To answer your questions: 1. Yes, I’ve been crazy my entire life. And 2. Every interaction you have with your horse is a training session whether intentional or not. So you’re actually training (or un-training) your horse while you’re haltering him. By popular request on my Instagram (@RealAndreaCao), I’m going to teach you how to nail haltering so that your horse learns something of value every time you go to catch him.
I get it… haltering a horse may seem like a routine interaction; not many horse owners pay close attention to how it’s performed. But believe it or not, how you go about haltering your horse largely influences how successful your training session will be and how much respect your horse has for you in the big picture.
- My catching/haltering routine with my horses goes as follows:
- My pasture herd sees me and comes to greet me
- I pick out my pony of choice and approach his/her shoulder
- Hugs and scratches are inevitably given
- Said pony automatically lowers his/head down and respectfully tips his/her nose into me
- I halter my horse with their comfort in mind, being careful to not bump or rub with the halter while doing so
The key there was the automatic lowering and tipping of the horse’s head. This reinforces a mindset of respect and trust that actually stays with the horse throughout that day’s ride or training session. And, because horses learn through repetition, consistently doing this will make that respectful mindset be automatic in your partnership with your horse.
This principle doesn’t just apply to catching your horse, but also when you go to release your horse. I can’t stand it when a horse snatches his head away immediately after taking the halter off; It’s both dangerous and disrespectful. Instead, my horses know to keep their head low and to stick with me until I walk away. Only then, after I’ve left, do they leave to rejoin their pasture buddies or eat their food. This is self control is the key to having establishing lasting respect and a true bond with your horse.
TeachingNow for the fun part… here’s how to teach this to your horses! Friends tell me that there must be some kind of magic to getting my horses so respectful and willing while being caught, but there are absolutely no jedi mind tricks here! It’s super simple, the only big thing to remember is repetition. It isn’t something you can do one time and expect your horse to remember and implement on the daily. Do this every single time you catch & release your horse, and you should have no trouble getting your horse on autopilot!
Let’s start with catching. The first thing is to teach your horse how to lower his head on command. I begin in a controlled environment with the halter already on, for example, in the round pen. I then put my hand on his poll and gently rub to desensitize and prevent anticipation. Then, I very gently press down. If he doesn’t drop his head, I increase the pressure slightly. If he still doesn’t lower his head, I increase the pressure even more. I’ll continue to increase the pressure until he lowers his head (even if it’s super duper slightly!). Once he does so, I release the pressure and rub again. Repeat, slowly asking for him to drop his head lower until it’s an a convenient and comfortable height for you.
Continue this until your horse will drop his head as soon as you make contact with this poll. I find that I can usually teach this proficiently in around 5 minutes, but repeating this as often as you can will help your horse to remember. Horses that are head shy may take a little longer. Just be patient and your horse will get it eventually :)
Once your horse knows how to lower his head, it’s time to combine it with haltering. Take the halter off and cue your horse to lower his head. Then, gently scoop his nose up and pull towards your body to get his head tipped in towards you. Release when his head is low and tipped to where it’s convenient for you to halter him. Repeat this a few times in the round pen as a starting point and do it every time you go to catch your horse!
Quick success tip! I really recommend a good rope halter for this exercise. You’re looking for a stiff halter that keeps its shape so you can easily scoop your horse’s nose up. A good quality halter cord will help you reinforce the position as needed. After trying practically everything out there, I only use these “natural horsemanship” style rope halters. They last the longest, have incredible feel, and come in amazing colors.
Now we can teach the release. Begin by untying your halter and gently pulling towards your body to get that head tipped. If his head isn’t low, ask him to drop it. Now slowly lower the noseband, being ready to readjust his head if he were to pull away or look forward (most horses instinctually do). Once the noseband is off, keep the crown piece around his neck and readjust his head to be lowered and tipped if necessary. If he stays calm and still, proceed to completely release the halter and put your hand on his poll to keep him in position until you decide to turn and walk away. Repeat every time you release your horse.
You’d be amazed at how much this can change a horse in just a few weeks! I find this to be key in keeping my horses respectful, and it’s just really convenient to have them helping you out as well.
I hope you enjoyed this post about haltering! It was highly requested and I’m stoked to share it with you all. Feel free to send me any requests, questions, or comments. Oh and a video on this is on its way!
Happy Training! 💖