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Teaching your horse to actively learn tricks

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It’s easy to teach a horse two or three simple tricks.  Holding a treat in a certain position will tempt most horses to do simple things like drop their heads or give you a hug – they are just following the treat.  But if you really want to increase communication with your horse and teach them more complicated tricks you need to teach them to actively work to learn a trick.  This makes it possible to teach them just about anything.

Horse Tricks
Working out a trick

Active learning is a stage a horse gets to where they understand that you want them to do something and they will try really hard to work out what that is.  For example, when I first taught Trigger to follow me backward by pulling (very gently) on his tail he initially didn’t understand what I wanted.  At first, he actually pulled away from me.  (Pulling away from pressure is a natural response for a horse).   However, because Trigger and I now have an excellent system of communication he will keep trying different things until I tell him that he has done the right thing.

When I first tried the tail pulling trick he tried pulling against me, then he tried stepping sideways, then stepping sideways in the other direction, then standing still but I just stood there and he kept trying.  Finally, he stepped backward and I told him this was the right thing to do.

The next time I asked him to do the trick he took only a minute or so to work out what I wanted (he tried pulling away, standing still and then he stepped backward).  The next time he stepped backward as soon as I asked.

It is then just a matter of increasing the length of the trick.  Each time I asked him to step backward for a longer time.  I then added weaving in and out of poles.  Once he understood what I wanted it was easy to add small variations to the main trick.

You will find that it will become easier and easier to teach your horse each new trick (and many other things).  Your horse will become very motivated to work out what you want him or her to do. However, none of this is possible unless you have good communication with your horse and your horse knows how to actively work to learn a trick.

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