Horse training refers to a wide variety of practices that teach horses to perform certain behaviors when asked to do so by humans. Horses are trained to be manageable by humans for everyday care as well as for equestrian activities from horse racing to therapeutic horseback riding for people with disabilities.
Historically, horses were trained for warfare, farm work, sport and transport. Today, most horse training is geared toward making horses useful for a variety of recreational and sporting equestrian pursuits. Horses are also trained for specialized jobs from movie stunt work to police and crowd control activities, circus entertainment, and equine-assisted psychotherapy.
There is tremendous controversy over various methods of horse training and even some of the words used to describe these methods. Some techniques are considered cruel, other methods are considered gentler and more humane. Some horse training techniques may appear violent to people unused to horse behavior, but in practice may not be as harsh as they appear. However, even a "humane" method of training can become abusive if used improperly or ineptly. It is beyond the scope of this article to go into the details of various training methodology, so general, basic principles are described below. The see also section of this article provides links to more specific information about various schools and techniques of horse training.
Most young domesticated horses are handled at birth or within the first few days of life, though some are only handled for the first time when they are weaned from their mothers, or dams. Advocates of handling horses from birth sometimes use the concept of imprinting to introduce a foal within its first few days and weeks of life to many of the activities they will see throughout their lives. Within a few hours of birth, a foal being imprinted will have a human touch it all over, pick up its feet, and introduce it to human touch and voice.
Others may leave a foal alone for its first few hours or days, arguing that it is more important to allow the foal to bond with its dam. However, even people who do not advocate imprinting often still place value on handling a foal a great deal while it is still nursing and too small to easily overpower a human. By doing so, the foal ideally will learn that humans will not harm it, but also that humans must be respected.
While a foal is far too young to be ridden, it is still able to learn skills it will need later in life. By the end of a foal's first year, it should be halter-broke, meaning that it allows a halter placed upon its head and has been taught to be led by a human at a walk and trot, to stop on command and to stand tied. The young horse needs to be calm for basic horse grooming, as well as veterinary care such as vaccinations and worming. A foal needs regular hoof care and can be taught to stand while having its feet picked up and trimmed by a farrier. Ideally a young horse should learn all the basic skills it will need throughout its life, including: being caught from a field, loaded into a trailer, and not to fear flapping or noisy objects. It also can be exposed to the noise and commotion of ordinary human activity, including seeing motor vehicles, hearing radios, and so on. More advanced skills sometimes taught in the first year include learning to accept blankets placed on it, to be trimmed with electric clippers, and to be given a bath with water from a hose. The foal may learn basic voice commands for starting and stopping, and sometimes will learn to square its feet up for showing in in-hand or conformation classes. If these tasks are completed, the young horse will have no fear of things placed on its back, around its belly or in its mouth.