How to Teach a Horse to Bow Properly
Teaching your horse to bow can be a useful skill for showing or it can just be used as a fun trick. During the bow, your horse will bend one of its front legs, stretch the other out in front of its body, and put its head to the ground. When teaching a horse how to bow, you need to use positive encouragement and safe practices, so that the horse will complete the trick willingly and safely. With repetition, encouragement, proper technique, and focus, your horse will bow when you ask it to.
Part 1Getting Your Horse Ready to Bow
Spend time with your horse every day. Getting it used to your presence will make it less likely to get spooked while training. Give it treats and treat it kindly, so that you form a bond with the horse.
Make sure you have a strong relationship with your horse, and make sure the horse trusts you. This will help ensure that the horse follows your command and trusts you when it comes time to bow.
An untrained horse will not be able to master bowing down. It’s important that you can tell the horse to stand still and move when you need it to. For example, it’s a good idea for your horse to be able to lift its legs on cue before you work on bowing.
In order to get a horse to bow voluntarily, it’s easiest to use treats as motivation. The easiest treat to use are small pieces of carrot or fruit.
It’s handy to keep these treats in a fanny pack or similar device so that you can have your hands free. If your horse gets bored easily, have two different types of treats to motivate it. Tip: Only give your horse healthy treats when training it. You will need to give it quite a few treats to complete its training, so using sweet treats or other junk food will be very unhealthy for your horse.
Place the halter over the horse’s nose and attach the buckle behind the horse’s ears. Once the halter is securely fastened, you can attach the lead rope.
Attaching the lead rope to the ring on the halter under the horse’s chin will give you enough control over the horse’s movement.
Do your training in a contained area, so that the horse can’t get away from you if it gets spooked. It’s best to bring your horse into a ring they are comfortable and have experience in.
Training the horse in an area that is not too big is best because it will reduce the horse’s ability to move away from you. You should only do this kind of training on soft ground so that the horse doesn't scrape its leg or head on hard ground.
Part 2Using Treats to Teach Your Horse to Bow
Make sure all 4 legs are straight by moving the horse into an open area where it is free to stand comfortably. Also make sure that the horse is on even ground. Grab the lead under the horse's mouth, so that its forced to pay attention to you.
Starting in a secure position will help the horse maintain balance while it bows.
Stand to the side of the horse and gently lift the hoof closest to you. Doing this slowly and gently allows the horse to shift its weight safely.
Your horse should be used to having its hooves lifted, since your farrier does this on a regular basis.
Putting it low will force the horse to drop its head towards the ground to get it. Since one of the horse’s hoofs is off the ground, the horse will need to bow down to get the treat.
The treat should be held at the height of the horse’s heel.
As soon as it leans even a little, let go of its leg and give it the treat. Letting go of the hoof will help the horse maintain balance as it bends down. Tip: Even if the horse does not go down all the way to the ground, give it a treat. The goal is to let the horse gradually figure out how to get down safely.
This will connect the word to the positive experience of getting the treat and the movement the horse is doing. Most people will simply use the word “bow” to tell the horse to bow.
The timing is very important here. You need to say the word right as the horse is moving down and as it eats the treat.
Instead of bowing down, most horses will try to back up in order to get the treat. If your horse starts to do this, tap it on the hindquarters, which tells it that it shouldn’t move.
Some people tap the hindquarters lightly with a whip. This will allow you to be down by the hoof but control the horse’s movement at the same time.
When its knee touches the ground, tell it to hold and give it carrots to keep it there. After a few seconds, tell the horse “up” and release all pressure.
This will take lots of practice, be patient, and don't push too hard.
Have daily training sessions last for about 15 to 20 minutes and then give your horse a break. Your horse may not have the right balance when first starting this trick, so don’t push it so far that it falls. Work on the trick gradually, so that the horse has time to figure out how to balance correctly.
The horse will need to learn how to balance its weight onto one knee, so it’s important to let it work towards that slowly and cautiously.
Part 3Practicing Advanced Bowing Techniques
Once your horse will reliably bow for a treat, move on to having it bow without a treat. To begin with, every other time you have it do the trick, only give it verbal praise and some petting after it bows.
Gradually transition to only giving the horse verbal praise and petting. This step will take a long time to get perfect, but keep practicing and trying! If the horse begins to refuse to bow without a treat, start the process by giving treats again and then transitioning away from treats more gradually.
To do this, keep encouraging the horse to go down even more after it has bowed. With repetition, the horse should eventually get both legs bent with its head down. This is its double bow.
Your horse may have the instinct to lie down completely when doing this trick, as they naturally lie down when sleeping or relaxing. You may need to give it a tap on its rear end to encourage it to keep its back end up. Repeat the word "bow" each time you do this. Eventually it will associate the word with the double bowing action.
Some horse riders like a horse to get down into a bow so that they can get onto the horse easily and then be lifted up. This is an advanced trick that requires mastering bowing first and then additional treats and encouragement to accept additional weight when getting up.
Like the process of teaching your horse to bow, teaching this skill will take repetition and positive encouragement but you don't want to push the horse to far. Aim for 15 to 20 minute daily practice sessions. It’s important to only do this trick with a horse you really trust. There is a risk of injury to you, as well as the horse, when practicing this skill. Tip: This is an especially good skill that can help people in wheelchairs to more easily get on a horse.