Best Basics: House-training for Horses

When I put a picture on Facebook of Kyra pooping next to the poop bin in the indoor arena, a lot of people asked me how I potty trained my pony.


Clicker training

Kyra was already clicker savvy, so she knows really well that after a click of my clicker, she will get a reward. The click pinpoints the behaviour. In order to get more of the wanted behaviour, the best results are obtained by rewarding the animal while (s)he is doing the wanted behaviour or within 3 seconds after the wanted behaviour.

A clicker acts as a bridge between the wanted behaviour and the moment of giving the reward. So I didn’t have to reward her within or during the wanted behaviour, I only had to ‘bridge’ (click) during the behaviour that I wanted to capture and then bring her the reward. That came in handy at liberty.

Start easy

In the beginning my criterion was really low. In my mind I divided the indoor arena in two halves: the half with the poop bin (light green rectangle) in it and the other half.

Every time she needed to poop I asked her very gently to maintain gait until she was in the “proper half” of the arena if possible. Often we didn’t reach that half. Maintaining a trot was never possible, but at least she kept walking. A few steps.

It wasn’t really about maintaining gait, but more about making the wanted behaviour easy.


If she needed to go poop and we were in the half of the arena where the poop bin is located (green striped area), she was allowed to stand still to take her washroom break. Why? Because pooping while walking, trotting or cantering leaves a long trail of poop.

Like I said, I don’t like to waste time on poop scooping in the arena. On top of that I clicked and rewarded her with a handful of treats during pooping. She learned that pooping was rewarded sometimes, whereas other times it was not. It was up to Kyra to figure this out. And she did!

Raising my criteria

After a certain period I realized that Kyra was 100% of the time pooping in the half of the arena where the bin is located. That was a sign for me to raise my criterion.

I divided the “designated poop area” in half again (pink striped area). So now the space where I let her stand still to poop and click and reward her for pooping was about a quarter of the arena size.

After a while she discovered that the had to go poop in a certain corner of the arena. Every time I had the feeling that she “got it”, I raised the criterion and made the “allowed area” a bit smaller in my mind (dark blue striped area).

Correcting my mistake

The poop bin is located in the same corner where the shavings are stored. Kyra thought she had to poop in the shavings, which was an obvious mistake (yellow/orange area). After all, her stall is full of shavings where she poops in. So I began to watch her closely, because she usually pooped in the shavings when she was in the arena all by herself. This was a learning point and failure is the best way to success (I decided to ‘fail forward’ and adjusted my training).

Under saddle I could catch her going in the shavings one time and gently let her out of it. She only had to take one or two steps (towards the bin). Then she pooped next to the bin and not in the shavings. She had earned herself a jackpot. [read here more about -> “rewards and jackpots“<-] After a few times she learned that “in the shavings” wouldn’t get her a reward.


Now my goal is to let her poop in the bin, so I don’t have to clean up at all. Wouldn’t that be awesome? I’ll let you know when we get there.

UPDATE (Jan 2017)

Here is the sequence on this blog: I accomplished my shittiest goal ever! In which I tell you about how I taught Kyra to poop in the manure wheelbarrow. It even has a video! Go on and check it out!

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4 Main reasons people get stuck in training their horse (free training)

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11 thoughts on “Best Basics: House-training for Horses

  1. I am so impressed! I never knew you could. I do agree with the laziness. It’s funny how when you’re a slacker (like me) you will train someone until they require less help. Go you!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. So happy to read this! I have been doing the a similar thing with teaching my horses to pee in a certain place. However, I now have my mare offering to pee and maybe..??…she is starting to get the cue (verbal ‘do wees’). I have not been worried about ‘where’ she does it as yet. I thought first I would get it on cue and then cue her to go outside in the ‘pee spot’.

    It sounds like you have been reinforcing for ‘where’ she poops..?..are you also attaching a cue…???

    My next plan is to have one of those buckets in the corner of the stall as I’m also starting to get offered pooping…(I think…hard to tell..could just be they needed to poop…:-)) and then asking them to back up to the bucket when they start pooping and jackpot it if they get it in the bucket.

    I have actually been working on this for a while (the peeing) and it wasn’t until I jackpotted that my mare finally got it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for your comment, Lyndsey.

      Is your horse living in an in-out stall that you started training this? I can see that it would be easy to have your horse pee outside. The bedding/ground is a big influence where they want to pee. So you can turn that into your advance and use this knowledge to set it up for success.

      To answer your question: I haven’t put pooping on cue and I it’s not my desire to do so. The reason is that I don’t want to take the (slightest) risk my horse to hold it, just because I didn’t give a cue. I am very anal about displaying behaviour without a cue. That’s why I have been focusing on the “where” in the arena.

      I know one story about a horse that started holding his pee until the owner hold a bucket under him (the cue). I don’t want that to happen. I also don’t want frustrate my horse when I give the cue and she can’t do it. That happened when I put the “smile” (a yawn) on cue.

      Kyra also gets a click if she poops or pees when I call her in the pasture and she releases herself. When she gets to me I can reward her. I just love a bridge signal.

      I have been cleaning Kyra’s stall myself this winter. She had 3 spots she pooped. I have been experimenting with changing the hay spot. She doesn’t move around much in her stall, so she poops in the opposite corner of her hay. When I start using a slowfeeder net, she moved less (the hay stayed better in the same place) and she started pooping more in one place. She only starts pooping in another place when the first spot is too full. That means if she is inside too long she needs another toilet.

      It’s interesting what you can learn about the habits of your horse when you pay attention, don’t you think?


      • My mare lives out 24/7 but can come and go into her stall as she pleases. So she often comes in to use the shavings. I also have shavings outside for her and she frequently uses those as well.

        Good thoughts about holding the pee…I’m not too worried as I’m not thinking about getting it under stimulus control…I just want to be able to prompt her so I can get her to go if I want to. More for fun than anything else although it would be nice to have her pee before she gets on the trailer…:-)

        Thanks for the good thoughts on that though..I will be very careful for sure.


  3. I hear what you’re saying. It IS handy to prompt your horse in certain situations.

    I drove my first pony (carriage) and I wished I could let him pee before we went on the streets. He wouldn’t pee on asphalt and one time he has hold his pee so long he almost couldn’t pee anymore (which is dangerous).

    An old trainer gave me this tip: put the harness on and put him in his stall (because of the shavings), let him in there for at least 20 minutes or until he pees, then put him in front of the carriage. They learn quickly that that is your cue for “you best pee now”. It worked, after a while he started to pee and poop in the pasture if he saw me coming.

    I can think of a similar approach (ritual) if you go away with the trailer.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Mine just hates going to the toilet in arenas! He will often go when he sees me bring the saddle. He’s very shy about peeing even in his stable and will assume the position and then look meaningfully at me until I turn my back or leave, at which point he lets it go.

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