Horse Behavior & TrainingHorses

Teach Your Horse to Hug

Who doesn’t need hugs sometimes? Of course, it’s hard to teach a horse to hug like a human — it’s actually dangerous, but it can give you a hug with its neck and head. This may be a safer option for a horse that is too small to teach kissing.

Your horse should already have excellent ground manners. This will keep you safe and your horse will be easier to train. If you’ve taught your horse to aim for small plastic bottles, hangers, or other objects, you’re off to a good start. If not, check out Step 1 of Clicker Training to get started.

You don’t need to do clicker training first, but if you do, training may be faster. The clicker just makes it easier to give praise the moment the horse is doing something right. It’s faster to click than to say “Yes!” Rewards behavior and is therefore more accurate. If you reward at the right time, you will find that training will be faster.

what do you need

  • A clicker (or your close attention so you can praise with your voice at the right moment).
  • Small snacks, such as carrot slices, sugar cubes, horse shortbread, apple slices. Your horse might like a breed.
  • A roomy pocket, snack bag or old fanny pack for snacks.
  • Ten minutes a few times a day.
  • Your horse is in a loose stable, or circular enclosure, or a quiet stable aisle with reins and lead ropes. The horse cannot be leashed or you will restrict his head movement.

How much total time you need depends on the horse or pony. Each session should be short, about ten minutes. You can work several times a day if you have the time, but a small amount of time over a few days will be better than spending an hour now. When the horse takes a small step toward success, it’s time to reward and stop.

Teach Your Horse to Hug

If your horse is target trained, stand with your back to the horse, place the target on one shoulder, and move it down to the other hip. Encourage the horse to walk forward, over your shoulder and down to the target. You may need to step back a little and position yourself so that it’s easier for him at first.

Alternatively, you can hold the treat in one hand and place that hand on your opposite hip while the horse nuzzles your hand for the treat.

When the horse is in the position you want him to click and heal, or give a heal. If the horse doesn’t quite “get it,” reward good attempts and gradually get his head in the correct position. Ultimately, you don’t need this treat every time you need a hug.

Be patient; some horses will learn faster than others, and always keep safety in mind. If you’re using “high value” treats and your horse starts to get aggressive, use something less tasty, or just use a neck or belly scratch as a reward. Remember to keep training sessions short, about 10 minutes each. If you work in a stable, go clean one and come back to work for a few more minutes. Then do another chore before working with the horses.


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