Punishing Your Horse - What Does and Does Not Work

Why punishment rarely works

Headshot portrait of a horse in a barn
Zoran Rakic / Getty Images

When our horses don’t behave the way we want them to, sometimes our first reaction is to become angry and mete out punishment. It is very difficult to make a horse connect the punishment with unwanted behavior. Horses don’t think the way we do. Punishment is rarely an effective way to train. Here are the most common ways horses are punished, why they don’t work, and how they might cause further problems.

  • 01 of 08


    Girl riding white pony

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    Hitting a horse with your hand, or any object is rarely an effective method of correction. The horse is unlikely to understand that you are punishing it for unwanted behavior and it may become fearful, or rebellious, depending on its nature. If your horse bites you, and you punish it by hitting, you may only create a craftier and quicker biter. If you hit your horse because it has moved sideways into you while grooming, you’ve missed an opportunity to teach it to move away from you with a more subtle cue even though you’ve solved the immediate problem.

  • 02 of 08

    Hitting Around the Head

    Anything that causes a horse to toss its head or fly back can cause further problems.

    Photographs by Maria itina /Getty Images

     A horse’s head should be off limits to hitting, slapping, pinching or any other action that can cause fear or pain. To do so can cause a head shy horse and a horse that doesn’t trust you. Haltering, bridling, administering medications, doctoring eyes, grooming and clipping will be much more difficult with a head shy horse. Any action that causes your horse to throw its head back is eliciting a fear response that will be a barrier to learning.

  • 03 of 08

    Yanking on the Reins

    Always be kind with your hands.

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    While you are riding, yanking or see-sawing on the reins will harm your horse’s mouth and its trust in your rein aids. Pulling hard on the reins can cause the horse to learn to ignore the signals or start a habit of head tossing.

  • 04 of 08

    Pulling Down on the Nose or Poll

    Female rancher placing bridle and bit on horse
    Hero Images / Getty Images

    Whether your horse is wearing a bridle or halter, yanking downwards on the horse’s nose or poll in a way that makes it throw its head and neck back is encouraging it to react with a fear response. And it is another way to make your horse head shy. This includes flicking a whip, lead rope, or waving the lead rope in a way that makes the horse throw its head back and perhaps even steps back.

    Continue to 5 of 8 below.
  • 05 of 08

    Solitary Confinement

    Horse stables close up with sunlight on the background
    andreonegin / Getty Images

    Tying a horse up, or leaving it confined in a stall to ‘think about things’ is ineffective, because your horse won’t think about the behavior that led to it being confined. Your horse doesn’t think like that. It will likely be thinking that it’s hungry and would rather be outside with its pasture buddies.

  • 06 of 08

    Restrictive Tying

    Grey horse head profile, wearing a blue halter in cross ties in a stable.

    K. Blocksdorf

    Tying a horse with its head up or down in an unnatural position isn’t a punishment or training method. The only thing accomplished will be to create a muscle sore horse and if it struggles to escape the discomfort, it can cause lasting physical damage. This can lead to other behavior problems. Likewise, tying a leg up and leaving it because the horse won’t pick its feet up, tying the head around to force it to bend, or leaving a horse tied in any way to restrict its natural movement will lead to more problems, behavioral and physical.

  • 07 of 08


    Chasing a horse might be teaching it to run away.

    Mike Hill /Getty Images

    Chasing a horse to catch it is unlikely to work, unless you are in a small pen, and are able to have some control over the speed and direction the horse is going. Chasing a horse around a large field to simply exhaust it is ineffective. You might end up teaching it how to run away from you.

  • 08 of 08


    Western spur

    Jamie Squire /Getty Images

    Like hitting a horse, kicking to punish, either from the ground or from the saddle may cause more problems than it solves. From the ground, it has the same effect as hitting. From the saddle, your horse may overreact, or some horses will simply shut down as you drum your heels. Jabbing with spurs turned inwards or used in a way to cause pain is unacceptable.

When to Punish Your Horse

Punishment is a poor training method, and as Ron Meredith of Meredith Manor states, and there are three times you punish a horse for doing something wrong—never, never and never.