Teaching your horse tricks is a fun way to bond with your with equine friend, not to mention that it offers new opportunities to engage your horse’s mind, build trust between you, and explore your horse’s unique personality. Read on to find out more about teaching your horse some simple tricks to impress your friends and, literally, bring a smile to your horses face.
There are various methods to use when trick training your horse. The most common method is the treat reward method, but clicker training is growing in popularity for teaching tricks.
Ultimately, your horse will learn from positive reinforcement. Repetition and consistency are key, and of course patience. Horses are very sensitive to your emotions – if you begin to get frustrated, your horse will likely pick up on that, and any training you attempt will yield no results.
Keep your training sessions short; around 5 to 15 minutes per session is plenty. Limit your session to one trick at a time for the best results otherwise it’s likely that your horse will become confused and less likely to respond in the way that you intend.
Horses trick training is a process, so it’s important to reward good attempts at behavior even though it doesn’t quite resemble what you were hoping to achieve. The idea is to keep rewarding progress, thereby building your horse’s confidence. As your horse becomes more confident, you can become stricter with the progress you reward.
A word of caution
If you’re using treats as a reward when teaching your horse tricks, keep alert as horses are likely to nip, bite or nuzzle their way to your treat stash, thereby undoing your training. Many a trainer has been mugged by their student during treat reward training.
If you’re new to horse trick training, the bow is a great place to start. It’s one of the easiest tricks to teach, and also one of the most endearing. Bear in mind that bowing is a sign of trust between you and your horse, so it will take time to work on this, and should be done in an area where the horse doesn’t feel threatened.
Begin with presenting the treat at shoulder height, while saying the command “bow. Allow your horse to take the treat gently from your hand without twisting their head or snapping.
Continue lowering each successive treat while giving the command to bow until your horse is reaching down to their heel. Once your horse has successfully reach all the way down to take the treat, you can call it a day.
The next day, begin your training by holding the treat at the horses heel while using the “bow” command. If your previous day’s work was a success, your horse should have no problem complying. If not, don’t lose heart. Raise the treat up to where the horse will comfortably take it, and slowly begin working them down to their heel.
Once your horse is easily retrieving the treat from their heel, begin moving the treat further and further back so that he or she will need to bend their front knee in order to retrieve it. If your horse tries to back up to reach the treat, you can try this training in front of a wall or fence to discourage this.
Teaching your horse to nod is based on the natural movement a horse would make if it were being bitten by a fly. In trick training your horse to nod, you will replicate the natural environment, and reward the correct behavior.
Standing to the left of your horse, facing forward, gently prick the horses chest with a sharp object. Don’t jab, or prick too hard. Remember, you’re simulating the bight of a fly. It may take you some time to find the right spot to prick on the chest of your horse. When your horse lowers his or her head, reward the behavior with a treat and praise your horse generously.
Next, choose a question that you’d like your horse to reply yes to. Whatever question you decide to use, make sure you pay particular attention to your tone of voice. Prick your horse on the chest gently and generously reward any nodding movement.
Once this technique is working, you can replace the sharp object with the handle of a whip. Using the handle, tap your horse the chest gently, while asking your question. Reward any drop of the head.
With repetition, your horse will begin to respond with a nod to the whip handle before it even reaches his or her chest. Now you can safely ask any question you like.
Trick training your horse to smile is a real crowd pleaser, and one of the more popular. Horses generally curl up their lips in response to a strange smell, which looks remarkably like a big, toothy grin.
Standing in front of your horse, use the command, “Smile!” while presenting half an onion or perhaps even some ammonia. The strong smell should result in your horse baring his or her teeth in response.
If the strong odour doesn’t do the trick, you could try gently tickling your horse on the upper lip.
Repeat this until your horse is readily breaking into a smile. Slowly remove the onion or ammonia from the exercise until your horse is smiling on demand and delighting your friends and family.
Some important things to remember
Trick training for horses is a fun, bonding exercise that is beneficial to both you and your horse, but a few things should be kept in mind.
If you are leasing or borrowing a horse, get permission before you teach the horse any tricks. Similarly, if you sell your horse, make sure that you are clear with the new owner about the tricks you’ve taught, as well as what the cues are for those tricks. This is especially important if you’re taught your horse more advanced tricks such as lying down, which could be potentially dangerous if the trainer or rider isn’t expecting it.