Fun Ideas to Play & Build Trust
Do you wish your horse would try anything for you? Just imagine a horse that will walk over a bridge on a trail, through a stream, jump a log, or walk right into a trailer – all because they trust you.
- Back over Poles: this is a really simple exercise. Start by halting halfway over a pole. Then cue your horse to back up. Once your horse is okay with this, you can try backing up over a few poles in a row. Backing up over poles teaches your horse to pick up their feet, not to panic if they hit their hoof on something, and it gets your horse thinking. It can also be great for fitness because they need to pick up their feet.
- Knock over a box: this can be challenging at first because your horse won’t know what you are trying to do. Once the horse understands they usually have a lot of fun with it. Start by getting your horse in front of the ‘box’ you want them to knock over (you can use the plastic box jump standards). Encourage your horse to sniff and inspect the box by directing their head toward it. If the horse starts to inspect it make sure you rub and reward your horse. If the horse actually knocks it over make sure to give them rubs/treats right away so they know they did it right. If your horse won’t touch it with their nose, try asking your horse to walk into the box by getting the horse right in front of it, then slowly asking your horse for one step at a time closer to the box until they kick it over. Take it slow so you don’t rush your horse past the box, or get your horse worried. Knocking a box over teaches your horse to explore new things, and not be scared when something falls, makes a noise, or touches them. Make sure the box is light and safe for them to knock over.
- Stand in Hula Hoop: Set a hula hoop on the ground. Lead your horse up to the hula hoop and allow them to sniff it. Then try to lead your horse into the hoop so they have their front feet in the hoop. Make sure you reward your horse when they figure it out! Once you can do the front feet, try the back feet. Standing in a hula hoop will help the horse learn they won’t get hurt when they stand with their feet inside something. Make sure the hula hoop can open if the horse gets their foot caught in it. You can also rub your horse with the hula hoop to build their confidence.
- Walk over a tarp: Put a tarp on the ground, allow your horse to sniff and inspect it. Then ask you horse to walk over the tarp – be prepared the first time for the horse to jump the tarp, or jump backward because the tarp can make a funny noise when they step on it. Once they are okay with walking over the tarp, try trotting, backing up, walking over a different coloured tarp or bunch the tarp up into different shapes. You can use an old shower curtain if you don’t have a tarp – just make sure their aren’t any tears or things to get caught in.
- Push a ball: This is a lot of fun once your horse gets the hang of it! Teach it the same way as knocking over the box, but this time when the horse pushes the ball (either with their nose or leg) then give them a reward/treat. Pretty soon your horse will be pretty eager to push that ball to get more of a reward. Then make it more challenging and try to direct the horse to push the ball between to pylons, or even pass it to another horse!
Sometimes it is safest to try new things on the ground – that way if your horse gets startled with something you can’t fall off (but you could get caught up in the lead rope or stepped on if you aren’t careful). Assess what you and your horse are ready for, and get help from an experienced coach.
Remember to keep rewarding your horse – your horse needs to know when they are doing what you want. To do this you need to pause for a minute and allow your horse to realize they did it right. You can also give the horse rubs or treats – depending on what motivates your horse.
Try to be slow and patient – if you rush your horse then you might worry your horse. Slow and right is better than fast and wrong. It’s not a race!
If your horse can do all of these fun things with you, then you have taught your horse they can trust you to try something new. Now you can be creative – what else can you ask your horse to try?
If you are interested in learning to do more games and puzzles like this with your horse, you can set up a clinic with Lindsey, check out our clinics page.