Five Basics Each Horse and Handler/Rider Needs to Know

By: Dr. Mike Guerini (

We will begin with the Horse and the five things each horse must know how to do.

1) Walking with respect from the ground.  This means walking without pushing on the handler, pull on the lead line, jumping all over behind the handler, and staying at a walk.  This also means that the horse will stop with the right pre-signals from the handler.  The horse needs to be respectful of the space of the handler.

2) Picking up the feet.  A horse that is not injured or having leg issues needs to stand and allow the handler or veterinarian or farrier pick up its feet.  Way to many times have I found owners who have horses that will not allow someone to pick up its feet.  This is a simple and basic activity that we must do each day to clean the feet and make sure they are in good health.

3) Load into a trailer.  Yes it can be intimidating to a horse to get locked into a big box but this is critical.  If you have an emergency and need to evacuate — your horse needs to load into the trailer quickly and safely.  There are so many reasons that this is important yet it is neglected by many.

4) Walk up to the handler and be caught (have a halter put on).  Horses that do not come when called or do not walk up to the person with the halter are showing major disrespect and a lack of training by the owner/handler.  Chasing a horse in a paddock, pasture or beyond is not a good plan.  Teach your horse to come and be haltered.  How do you do this — not with treats.  Rather, make the experience of being with the person a reward that the horse enjoys and you will see them come when called.

5) Learn to stand tied without pulling back.  There are just times we need to tie a horse up and each horse needs to be taught this from an early stage in life.

We will now move on to the Handler/Rider and the five things each person must know how to do.

1) Know how to saddle a horse properly.  This includes everything from putting on a pad, properly placing the saddle on the horse, putting a halter on correctly (and making sure you know how to tie the knot on the rope halter), fitting the bit correctly, and any other tack items.  Know how to use them correctly or you can hurt your horse or get yourself hurt.

2) Know how to give pre-signals and aides.  Pre-signals help the horse understand what you are planning on doing (moving your leg, half-halt, moving your shoulders as you begin to turn).  Aides are what we do to help guide the horse and each handler and rider need to know how to tell the horse what is going to happen and then how to make it happen.

3) Learn how to feel the horse. Whether you are leading the horse or riding the horse, the person needs to know how to sense or feel where the horse is putting its feet, or head, or body.  The horse is giving us signals about what they are planning on doing (most of the time)…do not ignore those signs or signals.

4) Know how to pick up a foot on a horse.  Yes, we need the horse to know how to pick ups its feet and we need the person to know how to ask for this to be done correctly.  It is not tug of war on the leg.  It is not pick it up and pull it out sideways.  Realize how much (or how little) flexibility is in the leg and do not ask for more than the horse can give you. Help the horse know to shift its weight and take pressure off that hoof so it can be picked up.  (Quick hint for helping pick up a front hoof.  Gently ask the horse to point its head towards the opposite foot you want to pick up.  This helps the horse move weight off the foot you want him/her to pick up.  Makes it much easier to help the horse by doing this because it helps the horse re-balance)

5) Learn and know how to get on and off a horse without pulling and yanking on the horse.  Far to many times I see people grab the horn and use that to help pull them up onto the horse.  That is yanking on the back of the horse and causing discomfort.  (If you need to feel this — have someone put a backpack on you then pull it to one side without moving your body — it is going to hurt some folks) Use a mounting block or be able to mount without pulling on the saddle or mane or reins.  There is never any shame with using a mounting block to be kinder to our horses.  Of course there are times when you cannot seem to find a mounting block and at those times you need to minimize how much you pull on the horse.

I look forward to some of your additions.

Dr. Mike Guerini is a clinician, author of multiple Horsemanship books, co-inventor of the Equine Hydro-T and specializes in western performance based instruction and you can learn more about Dr. Mike and his 6 C’s of Horsemanship at Dun Movin Ranch is also home to the Equine Hydro-T (


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