Teach Your Horse to Give a Hug

Horse standing beside woman.
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Who doesn't need a hug sometimes? Of course, it would be difficult to teach a horse to give a human type hug--it would actually be quite dangerous, but he can give you a hug with his neck and head. For a horse that is too nippy to teach a kiss to, this might be a safer alternative.

Your horse should already have excellent ground manners. This will keep you safe and your horse will be easier to train. If you've already taught your horse to target on a something like a small plastic bottle, pylon, or another object, you've already got a good start. If not, check out the first steps in clicker training to get started.

You don't need to clicker train first, but the training may go faster if you do. The clicker simply makes it easier to give praise at the exact instant the horse does something correctly. Clicking is even faster than saying, "Yes!" to reward the behavior and therefore more accurate. You'll find training will go quicker if you reward at the right times.

What You'll Need

  • A clicker (or your close attention so you can praise with your voice at the right instant).
  • Small treats like carrot slices, sugar cubes, horse crunch, apple pieces. Your horse will probably like a variety.
  • A roomy pocket, treat bag, or an old fanny pack to hold the treats.
  • Ten minutes of time a few times a day.
  • Your horse in a loose stall, or round pen, or in a quiet stable aisle with a halter and lead rope. The horse can't be tied or you will restrict his head movement.

How much overall time you will need will depend on the horse or pony. Each training session should be short, about ten minutes. You can work several times a day if you have time, but smaller amounts of time over several days will work better than spending an hour now and them. When the horse makes a small step towards success, it's time to give a reward and stop.

Teach Your Horse to Give a Hug

If your horse is target trained, stand with your back to your horse, hold the target over one shoulder, and move it down towards the opposite hip. Encourage the horse to step forward and reach downwards over your shoulder to touch the target. You may have to back up a bit and position yourself to make it easier for him at first.

Alternately, you could hold a treat in one hand, and as the horse nuzzles your hand for the treat, bring that hand down towards your opposite hip.

When the horse is in the position you want him in, click and treat, or give the treat. If the horse doesn't quite 'get it' reward good tries and work towards getting his head in the right position in increments. Eventually, you won't need the treat each time you need a hug.

Be patient; some horses will learn faster than others and always keep safety in mind. If you're using 'high value' treats and your horse starts to get pushy, use something less yummy or just uses the neck or tummy scratches as rewards. Remember to keep your training sessions brief, 10 minutes or so at a time. If you are working in the stable, go clean a stall, come back and work again for a few minutes. Then go and do another chore before working with the horse again.