Teaching your horse manners is a must!  A person’s (or in this case a horse’s) outward bearing or way of behaving toward others.  Synonyms: demeanor, air, aspect, attitude, bearing, cast, behavior, conduct.

When you are working with your horse manners area must.  They are even more important than a person’s manners because youare working with a thousand-pound animal.

Manners should be the first thing a foal starts to learn when they are born. Manners are learned by repetition, like most things that we teach our horses.  The most important lesson that your horse must learn from the time he is born, is your space my space. Especially if you expect your horse to be sixteen hands and thirteen hundred pounds when fully grown.

Teaching foals manners is mandatory!

I have always made the first thing I do with my foals is teaching them how to walk with me on a lead. Once they get that down pat then I will put whoa and back into my routine.  I will lead them for about seventy-five feet and then I will say whoa with a slight backwards pull on the lead. 

Generally, within about a dozen times of asking for the whoa they have it.  I will then walk them seventy-five feet, ask for a whoa, and then say back, at the same time I will lightly pull backwards on the lead along with a finger to the chest at about the point that a future breast strap would be.  If they give me one step back I will say whoa again and then they get lots of praise. If you make this a part of your foal training it will soon become a way of life for the foal.

Remember this is all about manners: your space my space, whoa on command, back on command when needed, and standing still when told to. Never rush these steps and go at your foals’ pace not on your time clock.  Praise your foal at every step even if it is only fifteen seconds that he stands still. 

  Your foal does not have a time table!

If you have already taught your horse during ground work to stand still when you tell them “stand” then the harnessing and hitching stand will be easier. When I am working with a green driving horse I watch his body language so that I can catch him the moment he starts to move. I will touch him on the part of the body, usually the butt, that he starts to move and as I touch him I reinforce the word “stand”.  Your horse will not learn this overnight, so be ready to correct him for a good length of time.  

It is all about repetition!

When you are ready to hitch your horse that is green or that you are having trouble with standing, here are some helpful way to do it safely.

If you are fortunate enough to have a helper, you can stand your horse with his head facing your helper.  The helper is just a road block, so you don’t want them touching or handling the horse. The driver should have the reins over their shoulder, so each time your horse moves in any direction you need to tap on the reins and say “stand”.  Green horses can be squirmy the first few times you hitch them.  Again, this is not learned overnight!

If it is just you by yourself hitching there are two ways to stand your horse to hitch.  If your horse knows how to ground tie with a lead rope, then do that.  The second way is to have your horse at a hitching rail with the lead just wrapped around the rail a couple of times, “not tied”. While hitching by yourself you need to always have the reins over your shoulder as this and your voice are your only means of control. 

Eileen harnessing Daniel Dawson with him quietly standing at the hitching rail.
Eileen harnessing Daniel Dawson with him quietly standing at the hitching rail.

During this period of teaching your horse to stand for harnessing and hitching you need to have plenty of patience and time. If you are rushed on a certain day than do something simple like just part of the harness and then just ground drive your horse.  Believe me your horse will sense your lack of time and patience!


Learning proper manners is all about repetition!

Then when you are driving and need your horse to stand still in a lineup those manners come in handy again.   

There are some bad manners that are totally not acceptable with a horse! Biting, rearing, kicking, not walking beside you but ahead of you, diving for grass and rushing through gates.  When you think about a driving horse doing these things while hitched, it can be downright dangerous.

Diving for grass while driving a horse can cause all kinds of trouble.  Your horse is very likely to fall if he does this while you are driving him down the road. It is very easy for the shaft of your carriage to get caught under the shoulder strap. If you are driving with other carriages in a line in or out of a show ring you very likely can be run into by the horse behind you.

Bottom line is that proper manners will make you and your horses experience when driving a whole lot nicer!  So, teach them the manners they need to be good citizens, so that you both can go out and have a safe and fun drive!