The Importance of Habit and Repetition During Horse Training

You’re out feeding your horse. You’re petting her, talking to her, and admiring how beautiful she is. Suddenly, you get the urge to get on her and go for a ride. The only thing is, you don’t feel like getting the saddle and bridle, so you just jump on…bareback. Now you’re sitting on her. Her head is high, her ears are twitching, and she’s wondering what’s going on. It’s boring just sitting on her. You want her to move. So, you boot her forward. She moves. You’re delighted. Suddenly, she starts going faster and faster until she’s in a full gallop. The fence posts go whizzing by. Your white-knuckle hands have a death grip on her mane. You see a turn coming up and you’re wondering whether your horse will take a sharp right or go straight. In a flash you prepare for her to take a right, so you won’t be thrown to the ground. Thank goodness you did because she took a sharp right. In fact, it felt like she turned ninety degrees. What I didn’t tell you is this whole time you’ve been yelling “Whoooaaaaa!!!” No matter how many times you yelled “whoa” your horse didn’t stop. It was like she never knew the command – she simply kept moving despite what you said. And all the while, all you could picture in your head was your life in danger.

Hopefully, this will never happen to you. It’s a sick feeling being on a horse you can’t control as the fence posts whiz by you while you silently rehearse your own funeral in your head. One of the most important things one should do while training a horse is repetition. Whatever lesson you’re teaching your horse it should be taught so thoroughly that it is a fixed habit on his brain. It becomes a fixed habit by repetition. In this horse’s case, she hadn’t been taught that “Whoa” means to stop. In fact, I’d bet she thinks “Whoa” means to slow down. Lots of people tell their horse “Whoa” when their horse is moving too fast, and they want it to slow down. Before you know it, the horse thinks “Whoa” means to slow down a little. Pretty soon, the horse has been thoroughly taught that “Whoa” means to slow down…not stop.

Thus, repetition worked in this case but backfired. “Whoa” was repeated so many times to mean to slow down the horse now believes “Whoa” means slow down. Thus, the horse will have to be retrained to understand what “Whoa” really means. It will take a lot of patience and thoroughness in training, but it will be well worth the time. The value of this significant piece of knowledge cannot be overstated. When you’re training your horse, be sure to give it enough repetition during the lesson that it becomes a habit for the horse. Jesse Beery, a famous horse trainer from the late 1800’s, overemphasized this crucial training tip. He preached teaching only one thing at a time and having that thing so thoroughly taught that the habit is fixed upon the horse’s brain. That’s some of the best training advice you will ever get. Andy Curry is a nationally known horse trainer and author of several bestselling horse training and horse care books. For information visit his website at

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