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Teach Your Horse to Come When Called (Step by Step)

Dean Eby

Most domesticated dogs will come when called by their owner. However, that’s not the case for horses. Though you’ve often seen horses responding to a call in the movies, not many horses in real life know this trick. That doesn’t mean they can’t learn it though. With a little bit of patience and persistence, you can teach your horse to come when called, so long as you mind a few discouraging behaviors.

While this is a cool trick for any horse to learn, it’s also extremely useful for horses that are difficult to pull from the pasture. If you have a very large pasture, having your horses respond to your call can save you from a lot of walking!

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What You Need to Do

The training is going to be split into two parts. Each part will contain many rounds of training divided into several sessions. Depending on how comfortable your horse is now with you approaching, especially if you’re holding a halter or something similar, you might have more or less work to do.

For your first part of training, the basic premise is that you want to condition your horse to believe that nothing bad will ever happen when you approach them. That way, it always feels comfortable with you approaching. You even want your horse to think that something good could possibly happen when you approach.

During the second part of training, you’ll slowly start teaching the horse to come to you when you call it. Unless your horse is already very comfortable with you approaching, you should spend plenty of time on part one before moving on to part two.

a horse is approached by a man
Image Credit: JonVallejoPhotography, Shutterstock

What Not to Do

The entire goal here is to make your horse comfortable with you approaching, and eventually, approaching you. This means that you can’t ever call your horse and then make it do something awful. For instance, calling your horse over and then making it do a long, grueling workout or giving it shots is a surefire way to make it very wary of approaching you when you call the next time.

Before You Start

Understand before you start that this is going to require considerable patience. You’re going to be doing repetitive training. Repetition is key here. Each step may need to be repeated many times before moving onto the next step, which might be only slightly different.

At no point during training can you lose your patience or get angry with your horse. It could undo the training you’ve worked so hard at and bring you right back to square one.

The Training

If you can easily walk up to your horse in a wide-open pasture and put its halter on without any issue, then you can start with the second phase of training, skipping phase one. But for most people and horses, it’s recommended that you start with phase one and get your horse completely at ease with you approaching and haltering it.

Phase 1: Conditioning

Young smiling man and horse
Image Credit: Lucky Business, Shutterstock

During the conditioning phase of training, you have three steps to follow. Advance, retreat, and repeat.

For the first training session, leave all equipment outside the pasture and walk in empty-handed.

Advance towards your horse, paying careful attention to its body language. Make sure you’re relaxed and at ease yourself.

Retreat the very moment you see his body language change or muscles start to tighten. Before your horse can turn or walk away, you must turn the other way and leave first.

Repeat over and over until you can walk right up to him without him even considering leaving. Between each repetition, walk at least 15-20 feet from your horse for maximal impact.

Once you can walk up to your horse and it doesn’t get nervous or turn to leave, you should leave the pasture for 15-20 minutes before returning to repeat it again. Repeat again the next day as well.

Now it’s time to start adding in variations on this basic conditioning drill, altering things each time.

Variations
  • Pet its neck before turning to leave
  • Give it a carrot before walking away
  • Approach with a lead rope on your shoulder
  • Approach with a bridle on your shoulder
  • Approach with a saddle on your hip
  • Combine them and approach with a lead rope on one shoulder, a bridle on the other, and a saddle on your hip.
  • Put the halter on, take it off, walk away
  • Put the halter on and lead the horse from the pasture, turn around, return to your starting point, remove the halter, walk away.

You’ll likely need to dedicate an entire training session or more to each of these variations, repeating it many times in a row before calling it a day.


Phase 2: Come When Called

cowboy feeding a horse out of hand
Image Credit: michaeljung, Shutterstock

Your horse is now comfortable with you approaching. It’s time to teach it to come to you when you call it. Remember not to ever call your horse for something unpleasant. At those times, you’ll need to walk out and bring them in by hand.

Determine what call you’re going to use. It can be a whistle, your horse’s name, or whatever else you choose. Just make sure it’s loud and that you can always repeat the sound the same. You must always use the same sound or risk confusing your horse.

  • Step 1: Get some carrots ready to give as treats and go to your horse. Walk away from it and stop. Turn to face your horse and make the call you’ve decided on. Make sure your horse can hear you clearly.
  • Step 2: A few seconds after calling, walk up to your horse and give it a treat before turning to walk away.

Repeat these two steps until your horse starts to come towards you when you call it. Then, start trying it from farther distances. Your horse is hearing your call and then receiving treats, conditioning it to believe that good things will happen when it responds to your call.

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Conclusion

Getting your horse to come when called is one of the coolest equestrian tricks in the book. Even though it’s an awesome trick to teach, it’s not too difficult or complicated. That said, it will require plenty of patience to pull off. You can never lose your temper or get impatient and do something that will associate your call or approach with something negative in your horse’s mind.


Featured Image: VICUSCHKA, Shutterstock

Dean Eby

An avid outdoorsman, Dean spends much of his time adventuring through the diverse terrain of the southwest United States with his closest companion, his dog, Gohan.  He gains experience on a full-time journey of exploration. For Dean, few passions lie closer to his heart than learning.  An apt researcher and reader, he loves to investigate interesting topics such as history, economics, relationships, pets, politics, and more.