How to Motivate Your Horse

Some horses require more motivation than others. In order to properly motivate your horse, Josh Lyons breaks down the steps a horse trainer can take to get their horses working, responding and listening better.

Unless you’re independently wealthy, you probably have a day job. How well you do that job depends directly on how much you enjoy it.

It’s the same with your horse. If you can get him to want to do the job you ask of him, then he’ll do it better.

Josh Lyons builds that “want to” attitude in his horses by focusing on what he wants his horse to do, not on what he doesn’t want the horse to do. He offers each horse a fee to do that job, the price varying for every horse.

Josh compares it to asking a room full of 20 people to come work for him. Some people might be willing to work for him for $2 an hour, whereas others might not say yes until he raised the pay to $10, $20 or even $50 an hour. Those who refused to work for him at $2 an hour the first time he asked aren’t likely to change their minds if he continues to ask them to work for that same price.

“That’s what I’m doing with every horse,” Josh said. “Some horses I have to pay $2 an hour, and some horses I have to pay $50 an hour to get them to work for me. The idea is not to get stuck on $2 an hour. Keep raising the price. You do that through motivation, through different exercises.”

To motivate a horse that is easing away during the mounting process, Josh Lyons will pick up the rein to tell the horse to stop. However, if the horse is putting even more emotion into moving off, then Josh will ask the horse to work harder at other exercises, which will encourage him to stand still.

Energy and Emotion

If a horse is doing something you don’t want, he’s putting a certain amount of energy and emotion into that action. You have to put more energy and emotion into asking him to do what you want than he’s using to do what you don’t want – in other words, raising the pay. Give him a reason to come work for you and be happy about it.

“Say a horse is easing away from me when I’m getting on him,” Josh said. “I’ll simply pick up the rein and stop him. I may only have to pay that horse a buck an hour to get him to quit doing what he wants.

“I don’t have to put a whole lot of emotion into correcting a horse that’s walking off to get him to stop. But I’ve got to put a lot more emotion into a horse that’s flying to get him to want to stop. And that’s the difference-learning how to read the horse’s emotion and put that much into the correction.”

By emotion, Josh doesn’t mean the degree to which you get upset with your horse. You don’t have to scold or punish the horse. You simply require him to work harder. If the horse is walking off, you may be able to merely ask him to stop. But if the horse is running off, then you’ll have to ask him to do a lot more work before he understands that he’s better off standing still. You may need to pay him $50 to do his job.

“It’s like a kid,” Josh said. “He waits all week to go to the mall. He starts to go out, and his parents say, ‘Would you mind cleaning your room before you go?’ Of course, he throws a fit – slams the door, stomps his feet all the way up the stairs, down the hallway, all the way into the room and slams the door.”

As Josh explains it, the parents have two options. They can use force, or they can motivate the child to want to clean his room.

“They can walk up and say, ‘I understand that you don’t want to clean your room. But now not only will you clean your room, you’re going to do the dishes, vacuum, dust, clean the garage, rake the leaves, do the laundry and wash my car. When you’re done with all that, then you’re more than welcome to go to the mall.’ I promise next time you ask the kid to clean his room, he’ll say, ‘Is that it? Is that all you want?’ “

You can make a similar list with your horse if he doesn’t perform as you ask. If the horse won’t stand still, then ask him to break at the poll, soften his neck, engage his hindquarters, change direction, walk forward, move his hip, move his shoulder, then back two steps. Not only will the horse quickly desire to stand still to avoid more work, you’ll have put him through several maneuvers that you both probably needed to practice anyway.

Josh breaks each maneuver down into the various parts of the horse that work together to perform it. Here, he concentrates on moving the horse’s shoulder over.

What Piece is Out of Place?

It’s also important to focus on the part of the horse that is not responding to your request. “The whole horse never messes up,” Josh said. “It’s always just one part of him.”

Take the example of a canter departure onto the right lead. The horse doesn’t just launch into the right lead. He uses his body in preparing for that right lead.

“Just before you pick up the right lead, what happens?” Josh asked. “He’s slowed down his left shoulder. Right before that happens, he slows down his left hindquarter and he pushes his right hindquarter forward. Right before that happens, he elevates his right shoulder.”

If he failed to pick up his right lead properly, one of those pieces wasn’t in place. Maybe his left shoulder slowed down, but his right hindquarter didn’t step up.

“In that case, I will work on making the right hindquarter step up,” Josh said. “I’m not even going to worry about the lead, just the right hindquarters. I’ll keep saying to the right hindquarters, ‘Move up here, move up here, move up here.’ Then all of a sudden when I ask for the lead, it’s real easy. He goes right into the lead. But I wasn’t focusing on the lead. I was focusing on the part of him that wasn’t responding, the part of him that didn’t do its job.”

If you break down a maneuver into the smaller actions that a horse takes and then motivate any part that isn’t doing its job, the horse will soon be responding better to your requests. Your rides will be smoother, and both you and your horse will be happier.

Check out for more of Josh’s tips.

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