how to bond with your horse

How to Tame a Horse in Real Life

In the popular Canadian TV series Heartland, we see protagonist Amy Fleming use natural horsemanship to tame wild horses. Have you ever been curious about how to tame a horse in real life? Read on to find out about some of the most common techniques used by experts. 

A Little History

Spanish settlers first brought horses to the Americas in the sixteenth century, but humans have been taming them for thousands of years. While most of the horses we encounter are now domesticated, some breeds still roam free, particularly in the American West. Mustangs are one of these breeds. 

The Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971 made it illegal to take horses from the wild. However, it is possible via adoption agencies to obtain one. This involves an application process and there are certain requirements you must meet. If you’re wondering “Can I tame a wild horse myself?”, let’s explore this in a bit more depth. 

Can I Tame a Wild Horse Myself? 

Horse owners, especially beginners, should never attempt to tame a wild horse without expert supervision. Taming a wild horse is no easy feat and requires more practiced hands. This could be a professional horse trainer or someone very experienced with horses in general. 

It goes without saying that horses have strength and power in abundance. A wild horse unaccustomed to obeying human commands or even considering the presence of humans can be extremely dangerous, especially if you don’t know what you’re doing. This is why you should never try the techniques mentioned in this article with a wild horse without a professional on hand to guide and supervise. 

If you are taming a horse that hasn’t come from the wild, you’re likely to have an easier time of it. While it is recommended to have an expert on hand to help you tame a wild horse, you can definitely tame a young, domesticated horse by yourself. Or, perhaps, with the help of an experienced equestrian if you’re a complete beginner.

How to Tame a Horse in Real Life

how to tame a horse horse rearing

The first thing we should take into account is that taming a horse in real life can be a lengthy process depending on the horse’s personality. It involves gaining a lot of trust and having ample patience. Let’s unpack some of the most commonly-used tactics to tame a horse in real life. The techniques you read here are used with wild horses and domesticated horses alike. 

The First Steps

One of the biggest mistakes a trainer can make is to try and rush into things. When you first approach a wild horse, for instance, always take it slow and steady. Wild horse enthusiasts recommend keeping a safe distance as you begin the approach and stop if the horse sets his ears back or bares his teeth, which are warning signals. Never approach from the rear, for obvious reasons. 

They also advise that you speak softly to the horse before approaching. This helps to show her that you are not a threat. These rules go for every interaction you will have with your wild horse, not just the initial approach. Avoid sudden movements and new objects that may spook the horse. This includes keeping animals and children away from him until he is fully tamed. 

In this video, we can see a horse trainer taking his first steps with taming a wild mustang. The trainer patiently allows the horse to run in circles around him as he stands motionless in the center. After around 15 minutes, the mustang had burned off enough energy to feel more relaxed and began to indicate that it wanted to make contact with the trainer. 

Throughout the process, this amazing trainer gave the horse time and space to come to him on his own terms. As a result, the horse realized that the trainer was not a threat. He even allowed himself to be haltered shortly afterward. Of course, every horse is unique and some will need several sessions like this before they begin to respond. 

Building a Bond

how to tame a horse bonding

The key to taming any horse is to build a bond and gain trust. If you are able to approach the horse, you may want to try offering a treat like sunflower seeds or carrot sticks. If he responds well to stroking or a nice scratch, give him more of what he likes! Physical touch is a fantastic way to bond with your horse. 

If you’re unable to approach the horse or she is not yet at the stage where she will accept being touched by humans, even spending time around her (at a safe distance) can be helpful for bonding. Also, you can try talking softly to her. This gets her used to your voice and just do your thing nearby (even chilling out with a book!) to get her used to your general presence. 

Check out our article How to Bond With Your Horse for more information if this is something that interests you! 

Set Small Goals

If you are taming a horse with the goal of riding, it’s always a good idea to work up to everything gradually. For example, when the horse is at the stage when it will accept it, you may want to try just getting him used to comfortably wearing tack bit by bit.

Remember that he may still be frightened by new and unusual objects. Introduce the saddle and bridle gradually and just let him get used to the feel of them. 

Extra tip: it is said that using physical touch is not only a great bonding method. It is also a way to get a horse used to the feeling of a saddle on her back. According to Marijke de Jong, if you frequently touch the horse over her entire body, it will enhance her body awareness. 

“This will prevent the horse from overreacting later on when you touch him with saddle and girth.” she says. 

Setting small goals results in frequent “small wins” that will give you a sense of achievement every time you accomplish another step with your horse. Even if it is just being able to touch your horse for the first time. Or perhaps it is the first time he accepts a saddle on his back. Forward is forward and your patience will pay off in the long run. 

Gaining Respect 

Probably the most important thing for anyone trying to tame a horse, wild or domesticated, is to gain the respect of that horse. In the horse community, it is generally acknowledged that being firm yet kind and consistent with your boundaries and your moods around your horse is the best way to bond with and gain the respect of your horse. 

Respect is the crucial ingredient for a successful horse-human relationship. In our article on why horses bite, we talk about ways to manage bad behavior in horses. 

For example, take a horse that gets a little too comfortable and starts nipping at your pockets for your treats. While this seems funny and friendly, you could end up hurt and therefore, this is unacceptable behavior. Unacceptable behavior like biting should be dealt with calmly. Don’t shout, instead try to respond with an immediate, firm “No!”. 

It’s best to set boundaries with your horse as early as possible. Reward and praise good manners and otherwise positive behaviors and swiftly nip poor behavior in the bud.

Always avoid raising your voice or smacking in response to bad behavior. This fosters a feeling of distrust which can be extremely damaging to your relationship with your horse. 

Sum Up 

  • It is very possible to train and tame both domesticated and wild horses, though the process may be a little longer with wild horses. 
  • There are plenty of wild horse adoption agencies around the U.S. 
  • Wild horses should only be tamed by or with the supervision of experienced equestrians — the taming process could be dangerous to novices. 
  • Taming any horse requires a lot of praise, positive reinforcement, a firm but fair approach when it comes to behavior and a whole lot of patience. 
  • The keys to taming and bonding with horses are gaining trust and gaining respect. 
  • Always avoid negative responses to bad behavior – raising your voice or smacking will only worsen the situation and have repercussions down the line. Stay calm, focused and try not to take things personally. 

Final Thoughts

There are so many great techniques for taming horses, both wild and domesticated. Some methods and trainers have become pretty famous over the years. If you’re new to horse ownership, one person you might want to check out is Pat Parelli. Parelli and his wife, Linda, are highly respected equestrians passionate about helping people build better relationships with their horses. 

Pat Parelli is responsible for coining the term “natural horsemanship”, the method they use for forming relationships with horses. It might be worth reading up on Pat’s methods as they have proven invaluable to the horse community over the years. 

We hope that this post has proven useful for giving you an idea of how horses are tamed in real life. Thanks for reading and happy riding!