When training a horse; figure out the theory and then apply it to other areas. Bow, lay down, lunge

“Hey Stacy! I have a question! I taught my horse to lay down with a scratch on the withers (or by picking up his left leg like I’m going to clean his feet & turning to face towards him if he’s being stubborn!)

I did first teach him to bow, but now anytime I do anything with his leg he instantly lays down.

Any suggestions?? :)”Stacy Westfall horse training theory

-Mollie H.

Some of the best advice you will ever receive on horse training is; figure out the theory and then apply it to other areas. 

Another way to look at it would be; if he gave you the wrong answer in another area, how would you handle it?

For example, lets say that you were lunging a horse and after traveling two times around you on the line he stopped and turned in to face you. Remember, you didn’t ask for this move. The horse just decided it was a good idea. He probably got that idea from being rewarded at one time for turning to face you. What would you do?

If it were very early on in the horses training, or if the horse had a habit of dragging humans away, or if you had been really working hard on getting this particular horse to turn and face you…you might reward this spontaneous move even if you didn’t ask for it. But….

If you reward this very often, it is very likely, that the horse will try more and more frequently to turn and face you and eventually ‘sending’ him around you will become almost impossible.  (I have had this combo show up at many clinics)

During the early learning phase I often reward the horse for having an idea, particularly if it is something I have been working hard at planting a seed for. If you watch Stacy’s Video Diary: Jac- Episode 26 it is easy to see what ‘seeds’ I have planted and how they are growing.

The short answer to your question is; if the horse does something you don’t want him to do then you need to discourage it. If he spontaneously turns and faces you when lunging then at some point you will need to correct him by asking him to continue on.

That ends my ‘theory’ lecture…now onto the nuts and bolts of how to get this to work.

For your bow or lay down pick a cue that you want to stick with and discourage him if he tries to lay down for anything else.  It is preferable if the cue to lay down is also something that can be done to also annoy if the horse ignores it. For example, scratch could be your first cue and tapping could be the annoying cue if he ignored the scratch.

One reason I use a rope during the bow training is because it allows me to skip this problem you are running into. My horses don’t associate the bow with me cleaning out their feet because it looks different. The other reason I use the rope is because I have trained some uncoordinated souls that seemed like they might fall over on me while learning, lol.

Using your hand is still possible. It would be helpful if you made it look a bit different somehow; maybe you run your hand down the front of the leg for the bow or the back for the lay down, or maybe you tap four times before you ask for the lay down. Just something to make it different so you can be clear, and your horse can be clear, about which is which.

The most difficult part for you will be ‘discouraging’ the behavior you worked hard to get. Pick how you will discourage him, it could be verbal. It could be poking him in the belly (my kids poke each other all the time-it is annoying but not painful), you get the idea.

Your horse is really just trying too hard, much like a dog that has been trained to do three tricks and is now doing them all spontaneously looking for a treat. It is a great thing to have such a willing and engaged animal but it is still ok to refine the communication.


  1. StephC on August 25, 2014 at 11:31 am

    My mare does a stretch every morning when I enter the barn (I call it the downward dog…its like the front leg stretch dogs do often where they stick their butt in the air and stretch the front legs). I can’t seem to get to her quick enough to reward her for doing it…but I’d like to be able to get her to stretch on command (how convenient for after a ride). Any suggestions on how to do this?

  2. Mollie Himes on August 23, 2014 at 2:25 pm

    Thanks Stacy!! I’ll try the belly tapping to get his mind thinking about what I want him to do differently!

    I did use the rope on his leg when I taught him to bow, but I think I taught the laying down trick too soon after & like you said, I need to make my cues more different for bowing & laying down!! <3

  3. Lor on August 22, 2014 at 3:16 pm

    One long cold winter my trainer and I taught my horses a number of tricks because we couldn’t ride. One of those tricks is to kiss for a treat. Now, both horses will spontaneously kiss anyone because they think they’ll get treats. Having those big lips coming at your face has scared more than one person…

    • firnhyde on August 23, 2014 at 2:07 pm

      This made me burst out laughing. You should videotape it…

    • StephC on August 25, 2014 at 11:28 am

      I taught the same trick to my mare! Its pretty funny when you tell new comers to the barn that the horse is trying to kiss them 😉

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