Work in a large barn aisle, indoor arena
or a paddock that has good footing,
and make sure your horse has enough
room to move without hitting a wall or
rail. Your horse will learn not to trust you
if you ask him to move directly toward
a wall or rail. A horse doesn’t know if
you’re only asking him to move a little
bit—if there’s a solid wall in the direction
you want him to move, he will think he
may hit it. Outfit your horse in a rope
halter with a 12- to 15-foot training lead
attached with a rope-to-rope connection.
Wear gloves to protect your hands.
CUES AND REINFORCEMENTS
Plan your cues before you start. You
must cue your horse first, then follow
with a reinforcement. I see many people
use what should be a reinforcement as
the initial cue. If they are leading their
horse and want to turn, they pull the
horse with the lead to make him turn.
That’s using your reinforcement—the
rope—as the cue. The horse will never
learn to do it because you have manu-
ally moved him instead of asking him.
Use your hand signal as the very first
cue; then expand your cue with body
movements and clucks. Follow through
with a gentle bump on the rope if need-
ed. Do all of that within about three to
For each cue sequence you create,
use two or three aids, followed by the
reinforcement. Each part of the cue will
have a half a second to a one-second
interval, followed by the reinforcement.
Horses do well with this type of
training because they feel pressure
so keenly and will work hard for the
release. They want to be left alone or
have pressure—physical or mental—re-
moved. Then make sure to add positive
reinforcement—praise—once the horse
has done what’s asked.
To ask my horse to back up, I stand in front of the horse
and face him, holding on to the long rope.
First, I point toward his chest. Then I wag my index
finger from side to side. I raise my other hand to look
big, and cluck. I stomp my feet to act like I’m moving
toward him. I focus all my attention on the center of
his chest. As soon as he initiates a backward move-
ment, I release all the cues. If the horse doesn’t move,
I will increase the pressure by waving my rope until he
As soon as he starts to move back, release the pressure.
The release or reinforcement must come within a second
of the cue. If your timing is good and your pressure is ad-
equate, your horse should soon be stepping back with the
wag of your finger.
The ultimate cue that you want your horse to respond
to is the very first part of the sequence. He may not re-
spond to that part initially, but if you consistently provide
and reinforce that cue, he will learn it.
Be careful not to wait too long for the release. The
sooner the release of pressure comes, the faster your horse
The cue for
backing is to
wag your finger.
Until your horse
stomp your feet
and wave your
rope. As soon as
he takes a step
back, release the