The time it takes for your horse to learn a new trick will depend on several things. These include age, temperament, attitude, and previous training (both yours and the horse’s).
Also, horses are very much like people in that they learn at different speeds and they find some things easier or more enjoyable than others.
Older horses generally learn quicker than younger horses because they tend to have a longer attention span. There is also a good chance that a more experienced horse may have already done part of a trick you are teaching them. Eg. the first part of teaching your horse to bow is to have them easily pick up a leg and most older horses would be used to doing this when you pick out their feet.
If your horse is the nervous alert type this can work for you or against you. An alert type of horse tends to learn very quickly as they are so aware of everything that is going on around them and they tend to be enthusiastic learners. However, if your horse is very nervous and always worried or distracted they won’t learn as quickly – their mind will be elsewhere.
A quiet, calmer horse will tend to take a bit longer to learn new things and be less enthusiastic but they are safer and more predictable. They also tend to be forgiving of mistakes and will accept new or strange objects easily.
Attitude is different from temperament and is something that a horse develops, due to their experiences rather than something they are born with. A horse that has had a hard life or has been abused is much less likely to trust or want to work with humans. This type of horse can be won over, but it takes a lot of time and patience.
Another type of horse whose attitude can make it harder to work with is the one that has ‘switched off’. He or she might have done the same thing day in day out for years and they lack motivation. Usually, trick training is an excellent way to motivate these horses again. Because you will be doing something new most days and there is a reward at the end, you will see these types of horses come alive.
At the other end of the spectrum are horses that have a really positive attitude and love to learn. They are naturally curious and think humans are wonderful.
The more a horse learns the easier it becomes to train. An untrained horse straight out of a paddock has no idea of what you want them to do. You have not formed a bond or a way to communicate with that horse. However as you teach a horse new things they will begin to understand from the cues, body language, and words that you use what you are asking them to do. Your horse will learn each new trick faster than the previous one.
The more tricks you teach your horse the better you will also become at teaching. You will work out the best way to teach your horse, the time you need to take, the best times and places to teach your horse and this will decrease the time it takes to teach each new trick.
Short regular training
I always recommend teaching your horse in short regular sessions (eg a few minutes several times a day) rather than longer sessions spaced apart. Training this way works well with your horse’s short attention span.
Each day practice a new trick (or part of one) for a maximum of 10 minutes. Some horses will get the idea on the first day others may take up to a week. It is worth continuing to practice even if your horse doesn’t seem to be “getting it”. You will find that all of a sudden they will make the connection. Once your horse ‘gets the idea’ continue to practice the trick for several days.
Spend time on the basics
Some folk are very keen to teach their horse a new trick and rush through the basics. They don’t spend time making sure the horse thoroughly understands what they are asking before moving onto the next trick. This can cause a horse to become confused and actually waste time by having to ‘undo’ the incorrect training. Spend time making sure your horse understands each part before moving on to the next. You will find this will actually help your horse to learn tricks quicker than if you try to rush things.
Remember to have fun!
Most importantly have fun! There will be some tricks that your horse just won’t enjoy doing. Don’t force it – he will be good at other things. My horse isn’t that interested in fetching objects so I only ask him to do it every now and again and focus on tricks he enjoys – like saying yes, dancing, and lying down. However, I owned a thoroughbred a few years ago that loved the fetch game. I could throw a ball way down the paddock and he would hoon off after it and canter back with it. I’d get bored with the game before he did.
I haven’t met a horse yet that couldn’t be taught tricks. Some horses depending on their age, experience or temperament can take a bit longer than others. However, if you take your time teaching your horse the basics and make it have fun you will find that you will be able to teach your horse just about anything!