Why Yanking on Your Horse’s Face Doesn’t Help

Contributed by Chrissy Johnson

You have probably seen it done or maybe you have even done it yourself- a reprimand in the form of yanking or sharply jerking on a horse’s face or mouth. We see this done quite a lot across all disciplines.

It doesn’t really matter the infraction, it could be because the horse was walking slightly ahead of the person leading them, ran out at the last second at the base of a fence, didn’t stop hard enough when the rider sat down and said whoa, or simply walked off before the rider was fully mounted, the tendency to yank on a horse’s face is widespread among riders. It’s a go to correction. Handlers and riders yank on halters or chains over the nose and bits in the horse’s mouth. 

I could caution you about the delicacy of the horse’s face and the sensitivity of their mouth and tell you how painful and damaging this can be, and while that is a solid enough argument against yanking on a horse’s face whenever they do something you don’t like, that’s not actually what I want to say. There would be plenty who argue that it doesn’t hurt that bad or the horse wouldn’t do xyz. And while that response demonstrates a lack of understanding surrounding learning theory, it’s not a debate I want to get into.

You shouldn’t jerk on your horse’s face because it doesn’t work. Ultimately, you won’t get what you want by doing it.

Yanking on a horse’s face is an emotional outlet for horse handlers and riders. We keep doing it not because it actually works by causing our horses to perform more desirably, but because we feel good having done it. It is reinforcing for us.

We think if we make the horse feel bad by administering this type of punishment they will be less likely to repeat the unwanted behavior again in the future or that it might get their attention and they will default to more acceptable behavior. So we yank and we are reinforced because we feel like we did what needed to be done to alter the horse’s behavior.

But it doesn’t work that way.

Read part 2 to learn more about why yanking on the reins cannot deliver the desired behavior change in your horse 

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