Ask Dana Hokana: How Do I Get My Horse to Like Her Job?

by Dana Hokana | January 17th, 2015 6:48 PM | No Comments

Dana-fb-headshotDear Dana,

I have a 7 year-old Paint mare that just doesn’t seem to be happy when its time to go to work. She is sweet in her stall and when I groom, bathe and saddle her up but when I ride her in the arena she always seems to have attitude! I am training her for local shows in the English division and feel like I have taken things slow with her she just always seems to be mad!



Dear Shirley,

I sure can relate and understand your frustrations! Horses can become unwilling for a number of reasons. Most unwilling horses have learned to dislike their job. We as riders and trainers need to be extremely mindful about how we teach and ride our horses to avoid angry, burned out, sour horses. It is up to us to teach our horses to enjoy their jobs.

Horses learn by the reward. This may be the release of the cue, rein, or leg pressure. It can also be a pat or a rewarding voice, maybe even just to stop and stand in the arena.

Pay attention to your horse’s response. Most unwilling horses don’t start out unwilling! As riders, we need to be sure our cues and demands are clear and fair. We need to clearly reward when the horse does or even tries to do something right. If the horse can’t ever get a “win” she can learn to hate her job.

For example, I will apply my cue and I will pay attention to her response to my cue. If I add my leg, I will continue to apply my leg even if my horse shows some resistance. I will never punish them with the cue, I will just leave it there until they start to accept it and then will reward her by removing the cue. I will then reapply the cue and will look for signs of acceptance, like her relaxing, licking her lips or taking a breath.

You may have areas of training in your horse that will continue to be an issue. Push through, be mindful and ask fairly. Remember you are your horse’s teacher and it is up to you to build a relationship with her.


About the Author

Dana Hokana is one of the top female trainers in the Quarter Horse industry, and currently operates Dana Hokana Quarter Horses in Temecula, California. Raised in Southern California, she has had a lifelong love for horses. Dana has trained multiple Western Pleasure circuit champions, winners at major futurities, and horses who have placed in the top ten in Western Pleasure at both the All American Quarter Horse Congress and the AQHA World Championship Show. Riding her own stallion, Invested Dimension, she captured an AQHA Reserve World Championship title in Senior Western Pleasure.

Dana’s DVD series entitled “The Winning Strides Series,” is designed to educate horse owners and riders from the basics of horse handling and horsemanship, to competing at high levels in the show arena. Skilled at teaching in an encouraging, relaxed, non-intimidating way, she carries these traits into the instruction in her video series. Dana will be a featured clinician at the Mane Event in Red Deer, Alberta, and has spoken at the Equine Affaire in Pomona, California and was a clinician at the Equine Affaire in Massachusetts and Columbus, Ohio, focusing on topics from grooming to western pleasure.

Now is your chance to have your questions answered by Dana! Just submit your question using the comment section below or the email link, and she will respond to select questions in future posts.

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