easily in the Horse Box

Once you have mastered the most basic equine good manners above, loading politely in the horsebox (AKA float or trailer) should be learned. This will make travel or show days much less stressful, and it’s essential if you ever have to evacuate or transport your horse yourself to the equine hospital.


 Tips for Working on Manners 

Keep these tips in mind when working on equine good manners:


  • Consistency is vital. You can undo weeks of good work by letting your horse off the hook.
  • Be firm without being mean. A no-nonsense approach is a happy medium between being a pushover and being too harsh.
  • Use body language to your advantage, as horses understand this intuitively. Establish your space, and give clear physical cues.
  • Corrections need to be immediate, or the horse won’t associate them with whatever behaviour you find inappropriate. Likewise, offer praise or a rewarding pat straight away when your horse does something right.
  • Use progressive training to achieve results with more complex skills, like horsebox loading. Start with one step and add another and then another.
  • Just like with children and dogs, it’s never too early to start teaching your horse good manners.
  • Work etiquette training into daily activities, such as feeding, stalling, or turnout.
  • The more you develop a true bond with your horse, the more willing your horse will be to learn and please you.


Check out our Teach Me section for more great tips...


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