By: Andy Curry
the uninitiated, voice commands for the horse are nothing more than
words. But to the horse they are only sounds.
Obviously, horses cannot speak our language. Since they cannot
speak our language we should think through what we say to them when
we want certain responses from them. Take the word "whoa" for instance.
I have no doubt this is the most abused word in the human/horse
language. When the rider says "whoa" then the horse should know
to stop. But the problem is this. Often the word "whoa" is said
when the rider wants the horse to slow down...not stop. Before you
know it, the rider has conditioned the horse to slow down at the
word "whoa" instead of stopping. Then the rider can't understand
why the "stupid" horse won't stop when he says "whoa!".
Telling your horse a command when you mean for it to do something
else is lying to your horse. You never lie to your horse because
the results you get will not be what you want. Jesse Beery, a famous
horse trainer from the 1800's, knew this well and was the first
to say "don't lie to your horse". Thus, when you say "whoa" to your
horse, you must only say it because you want to stop...not slow
down. Also, when using voice commands be sure to use simple words
with as few syllables as possible. Thus, if you want a horse to
back up then say "back". If you want him to walk then say "walk".
If you want him to trot then say "trot".
when using voice commands be sure to associate an action with the
command. For instance, let's say you're teaching your horse to gallop
at the command "gallop". So while in the round pen you use one of
your aids to teach him to gallop. So first you say "gallop" then
bring in the aid to motivate his movement to a higher speed. If
you want to teach your horse to walk then start your horse around
the pen in the opposite direction from which you taught him to gallop.
When he's gone around several times, stop him, and pet him. If he
goes too fast use the word "walk" and have him go slower by making
a slight move to the front of him.
Lastly, I'm a big advocate of being careful how you talk to your
If you use commands that sound threatening (by yelling a command),
you can actually increase your horse's heart rate, frighten and
confuse him, and he may take longer to learn. For instance, a popular
command to teach a horse is the word "step". When driving a horse,
using this command means for the horse to move forward...take a
step. When teaching it, be careful not to yell the command because
it may be perceived by the horse as a punishment. But if you calmly
say "step" you will get better results than if you yell it. Often
times, when a horse isn't "getting what you want", there's a tendency
to get frustrated and thus, mad - and your voice volume can escalate.
Then you're back to sounding threatening and perhaps your horse
will take even longer to understand what you want.
I've seen where horses were being taught to drive where the owner
taught the word "step". When teaching it, he would loudly say "STEP!".
It wasn't long before the horse was actually balking. Then the owner
was getting frustrated and kept repeating his command even louder...as
if the horse couldn't hear him.
It reminds me of a show I once saw on television. One English
speaking man was talking with a Spanish speaking man. The Spanish
speaking man knew no English. The English speaking man was trying
to communicate with the Spanish speaking man. After a minute of
obvious miscommunication, the English speaking man spoke slower
and louder. Unfortunately, the Spanish speaking man didn't understand
English whether or not it was spoke loud, soft, fast, or slow.
In summary, use short words. Use the word when you want a certain
action - only say the word when you want that particular action.
If you want your horse to slow down then say something like "easy".
(Don't say "slow" because he may take it for "whoa".)
Next, associate actions with commands and calmly talk to your
horse. Horses can hear very well and yelling command will not make
the command any more clear - if anything, it will frighten and confuse
Andy Curry is a nationally known horse trainer and author
of several best selling horse training and horse care books. For
information visit his website at www.horsetrainingandtips.com. He
is also the leading expert on Jesse Beery's horse training methods
which can be seen at
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