How to Motivate Your Horse – ForTheHorse

How to Motivate Your Horse

We get a lot of riders who wonder how to motivate their horse; they want more motivation, maybe more energy, more movement, more cooperation, more calmness, more fill in the blank, but what they don't fully grasp is what motivation is...

I was teaching a clinic many years ago to a group of 4-H kids, they were ages probably 6 to 10.

I asked them, "Why do you want to be with your horse?" And these are the answers I got back from them. 

"I love my horse", "he smells good", "It's fun", "I can ride him", "I can jump."

 And then I asked them, "Why does your horse want to be with you?"

And I got complete silence. None of the kids could have an answer. And then one girl piped up and she said, "My horse likes it when I feed her carrots."

So then I went on to tell them the what the one thing that motivates their horses...

One thing that motivates our horses is comfort.

And so when I asked them, did they think that their horse was comfortable around them? And again, I got silence, and they didn't know how to answer that question.

If your horse believes that what is in front of them, whether it's you or a scary puddle, or anything else is that thing that is uncomfortable, or you push him or her out of their comfort zone too much, they won't do it. They won't be motivated to do it, they won't want to participate, and they won't have a willingness behind it. 

So, finding out what our horse specifically finds comfortable, and comforting is crucial.

This is what we help our students in our program do is be comfortable, and be comforting.

I'm going to actually show you how to do just this, to motivate your horse.  If you'd like support from us in our program directly (because you can't do this alone), to help you and your horse to understand each other better and get these basics mastered...

CLICK HERE to discover more about our Program.

We want situations that are comfortable, and we want to be, as a rider or as a person with our horse, comforting.

So, now let's break down comfort into two categories.

#1 Physical Comfort

If you're expecting your horse to do something that's out of their comfort zone physically, they won't be motivated to do it. Right?  Why should they be?

But if you can help them find a way to move their body that's efficient, and it's effective, and it feels good, that's the best possible way physically to give them comfort.

When you're leading them constantly to that place of comfort with their movement with their bodies, then you're taking them away from discomfort. If you're leading them, on the contrary, to a place where they're always feeling uncomfortable in their bodies, then they won't be motivated to do more for you.

They don't want to do that task that's uncomfortable, that's hard, that causes them pain,\.

For example, perhaps they're not well enough prepared for (if your horse is standing around in the pasture) whatever your task you're doing, whether you're going trail riding, whether you're doing dressage, whether you're doing jumping, they're not going to be motivated to do that.

 Now this is where we want the situation to be comfortable.

#2 Emotional Comfort


Sometimes we are asking our horses to take a leap of faith, aren't we? Sometimes we have to take a leap of faith with our horses. What that does is it puts us out of our comfort zone and we don't want to be out of our comfort zone. Right?

And this is where Fear comes into this. 

As people, as riders, we don't want that. And neither do our horses, they don't want to willingly go out of their comfort zone. Right? They don't want to be in a place that's tremendously uncomfortable with the fear of emotion.

It's something that we resist, and our horses resist. So how do we manage that? 

Well, what we need to do is...

Borrow somebody else's confidence

So that we can find comfort there. So our horses need to borrow our confidence, they want to borrow our confidence in order for them to then have self confidence. 

So if there is a spooky situation, if they're fearful about a puddle, or about a noise, or about a flock of geese, all of a sudden flying out of a lake and causing a great ruckus, they're feel awful about what's happening around them.

They want a partner who they can borrow confidence from. So that they can get through that situation, they can lean on you, and they can find confidence from you. And then they can find their own self confidence.

And this is where we need to be comforting.

This is where we need to comfort the horse and be comforting to them.

Have you ever been in this situation?:

You were so fearful, you didn't want to get out of your comfort zone. So you chose not to make the choice that you know, that deep down you needed to do.  You needed to make that choice, it was just too scary. So you decided to go back away and not make the choice to go forward.

Even though you knew deep down, that that's what you needed to do. That's exactly what our horses are feeling and this is sometimes why they're not motivated. It's because they're not motivated to come out of their comfort zone. It's too scary. It's too unknown. It's not familiar enough to them.

They need you to lean on, they need your confidence to lean on. And this is where they need to be held. And they need to be held as you would want to be held in a scary situation. 

Boredom...Have you ever been bored and felt comfortable?

Horses are naturally curious beings. They love to play and investigate things. They are curious. When they are bored, they're not comfortable.

If you keep asking the horse to do the same thing over and over, that will create boredom and they're going to shut off and that will decrease motivation in your horse.

If you want your horse to be motivated, you can't be boring. And this is where we want to be comforting in a way that we want to understand when our horses being bored.

So now we want to look at solutions for this. Because we've all come across what I've described, haven't we? 

If you want your horse to be motivated, you can't be boring...

  • Get yourself educated on how you move and how your horse moves.
  • Conquer your fears
  • Inspiration

As we're learning, sometimes we repeat things a lot, right? Sometimes we miss the most opportune time. Sometimes we miss our timing, because we can't recognize what's happening. That's totally okay. Our horses are so forgiving on this front. And the repetition might be something you need to do at that point in time for you to be able to master a certain technique or a skill with your horse.

We need to master techniques and skills to be with our horses and be effective, don't we? There's lots of techniques and skills. But this is where it gets a little bit tricky, because your horse can tend to shut off, if it's done too much.

They're like, "oh not that again. Not this again." And they tend to shut off. But this is where you can add the spice of life, right?

Add the variety as a solution. That's how you become an inspiration, you add variety, you become the spice of life for your horse (and it again, it has to be specific to your horse), you can do different tasks at Liberty, perhaps you can go to different locations to be inspirational to your horse, you can do different challenges with your horse.

Types of Comfort

#1 Fun 


Fun is a huge type of comfort that horses absolutely love.

I used to have an Andalusian gelding whos whole life revolved around games, around having fun. I did lots of liberty. I taught him to lie down with me beside him. I taught him to stand up. I taught him to so I could mount on him while he was lying down. He thought he got a great kick out of these things and because he was able to participate and pretty soon he would go and lie down for me and asked me to get on his back.

So he wanted to show off, he wanted to play in this way. And then he became very proud, because he was able to make a choice. And that's what motivated him.

#2 Food


Some horses get extreme comfort from food. If your horse finds comfort from food, then you can get creative and put surprised treats here and there. Or use clicker training, it's a great way to help horses who are really motivated by food, you need to know what you're doing there. With that, though, that's something you could do.

#3 Friends


Is your horse getting comfort from friends, as a major comfort for them?

And how you can not find out this is if you have your horses together, observe how some horses like to be off on their own sometimes, but be in the group other times. Notice which horses that you can notice in a herd situation that absolutely love to be with friends.

And so if you have a horse that is really finding comfort from other horse friends, that's when you can do activities with friends, sometimes, not all the time. But to keep their motivation up do activities with friends and they don't have to be right with you.

They can be across the fence or they can be in another paddock... over there. But sometimes do it with friends sometimes not with friends so it doesn't become a habit. 

#4 Movement

Some horses are extremely movement oriented, and they love to move their bodies.

You can just tell by the way they do things... they absolutely love to express themselves by movement, they get comfort from moving and they are really joyous when they are moving. 

So this is where you might do Liberty again, for variety, and not just dressage all the time, but maybe do some Liberty. Help her to express herself at Liberty. Show her that she can have some choices, because that Liberty your horse does have a choice.

And this is what we do in my program - a multidisciplinary program where you can learn about yourself, mindset, your horse;s mindset, your movement, your horse's movement, and experimenting and having fun with Liberty or In Hand.

If you'd like support from us in our program directly (because you can't do this alone), to help you and your horse to understand each other better and get these basics mastered...

CLICK HERE to discover more about our Program.

#5 Bond and Relationship

This is where your horse gets comfort from bonding or relationships. This is where a horse really wants to please, they absolutely want to make you happy above anything else. 

What do you do with a horse who loves to please?

You give lots of praise, lots of grooming everyday, lots of compliments when she does a good job.

And then this type of horse will feel really comfortable!

When your partnership becomes stronger and stronger and as you learn more and more about who your horse is, what comfort they like, then you can provide them with those situations and those actions from yourself.

And when that bond starts to get stronger and stronger, that's when you'll notice that all of these details start to melt together.

And you can't distinguish one from the other.

It's when it just all becomes oneness with your horse. It's where you have complete joy, you have complete freedom.

Your partnership is all about conversation. What do you like, what do I like, and it becomes such a healthy and juicy and nutritious partnership!

When I taught those 4-H students and I asked them, "why do you want to be with your horse?" and "Why does your horse want to be with you?",  you know what they were really saying?...

Ahis is what we do in my program, is we not only find what you are saying, but we find what you are not saying.  We not only look at what your horse is saying, but we look at what your horse is not saying.

What those kids, on that clinic day, we're really saying is that they want to be with their horses for freedom, and for relationship.  

The one little girl was saying, "My horse is finding comfort in food, and I am confident, and then we are one, we have freedom; in space, in movement and we have freedom of choice.

Isn't that why we get into horses in the first place? We want to have freedom, we want to have a relationship and we want to do things together.

The more we can gain knowledge on WHO our horse is and how to motivate our horse, then we can go from frustration and wanting to quit to pure excellence!  Our program will get you there!

CLICK HERE to schedule a call with us!

About the Author Chris Adderson

Chris Adderson teaches riders and horses how to move with ease and grace to create astounding results and lifelong relationships of their dreams. She teaches valuable skills and educational strategies to get more results, quicker and faster.

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